A Toolkit for Giving and Receiving Better Feedback

– Once you’ve articulated a clear vision with priorities and focused on matching your time with your priorities, and focused on making sure your people are trying to do the same thing, i.e. are they articulating a clear vision to their people, are they identifying three to five top priorities, and are they trying to match their time but they’re doing something where I prefer they did something else. I coach them. And I can get them to get more in alignment. Let me give you the definition of coaching, ’cause I don’t know that I think there’s lots of definitions. Coaching, to me, means you identify one or two witnesses, usually skill related, that you would like a person to improve upon, which ideally will manifest themselves the improvements in their actions. I need to mention two or three things or one or two things that I think you should do better, ideally then I give you some suggestions on how to do them better, and I hopefully follow up a month later, two months later, and talk about how is it going and make any course adjustments. To do that though, coaching requires direct observation of the subject. And I’ll explain what I mean. Either I directly observe you or I interview people who directly observe you, because there’s a lot of people who say, oh, I get coached, I get coached all the time. Oh, who coaches you? Oh, I have somebody who I have known since I was 15 and they were a college professor, or they were former person that I used to work with. When’s the last time they observed you? Oh, they don’t observe me at all, but what I do is I tell them all the things I’m doing and they give me coaching. Well, to me, that’s not coaching. That’s mentoring. Mentoring is I tell you a story. You give me advice back based on my story. Here’s the problem. Your advice is only as good as my story. And most of us have blind spots, including me, and so I’m painfully aware of this and that the story I tell about what I did is just a beautiful story about, with usually me as the hero, or maybe I’m too self-critical, and it’s a terrible story about a nightmare I created, but if the person I was telling the story to actually could have observed me, they might have seen something totally different than the story I’m telling, mainly ’cause I have blind spots, I don’t see myself accurately. None of us do completely. Make sure you do it during the year, well in advance of the year-end review. Year-end review is the verdict. Your comp has been set, whether you’re going to get promoted has already been decided, and if you surprise somebody in their year-end review with a criticism, that they don’t think they’ve heard before, they’re not going to trust you anymore. They’re liable to quit. I’ve never seen anybody quit yet because I’ve coached them too much during the year, but I have seen a lot of people quit ’cause I surprised them in the year-end review after it was too late to do anything about it, and they really wanted that promotion or they wanted a certain compensation and they were surprised and they just, they don’t trust you anymore. Make sure you do it months in advance, so you give people a chance to improve. In terms of your top three to five priorities, I can’t imagine that that doesn’t need to be one of them, and if you don’t have time to coach your direct reports, you’ve got too many direct reports. You ought to restructure something, ’cause I would argue one of the things you must make time for is coaching your direct reports. It’s one of the key ways you have to crate alignment to achieve your vision and priorities. It’s huge. President of the United States is the extreme of it, but believe me, if you have people reporting to you, they see you as all-powerful, you control their lives, you set their compensation. If they have a future aspirations in their career, you’re the person they are relying on. You have all the power. So you’ve got to ask them for advice, okay, so what, I give an example, what normally happens, and I used to do this for years, is I sit one-on-one with each of my people, and the reason I say one-on-one, no one wants to criticize you in front of others, they’re not going to do that, and say, can you give me a suggestion, and the reaction you’re going to get is nothing that I can think of. Okay, so then you’re going to have to sit and say, no, I’m really really serious. I really want to improve, and can you help me, just give me one thing that I could do to improve, a specific action I could take. The person will sit there, usually beads of sweat forming on their forehead, and they’re starting to think by this time that this is some weird perverse loyalty test or some sick trick that you’re trying to play on them, okay, but you say I’m really serious, I really want your help, I really would appreciate it, okay so then, reluctantly, reluctantly, they say something. The moment they say it, they immediately regret it. They wish they could take it back. Why? Because it’s devastating, and it’s devastating why because you know it’s true, you know everybody must think it, doesn’t sound very good, you then thank them, try not to act devastated. They leave, you then call home and you ask, am I, am I like such and such and on the other end of the line, they’ll pause for a moment and they’ll say, yeah, that does sound like you, and you realize, oh my God, oh my God, I really have a problem, and you will improve, you’ll take action, you’ll improve, and you’ll get better, because almost invariably when people know what they need to improve on, they do get better. That person, by the way, will tell peers out there, boy, this person asked, the senior person asked my advice and they acted on it, what a great place this is. And what happens over time as word gets around that you want advice, and people start coming in, and giving it to you and for me, in my career, what used to happen is people would warn me before a little problem became a catastrophe. They would say, I know what you were trying to do yesterday in that thing you did, but it didn’t go the way you thought and now you’ve got a problem, with three people out there, and you better go fix it, and it would save me from all sorts of mistakes, but you see when you do that, you’re no longer alone, you’re not so isolated, and you’re not doing your job all by yourself. I haven’t met a leader yet can be a great leader of a group all by themselves. This engages your people. And for some people, say but it makes me look vulnerable, makes me look weak, I would argue the opposite. It makes you look strong. It is not a weakness to ask a question or seek advice. I would argue the most insecure people are the ones who do not do that. So I’ve talked about two things, giving coaching, especially early in the year, so people can act on it, and it’s got to be specific and it’s got to be based on direct observation, but the big mistake people make is they don’t get it, and I would say to everybody listening to this, it is your job to get coaching. Pick any great athlete in any sport you want to, and you tell me, do they have a coach? Will they tell you they have a coach, or do they brag, oh no, I have no coaching, I’m self-taught, no, none of them do that. If Tiger Woods or you name the sport, football player, basketball player, track person, world-class athletes, say they need a coach no matter how accomplished they are and how many millions of dollars a year they make, then why is it you can’t go get coaching? I think you’ve got to go out and make it your job to get coaching. It will help you align yourself and your organization to achieve your vision and priorities. (engaging music)

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