Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.
Hey there. Great you could join me for episode 22 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership Podcast. This week's episode, Feedback Made Easy: Mastering the Skill of Giving Feedback to Your Team. Now in episode six, way back in October last year, we dealt with the psychology of delivering feedback and provided some crucial tips for overcoming the emotional barriers that prevent leaders from giving people their best.
In this episode, we advance this by answering a question from our dedicated listener James who asked the very simple question, "Once you develop the will, how do you develop the skill?" First up, if you haven't yet listened to episode six, The Psychology of Feedback, stop playing this episode now and go and listen to that episode first. No I'm serious about this. Before you think about developing the skill for having a successful feedback conversation, which this episode deals with, it's absolutely crucial to ensure that you overcome any mental, psychological, and emotional barriers that might be tripping you up. If you did listen to episode six when it came out, just take a moment to reflect.
In the last three months, has it helped you to change the way you do things? Have you found that you're now able to discipline yourself, to hold feedback conversations when they're required without fear and without hesitation? If so, that's awesome. But if not, then why not? This is a good reminder for us. Now as much as I love all the positive feedback we receive about this podcast, the real object of the exercise is for you to find the insight to improve your leadership performance to your great benefit and to the benefit of those around you.
This sometimes takes reflection and concerted action which is why we do everything we can to make this as easy as possible for you to implement. For example, the downloads we provide for most of our episodes. Our purpose is that Your CEO Mentor is to improve the quality of leaders globally, so it's really important to us that you can readily put these tips and techniques into practise and make it part of who you are as a leader.
If you need to go back, you can find episode six on your podcast app that you're currently using, or go to www.yourceomentor.com/episode6. If on the other hand, you're completely confident and comfortable in delivering hard messages, and holding tough conversations, that's fantastic. I can save you 15 minutes of your life and I'll see you next week for episode 23, because it's unlikely that you'll get anything out of this episode either. If you have complete confidence, then it's almost certain that your level of competence will exceed the content in today's episode, and that's no bullsh!t.
So for those of who are still here or have just returned, today's episode is going to help you develop the skills to master the feedback conversation itself. We'll begin by talking about the leadership dialogue. We'll talk briefly about why mastery of difficult conversations pretty much determines how effective you can be as a leader. We'll explore the elements of a great feedback conversation, and then finally, I'll give you some tips for how to make this a fail safe discipline for your leadership toolkit. Let's get into it.
I want to start by making an important point. If the very first meaningful interaction you have with an individual is a tough conversation, then it isn't going to go well, no matter what. As a leader, you need that day-to-day interaction with the people around you. Get used to having non-confrontational conversations, know your people through appropriate leader relationships, so you need to be friendly but not friends.
You need to embrace what I call the leadership dialogue, and this is simply the ongoing interactions with your people. This is how you get to know your people and build trust. Some of this is just general day-to-day chat, some of it's personal exchange, and some of it's general work banter. "What are you working on at the moment? How are you going? Are there any issues I can give you a hand with? How are you getting on with the external audit?” Whatever the case may be.
This is how you make it clear that you both know and care what your people are doing, without getting into their knitting. You're making interactions regular, and any directions you give must be consistent. This is how you set your really clear expectations and this is also how you show a bit about yourself. When you interact, you don't just ask questions and listen, you also talk about yourself. You talk about what you're doing, what you like, what your challenges are. This is going to help you to bond with the people that you work with, in an appropriate way.
Now, at this point I know there are going to be a number of you out there saying, "Marty, I'm not like that. I'm an introvert." Well guess what? It doesn't matter. As a leader, you don't get the luxury of making excuses for yourself no matter what the excuse. I've worked with a bunch of introverts, and others who aren't naturally gregarious who've managed to develop their own leadership style that includes a really strong leadership dialogue with their people.
I just want to reiterate a couple of things that I've said in previous episodes. When people come into work each day, they want to know three basic things. 1. What are your expectations of me? 2. How am I going against those expectations? 3. What does my future hold? If you don't have a good, strong leadership dialogue, there's no way people can be certain about any of those three things. The other thing I wanted to reiterate is that if people trust and respect you, there is absolutely nothing you can't say to them. The leadership dialogue is a fundamental element of building that trust and respect.
Let's move on and talk about why mastery of difficult conversations pretty much determines how effective you can be as a leader. Conflict aversion, in my experience, is the number one career killer and one of the most difficult conflict scenarios to master is the tough conversation. Giving feedback one on one, eyeball to eyeball, with one of your people. But if you can overcome and master this situation, it breaks the back of the conflict aversion issue, with surprisingly positive outcomes in all areas of your career.
If you don't get on top of this, conflict aversion affects almost everything. For example, it'll stunt your ability to negotiate. It will dilute your ability to contribute to discussion and group forums, and it'll prevent you from ever building a high performing team. Competence and confidence in giving your people feedback is the foundation of all difficult conversations and in breaking the back of conflict aversion. Nail this and the shackles are off.
You've got to learn it, and you've got to practise it. And you have to work on developing this skill just as you would any other. But it's difficult, because it takes emotional and psychological discipline, it takes some courage, and it takes a real commitment to your role as a leader and the duty of care you have for your people. The first bit of guidance I'll give you is, take it seriously. If you're not 100% confident about the way you're going to do this, then you need to script your conversations carefully.
If you're not confident, you need to over-prepare. Seek guidance from the person in your organisation who you think is best at this stuff. If your organisation has an HR team, ask them for help. That's what they're there for, but be careful, they're there to support you, not to do your leadership work for you. Practise until you're confident you can do the person on the other side of the table justice, by handling the conversation competently. There's a sample script that you can download at the end of this episode, which will just give you some guidelines for how to put a conversation like this together.
But I want to talk about what the elements of a great feedback conversation are. In my experience, regardless of the nature, the structure, the duration, or the circumstances of the feedback conversation, there are seven elements that should be present to ensure the conversation is conducted competently.
Number one, it has to have clarity. There's got to be one key message that you want that person to take away.
If that's not really clear in your head before you walk into the room, then how do you think you're going to convey that to someone else in a stress situation? The moral of the story is, get it really clear in your head. Don't just start throwing a list of problems out there or a litany of symptoms that you've observed. Make sure you try and focus in on what the one key message is that you want the individual to get and don't throw the kitchen sink in with it.
Make sure you deal with the most important issue. There may be two, three, or four issues that you've seen and observed, but in this conversation, you just want to get the main issue across and the main point to the individual.
The second element is balance. You've got to put that message into the context of the overall performance of the individual. Here's some examples.
"Hey, look John. Your performance in this area is normally really strong, so what I've seen over the last month or so has been quite unusual. Is there anything going on outside of work you at the moment that's distracting you?" Or, "Penny, your performance in most areas is excellent, but I think this particular issue is quite a significant impediment to your overall results."
Or, how about, "Mike, we've been talking about this issue for sometime, and your performance doesn't appear to be improving. What's going on for you? What do you need from me to be able to change things?" Now, one thing you don't want to do when you're trying to bring balance in is to deliver what they call the shit sandwich. That's two nice, tasty, beautiful pieces of white bread on either end, with a bunch of shit in the middle.
It goes something like this. "Hey John, you're wonderful, you're fantastic, and you're awesome. By the way, that report you gave me yesterday was complete rubbish, but don't worry, because you're wonderful, you're fantastic, and you're awesome." Try and stay away from the shit sandwich.
The third element is tangibility. This is fairly self-explanatory. You just need to make sure that you can provide examples that clearly demonstrate the behavioural performance issues that you're trying to convey to the individual. Now, this is an area in which you normally get the most discussion. Your perspective on certain events, in terms of behaviour and performance, could be quite different from the individual's perspective on exactly the same events.
It's also the part of the conversation where you normally find the most conflict and where you have to be strong in terms of your mental, emotional, and psychological standing to conduct this properly.
The fourth element is mutuality. Is this a conversation or is it a lecture? You've got to give your people the opportunity to talk, so it should be a dialogue that allows them to express their views, their feelings, and their own assessment of the situation. You'd be surprised how much you learn if you can have a free flowing conversation that has mutuality. It's a very, very important element.
The fifth element is criticality. The individual has to know how this fits in the scheme of things. Is this feedback a little tweak to help them improve their performance? Is it a core concern that you have? Is it actually a showstopper? Is it something that's so important that it's going to risk their employment? How critical is it, and how much attention should the individual pay to it after you've given them that feedback? The more clarity you can put around that the better.
The sixth element is accountability. What accountability does that person have to take away and change their behavioural performance? What do they need to do? What do they need to work on so that they can move forward and improve, and so that they can meet your expectations?
Finally, the seventh element is support. What are you going to offer to do, and commit to, as their leader, to help them move forward, and to improve so that they can actually be successful in the role you have them in?
As a really core tip, when you're putting any conversation script together and you're thinking about these seven elements, the most important thing you can do is focus on the individual, not yourself. Just remember, feedback is a gift. You're giving someone an opportunity to improve. We tend to focus on what these conversations mean for us, our feelings, our fears, our insecurities and so forth. But focusing on the other person will liberate you to be your best in those situations.
What are we going to do? You want to get good at this, look for opportunities to do more of it. It's the only way to get better. I'll give you a quick example. If I want to improve my golf game, there's no point in me playing nine holes of golf once every three months. I'll play badly, and because of the lack of repetition, I won't get any better over time.
The next time I come to play, I'm back where I started three months ago, but with the additional encumbrance of the psychological imprint of my last poor round, which reminds me that I'm hopeless at the game. I'll hit a few good shots among an endless array of shockers and then wonder why I play at all. I come back in three months and I do it all over again.
But the more quality repetition you undertake, the faster you improve, and both your confidence and skill will grow. If I'm serious about improving my golf game, I'll commit to playing regularly, say 18 holes at least once per week. I'll take some lessons to make sure my technique is sound, I'll find opportunities to consolidate my learnings and get ahead, so maybe one night a week, I'll stop in via the driving range and hit a bucket of 100 balls.
As I start to play better, I enjoy it more, and this becomes a virtuous cycle. Confidence comes when I start to hit more good shots than bad. After a while, I can't remember it ever feeling hard or uncomfortable. Now, there's a great book called Talent Is Overrated by a guy called Geoff Colvin. I won't spoil the punchline, but suffice to say that there's a very clear pathway to mastering virtually anything you put your mind to. The bottom line is, force yourself to do more and more of these and you'll eventually get a handle on it.
To finish, I want to talk about the discipline of recording how the conversations go. Just remember what gets measured gets managed, and what gets rewarded gets done. After every conversation you have, I want you to rate yourself both quantitatively and qualitatively. One a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your preparation? Your control of the dialogue? Your mix of listening and talking? Your directness and clarity of messaging? The positive impact you had on the other person? And your assessment of whether or not the message was received the way it was intended to?
If you rate yourself each time, you're going to start seeing some patterns appear. Then, think about and record in qualitative terms, what do you think went well? How did you manage your emotions and expectations? Was the experience as bad as you imagined it would be? And just remember the answer to this is almost always no. Do you feel satisfied that you did the right thing? Do you know what to improve for your next conversation?
Now, after you've got these things being recorded time and time again, you'll see that you're improving. You'll see that each time it's getting easier, and you're getting more confident with it, and that's where you want to be. But undertaking this discipline is really, really important. To finish off, you need to congratulate yourself 'cause you've just done something that was pretty tough.
So, for example, I say things like this: "I just had the courage and discipline to do what many leaders won't. This will make me better, and this is better for my organisation. I've just given that individual the truth to the best of my ability, about what it will take for her to be successful, and that's a good thing. Whether or not my feedback is taken onboard is completely up to the individual, but I'm satisfied that I've done my part as a leader to give them that opportunity."
All right. That brings us to the end of the episode. To pick up the free download, go to www.yourceomentor.com/episode22. There was a lot in this one, so please take time to think about it. Thanks so much for joining us, and remember, at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally, so if you like this episode, please share it with your leadership network, and spread the word about No Bullsh!t Leadership.
I look forward to next week's episode where we talk about building organisational capability.
Until then, I know you'll do everything you can to be a no bullsh!t leader.