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great communicator

Voice, Value, Feedback – The “Must Try” Communication Tool Driving Employee Engagement

By: Bobi Seredich
Co-founder, Southwest Institute for Emotional Intelligence

Does anyone truly look forward to their annual performance review?  Leaders don’t enjoy preparing them and employees dread attending them.  According to HR analyst and industry thought leader Josh Bersin, “More than 70% of all organizations dislike the process they have, and I have yet to talk with an employee or manager who likes it at all (one client calls it a ‘soul-crushing’ exercise).” That’s why many leading organizations such as Accenture, Adobe, Gap, GE, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft all recently announced that they are remodeling this “soul-crushing exercise” and moving to something altogether new.

The most important adjustments to the classic performance review cycle are an increasing emphasis on constant feedback and a concerted effort to frame constructive feedback in more human terms.  According to a SHRM article by Dana Wilkie, “Among the changes: eliminating all numeric scales; doing away with “forced” or “stacked” rankings that create competition among employees; and replacing the once-a-year appraisal with ongoing feedback on a worker’s performance throughout the year.” This philosophical shift in the way criticism is dispensed wasn’t conjured up out of thin air. There is a practical reason behind the need for immediate feedback (and praise). As stated in an article in the March 2017 issue of Fortune magazine, “One big reason for the shift: Today’s companies now change strategy so often that annual performance reviews can be moot by the time they’ve completed them.”

Although many companies are moving away from the annual performance review, there will always be a need for direct reports to measure how they are succeeding and growing in their current roles. To ensure success, employers must set clear performance expectations while providing feedback and encouragement. In fact, research shows that team members desire to feel valued, heard and even “loved.”

According to a Gallup article by Jim Harter and Amy Adkins “Managers account for up to 70% of variance in engagement and consistent communication is connected to higher engagement.” But given that no two people communicate alike, it should not be surprising that less than 1/3 of Americans are fully engaged in their work.

George Shaw

The real challenge is that most managers think they are great communicators, when in fact, most are not. This has helped create a notable communication gap between leaders and direct reports, leading to confusion and disengagement.

Dr. JP Pawliw- Fry of the Institute for Health and Human Potential explains this gap as, “A distinct pattern we see over and over again in the leadership development training programs we run: when leaders face a difficult conversation, a feedback conversation or a performance review, most cover 85, 90 or 92% of the content of what they want to say in the conversation, but a funny thing happens when they get to the more difficult part, what we call the Last 8%. When they hit this part of the conversation – where there are consequences to what they are saying – they start to notice that the other person is becoming more anxious and (because emotions are infectious) they themselves become more anxious.”

This research goes on to explain that when the employee being coached starts to feel nervous and becomes defensive, their leader reflects those feelings, and starts to doubt their own intuition regarding the employee participating in the performance review. This is typically the moment the leader hesitates when offering uninhibited feedback. While seemingly innocuous, the real problem is that the leader might believe they have offered genuine feedback when really, they probably failed to address the issues most critical to both the employee and company alike. The failure to explain the Last 8% leaves the other person unclear on expectations. It’s not surprising then that the employee makes the same mistake several months later, with the leader becoming more disappointed and frustrated.

If managers and leaders are fearful when addressing critical business issues with their direct reports, how can we facilitate a complete constructive feedback conversation, including the Last 8%? From a brain science perspective and utilizing emotional intelligence – EI– we can learn to communicate in a way that doesn’t stimulate the “fight or flight” response typical of defensive behavior.

The first step in effective communication is listening to the other person and validating his or her feelings, because they are valid, even if they are not obvious. This level of empathy is an absolute necessity if the other person is going to be open to receiving your constructive feedback. If you start giving feedback before they are ready, their response will likely be defensive, making them unwilling to receive it. When a person’s fight or flight mechanism is activated, research shows that there are real physiological effects. Perhaps they might not hear you because their heart rate is increasing and oxygen is flowing to larger muscles, away from the thinking brain.

When a person is confronted with criticism in a performance review, it can cause an automatic negative response. “This neural response is the same type of “brain hijack” that occurs when there is an imminent physical threat like a confrontation with a wild animal. It primes people for rapid reaction and aggressive movement. But it is ill-suited for the kind of thoughtful, reflective conversation that allows people to learn from a performance review. According to an article in Strategy + Business magazine titled “Kill Your Performance Rating” by David Rock, Josh Davis, and Beth Jones

Thankfully, there is an excellent constructive communication tool that can help us all avoid the automatic “fight or flight” response. It is called the Voice, Value, Feedback (VVF) Tool, and it provides a framework for a complete, courageous, feedback conversation that even includes the Last 8%.

  1. Give the other person a Voice – share why you are having this discussion. Clarify your intention for the meeting. Seek contribution not blame – “I realize I may have not communicated clearly…” then let them share their feelings for a  few minutes.
  2. Value the person you are having this discussion with and empathize with the difficulties your employees deal with on a daily basis. Phrases such as ”I understand it’s been tough. I don’t blame you for feeling that way”, can go a long way in showing your employee that you care what they have to say, and value their perspective when addressing issues.
  3. Offer your Feedback – “I appreciate you and here is what we need from you moving forward.“ Be specific about the behaviours you would like your direct report to exhibit and focus on the actual impact they have made on your organziation, not on intentions. If necessary, share instances of past and current behaviors that are not acceptable and hope they will address moving forward. State clearly what you want from them, so there is no question as to how they can improve in the future. Use  phrases such as “We need you to…” “We expect you to..” “This organization relies on you to. . .”
  4. End the conversation by reminding this person how you feel about their contributions to your team. Recognizing an employee for their loyalty, the value they have created, and their impact on the organization can reinforce their belief that they have the skills necessary to improve on perceived shortcomings mentioned during the review.

Currently, I am coaching several leaders who have incorporated the Voice, Value, Feedback communication tool into their culture, and the benefits are real. It is critical that leaders are fearlessly proactive in the difficult conversations that are required in order to keep their direct reports engaged and at their most productive. Most importantly, as leaders, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we really having the Last 8% of that constructive feedback conversation?”

For more information on the benefits of effective feedback, and more insight on the debate over real-time feedback versus annual reviews, check out: “Real-time feedback vs. annual reviews: A showdown”.

And if you’d like to learn more about measuring employee engagement, the How’s and the Why’s, download the eBook, Employee Engagement: Four Places to Start Measuring What Matters.

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About Bobi Seredich
Bobi Seredich Headshot
Bobi Seredich is a recognized speaker, author, trainer and successful entrepreneur specializing in leadership development. She has spent over 20 years of her career dedicated to creating, directing, writing and presenting leadership programs for top companies in the U.S. and around the world.

Bobi is the co-founder of the Southwest Institute for Emotional Intelligence and Managing Partner of EQ Inspirations. In 2001, she founded Equanimity, Inc. also known as EQ Speakers – a speakers’ bureau and leadership training company. It fast became a top speaker bureau that booked hundreds of speakers with large Fortune 500 clients. EQ Speakers was sold in 2012 and continues to be a leader in the industry.

Her book, Courage Does Not Always Roar – Ordinary Women with Extraordinary Courage, was published by Simple Truths in the spring of 2010. The book is a collection of her experiences and stories of women who have had the courage to overcome very difficult life events.

Her passion is to guide individuals and organizations to a higher performance level through her own business knowledge, inspirational stories and leadership emotional intelligence training. Bobi lives in Phoenix, AZ with her husband and 4-year old twins, Alex and Gia.

 

the value of coaching

Why Millennials Want Coaches, Not Managers

Your workforce is increasingly made up of millennials; this is unsurprising – they’re the ones with the most contemporary skills, and with each passing year they become a larger percentage of the working world. With close to 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, millennials now represent the largest subset of America’s workforce. Approaching these younger workers with the attitude and expectations of a coach, rather than the antiquated characteristics of a traditional “boss,” is key to maintaining their engagement. Here’s how a coaching style differs from the approach of a traditional manager, along with a few insights about why this shift in managerial style is so important.

Coaching responds to failure with empowerment

A manager who behaves in the classic “boss” tradition is likely to take a disciplinary tone after an employee fails or does a poor job on a project. Getting “chewed out” by the boss is a familiar trope in the stereotypical work environment. Coaching, on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach. If a player on a sports team does badly, the coach may feel frustrated, but he or she is well aware that scolding and criticizing the player is not likely to yield better results in the future. Instead, a coach views failure as a sign that the player needs more training, support, and encouragement.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) describes the behavior of award-winning college coach Mike Krzyzewski after a player’s carelessness caused his team to lose. He took the whole team out for an ice cream sundae party, emphasizing encouragement and team-building, and then he held an extra practice to help everyone come together again.

Millennials want more frequent feedback

When you picture a coach guiding a team to victory, you probably imagine lots of feedback was involved. The coach is on the sidelines, shaping the choices that the players make and shouting encouragement or suggestions. After the event, the coach probably holds a video session and works together with players to identify areas that need improvement. It’s all very hands-on.

Now, contrast that leadership style with the annual employment evaluation that typifies an old-school manager’s pattern. An employee is called in to the boss’s office and given an evaluation containing praise and criticism that might be outdated, perhaps even a year old. A coach wouldn’t have a successful team if he or she only gave feedback once a year.

Furthermore, millennials want the high-touch guidance of a coaching culture. A global survey finds that overall, millennials want feedback 50 percent more often than older employees, with most of them preferring feedback on a weekly or monthly basis.

Employee success depends on rewards and recognition

While frequent feedback is a proven method for increasing employee engagement, the quality of that feedback is equally important. An effective coaching approach is based on recognizing each person’s individual strengths. Best practices include creating a company culture that emphasizes positive feedback and employee appreciation. Positivity is necessary in every workplace, but it’s especially crucial when you’re leading a team of millennials.

A recent Gallup report noted, “Only 19 percent of millennials say they receive routine feedback. An even smaller percentage of millennials (17 percent) say the feedback they do receive is meaningful.” This same report states that fewer than 15 percent of millennials ask for the feedback they really want; so it’s up to leadership to establish these employee recognition best practices.

Managers are an important source of professional learning and development

Forbes states that most millennials identify their manager as their main source for learning and developing skills, but only 46 percent of those surveyed believe their deliver on this hope. These numbers are helpful because they indicate a direction you can take with your management style. One millennial worker quoted in the HBR article states, “It’s very important to be in touch with my manager, constantly getting coaching and feedback from him so that I can be more efficient and proficient.” And to further illustrate how much millennials crave learning and development, it’s been reported that 62 percent of executives say millennials will consider leaving their jobs because of a lack of learning and development opportunities.

Coaching takes the whole person into account

Though today’s cutting-edge companies invest serious effort into making sure their employees have a good work-life balance, they also realize that this new approach looks at employees as whole people, not just a drone carrying out a task with little to no thought. A great deal of research has gone into the psychology of coaching and the need to consider the “inner game,” but this mindset is still very new to the corporate world.

As more managers realize that helping their employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance will result in more highly engaged employee, they will likely change their style of supervision to emphasize encouragement. It’s all part of a more holistic approach to talent management; a recognition of workers’ inherent humanity and a step away from viewing them only as cogs in the wheel of a production assembly line.

It’s all about performance

Of course you want to treat your employees well for their own sake, but you also want to be an effective business person. You want to manage your team in such a way that productivity increases, both now and in the future. This often means understanding the unique needs of your millennial workers.

A coaching approach, versus a top-down “I’m-the-boss” approach gives you an incredibly powerful tool for increasing employee engagement among your younger team members. These workers will respond with higher performance and greater loyalty, bringing sustainable growth to your bottom line.

To learn more about how you can effectively introduce employee recognition to your millennial team, download our white paper, “Sink or Swim: How to Engage Millennials to Ensure the Future of your Business.”

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Who’s Your OGO?

By: Chris Jacobsen
National Account Executive, Achievers

A paradigm shift is happening in today’s workforce with the balance of power shifting from the employer to the employee. In response to this shifting playing field, employers are starting to register the power of recognition to boost engagement levels and increase productivity among their employees. But we still have a ways to go. According to a recent survey by KRC Research, workers say that an average of 50 days (nearly two months) pass between moments of recognition, while nearly 9 in 10 (87%) middle management employees feel unrecognized by their supervisors. 88% also feel unrecognized by their coworkers. With the shift to an employee-centric workplace, these recognition “droughts” should be a thing of the past. But although a greater emphasis on engagement and recognition has been underway for some time, it still feels as though we’re at the dawning of a new day.

As an Account Executive for an industry leader in the employee engagement space, getting to play a role in helping to bring about this shift is personally rewarding. But let me take a step back and tell you a little about how I ended up here and why the idea of recognition is so personally significant to me.

It’s Fall of 2009, and my soon to be wife, Anne, and I are sitting down for pre-marital counseling before we seal the deal (I know this is a Human Resources blog; but bear with me, I have a point, I promise). Something that has stuck with me since those counseling sessions, besides my wildly understanding, compassionate, and beautiful wife of seven years, is the topic of love languages. I had never given any thought as to what my “love language” might be until I was challenged to do so in those counseling sessions. Lo and behold, mine is “Words of Affirmation”. According to the assessment: Give me a little appreciation and recognition for a job well done and I’m good to go. How delightfully ironic (or perhaps not!) that I now work for a company whose mission it is to enable recognition and employee appreciation to happen anytime, anywhere in the world; and in so doing, change the way the world works.

Given my penchant for learning and a desire to know as much about the field of employee recognition as possible, it’s no surprise I was drawn to a book titled O Great One!, A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition. “O Great One,” or OGO for short, was a nickname coined by the book’s author, David Novak, who: “Thought being called Grandpa, Poppy (or any similar title by his grandchildren) made him feel old before his time. Taking a cue from his father-in-law ‘Great Jack,’ he decreed his grandchildren should address him by his new moniker “O Great One” or “OGO” for short.” O Great One! (http://www.ogothebook.com/) is about the awesome power of recognition and how we can all play a part in attacking the world’s recognition deficit.

In the book, Mr. Novak tells how his interest in the idea of recognition grew from a personal experience of his – specifically, a birthday. On this particular birthday, his family gave him a gift in the form of a jar filled with strips of paper with moments of appreciation and expressions of love inscribed on them. This act had such a powerful effect on Novak that it provided the impetus for him to start a movement to attack “the global recognition deficit” – and to write a book, OGO, about the awesome power of recognition.

The importance of timely, frequent recognition is further emphasized within OGO as Novak recounts the experience of “Jeff,” who recognized a problem within his grandfather’s company after taking over as CEO.  The problem was a critical lack of employee recognition. With a few reluctant leaders on his team and skeptical board members, Jeff embarked on a mission to change the way his company works.

Being the former CEO of YUM! Brands (you know… KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut), Mr. Novak has a ton a of experience with employee recognition and the importance of making employees feel valued for their work. In leadership roles for many years, he witnessed first hand the tremendous success that comes with aligning employees to company values and business goals. Syntehsizing all of this experience into actionable insights, Novak lays out 10 guiding principles of recognition for employers and individuals alike:

  1. People won’t care about you if you don’t care about them
    You need to show people you care about them before you can expect anything from them.
  1. The best way to show people you care is to listen to them
    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to remember that there’s always someone who knows something we don’t.
  1. A great idea can come from anywhere
    Great ideas are essential to a company’s success, so view everyone as a potential source of inspiration.
  1. Recognize great work and great ideas whenever and wherever you see them
    It is the visibility and velocity of recognition that drives engagement results.
  1. Make recognition a catalyst for results
    What gets recognized gets repeated. Tie recognition to company goals and values.
  1. Make it fun
    Make the recognition moments fun and enjoyable. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously!
  1. Make it personal
    Recognition should be meaningful and should resonate on a personal level.
  1. Recognition is universal
    The power of recognition does not discriminate, and all of us, no matter who we are, love to be recognized and should feel included.
  1. Giving recognition is a privilege
    And the act of giving recognition is its own reward.
  1. Say thank you every chance you get
    Saying “thank you” is free, so let’s start saying it lot more.

This book is about the awesome power of recognition and how we can all play a part in attacking the world’s recognition deficit. It feels great to be recognized and to give recognition. If more organizations focused their efforts on fostering cultures of recognition, both employees and employers stand to benefit in the form of incrased engagement, reduced attrition, and improved customer satisfaction. What I’ve realized after reading this book and working with Achievers and its customers, is that we truly can change the way the world works, one OGO at a time.

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About Chris Jacobsen
Chris Jacobsen
Chris’ passion for sales and HR software began in Southern California where he worked with ADP. He and his wife of seven years moved to Montreal in 2010 and now reside in New York’s Hudson Valley with their 5 yr old daughter and 3 yr old son. Having worked in large and small corporations Chris is keenly aware of the power of recognition and showing appreciation for great work. Outside of helping organizations reimagine how they recognize their employees, Chris enjoys cooking, building couch forts with his kids, and running. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn.