The one thing good leaders do to inspire high performance

By Sonia Tallarida

There are lots of different engagement surveys available now and nearly every company that we know of is doing them.  But why?

Well that’s easy; we know that when people are more engaged they tend to be more productive, and a more productive workforce means that we get better outcomes for our shareholders and the community we service.

Having a feedback ready culture really makes all the difference to your engagement scores and consequently, to your productivity and your customer’s experience.

When comparing engagement surveys, there is one thing they all have in common; nearly all of them have key questions that correlate engagement to:

– how people see poor performance is dealt with;
– whether people trust their boss;
– whether people know what’s expected of them.

Interestingly, when we look at these things there is a core competency that sits underneath this that makes all the difference and is often overlooked. Yes, okay, trust is the one that immediately springs to mind, and it’s important, however it’s not the competency we are talking about…we’re talking about feedback.

I can almost hear the audible grown! It’s not quite as big as the trust groan but nonetheless it is present! So why is ‘feedback’ such a dirty word? Well, it’s funny really; I think it’s because we usually only give feedback when things are going wrong, so our brains seem to be automatically on high alert.

Try this test out. Imagine that you’re going about your daily work and your boss leaves a note on your desk that says “Please come and see me, I have some feedback for you”. Now, just pause for a moment… what was your first thought? Your first feeling? I’m betting it wasn’t – “Fantastic, I must be getting a promotion!”.  I’ve asked this question to literally hundreds of people and teams when I’ve been training on coaching and feedback skills and it’s extremely rare that anyone has said that the note could be referring to something valuable or positive.

If feedback is so vital to getting things done well why aren’t we begging for it? Well the reality is that your people are begging you for it. But they just don’t want the sort of feedback that they’re used to getting at work. And let’s face it most of the feedback that we get is kind of half-hearted at best. It’s certainly not connected to the things that we know that make feedback work; like telling people upfront what specifically the feedback is about, being clear about the impact of that behaviour, and providing a clear request for what would be preferred. And let’s face it, we certainly don’t seem to get it regularly; I know of many, many managers who have only ever given feedback in a formal process, never in an informal context.
So why don’t we do it? What stops us? A lot of us would argue it’s counter culture (here in the Australian culture, anyway) to build people up – you know, tall poppy syndrome and all that. But I actually think it something more insidious, something deeper. I think that when we offer people feedback we actually hit a very deep primal instinct, that instinct to fit in, to be part of the tribe.

Back in the days when we lived in the forest that was the ‘live or die decision’. If you got voted off the island it was as good as a death sentence – there was little chance of survival going solo in the wilderness. So naturally, doing anything that increases anxiety such as giving or receiving feedback highlights all of those instincts.

There are two things good leaders need to remember to enable them to build regular feedback into their management status quo:
1) Understand why feedback is valuable – what are the tangible benefits to me, to my staff, to my organisation?
2) Understand what it takes to give quality feedback that is valuable and valued.

So here are some answers…

What are the bottom line benefits for regular informal feedback?

Being given a chance to adjust your course, in the moment, leads to better outcomes. It means individuals or entire orgnisations can avoid crisis and redirect themselves towards their intended destination, via calmer waters.   It’s also pretty clear that people appreciate when someone catches them doing something right, and not just when they’re doing something wrong. The more opportunities we have to improve the way our people work, the more opportunity we have to improve the way our business operates, and achieve our strategic goals.

How do you give feedback that people value and inspires positive change?

a. Don’t wait! Do it now, do it often! The problem with feedback is that it is often only given in annually scheduled doses, that means the relevance of the feedback has often expired by the time it’s delivered. Feedback should be served hot and fresh, in order to maximise its impact. Stale feedback results in stale returns. (Imagine asking the kids how school is going first day of school, then not doing it again till end of term?)

b. Stay focussed.  Keep the “waffle” to the breakfast table. Get to the point, there’s no need for padding it out. Key message your feedback – make it short, sharp, and action orientated.

c. Keep the course.  Don’t digress. You might have lots to talk about but it’s best to give less information more often that to jam-pack your conversation with many different topics.

d. Connect the dots. While it’s important to provide regular feedback that is quite specific it’s also important to help your team members to connect the dots and truly understand why the feedback is of value. The way the feedback connects to the overarching business goal will demonstrate its importance to you, to them and to the organisation at large. The reasoning behind why a change maybe needed or why a behaviour is being endorsed, must always connect back to the key objective.

e. Keep it up!  So you’re on a roll? Well don’t stop, keep it going, do it over and over again…and again…and again…

The journey starts today.

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