How to Handle Feedback as a Leader

It’s impossible to get to the top – or anywhere else for that matter – without listening to suggestions or advice. When you’re put in charge of a team, it’s not because you’re perfect, but because direction is needed. But you can’t lead your team to success while operating in a vacuum; feedback is key.

A leader is responsible for making sure that their business has satisfied employees just as much as satisfied customers or clients. And there’s no better way to do that than by having a staff that feels empowered to speak openly and honestly.

But how does the person at the top learn how to listen to the people they’re charged with overseeing? Here’s a look at how to handle feedback as a leader while not taking it personally.

 

Think It Through

We’re often told not to be emotional at work, but most of us spend so much time at our jobs that it’s nearly impossible not to be. Whether you’re laughing at the water cooler (which fosters important bonds that strengthen collaboration) or having a disagreement, emotions are part of the job. But if there’s one time that you need to think more than feel, it’s that brief moment between hearing feedback and reacting to it. Take a moment to really listen to what the person is telling you, process it, and then frame your response in a professional manner, and as a leader it’s even more important to maintain control of your emotions. Remember, neither of you is trying to escalate the problem, you’re both working on a solution.

 

It’s Not About You

If you thought about your reply before reacting, then you likely know that the feedback, at least in most cases, isn’t personal. When people complain or express their concerns, it’s normally not for the sake of creating a problem; it’s often rooted in something, and as a leader it’s crucial to keep that in mind. It’s important for a manager to know how their workers feel and what they think of the business and how it’s doing. In a healthy work environment, what the staff is saying shouldn’t be seen as a personal attack, so there’s no reason to feel defensive or threatened.

 

Ask Questions

When receiving feedback, it’s important to ask yourself certain questions. Is there merit to what’s being said? Does the person have a point? Getting some constructive criticism should be seen as a learning opportunity, since no one is perfect. Debating each point raised will get you nowhere, and it can be exhausting, while also likely discouraging that person or others from providing more in the future. If the feedback is given respectfully and supported by evidence, then it’s important to reflect on it and find a solution. The point is to resolve the issue and grow, both as a business and a team. Take employee feedback at face value, instead of assuming that they’re wrong or being troublesome.

 

Say ‘Thank You’

Have you thanked your team, lately? When presented with good ideas, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. Taking ideas from your subordinates is never a good option and will likely lower morale and foster a hostile environment. The amount of good ideas coming from your team can actually be seen as a result of strong leadership; it’s not a competition. If you’re hearing good suggestions for how to improve the business, remember to thank those responsible – preferably in front of the rest of the team – and let them know they’re valued.

Managing a team isn’t easy, especially if it’s a group with different personalities working towards the same goal. Whether you’re giving feedback or receiving it, it’s always best to ask yourself why it’s needed and how it will help improve things. Letting others voice their opinions comes with the job, and it will make you a better leader and manager to simply listen.

 

Dontei Wynter | Contributing Writer

 

Bridging the Management Age Gap

Millennials are known as the generation of smartphones, over-priced coffee, and a reputation for entitlement and leisureliness. Despite this, the success of millennials is becoming increasingly apparent in the workplace. Look around your office and you’ll probably notice the ages of both employees and managers is decreasing significantly. A recent survey by office-equipment maker Pitney Bowes found that about 20% of mid-level corporate employees now report to a boss who is younger than they are.

However, in this age of entrepreneurial startups and advancing technology, different work styles and perceptions of those differences can create many challenges. For example, there is a stark difference between millennials and baby boomers. While older workers spend more time in the office within regular work hours, the younger generation often prefers getting their work done whenever, whether at home or from their laptop in a café. These kinds of philosophical differences can have negative effects on productivity. However, there are ways for younger people in authority to handle this gap. Below are a few tips on how to instill authority and respect in the workplace.

Be Mindful

Older employees can certainly be put off by having to report to a younger manager. It’s important to be aware of those feelings and acknowledge them. Don’t assume you have the upper hand due to your higher position. Express an interest in your employee and ask them for their opinions on how you can improve as a leader. They may very well have insights that can benefit you, and they will appreciate your respect for their experience and knowledge.

Give and Take

Give lessons, provide feedback, and offer firm and feasible guidelines for your employees. In return, take feedback as well. Older employees are often more knowledgeable about the company and its history. Take advantage of their deeper well of experience, both in the office and generally in life.

Do Your Job

It can be daunting being a young manager. However, instead of shying away from being an authoritative, strong leader, it’s important to keep your goals in mind and get the job done. Not confronting older employees who aren’t working to their full potential, or letting others take the lead merely to make them more comfortable, will only decrease productivity. You’re the manager for a reason; prove why.

Older employees should implement these tips in the workplace as well. Along with being mindful, providing feedback, and doing their own jobs, it’s important for older employees not to get too bogged down in ego and commit to working with a younger manager. The knowledge and experience of the older generation and fresh perspective and energy of the younger age group can be combined to contribute to the workplace in a positive manner. Getting past age discrimination – from both sides – will help everyone work together and be more productive.

 

Tasnia Nasar

How to Handle an Employee Gone Rogue

You know that person at the office who seems to consider themselves above the rules? That’s a rogue employee. But sometimes, rogue behaviour isn’t as obvious. Someone may openly disobey policies or disrespect management, or a seemingly perfect worker may be committing serious offences in secret, such as stealing company data, pilfering money, spying on behalf of a competitor, or sabotaging their colleagues.

There are ways to detect a rogue employee early. It’s can be the person you demoted because they no longer seemed to be the ideal fit for the role they were hired for. Or the member of the management team that consistently ignores company policies or the opinions of others when making changes. If their rogue behaviour has already been identified, they’re likely already on the bubble – one more misstep and they’re out. But before firing them, it’s best to consider the value they bring. Discuss the employee’s overall performance with other managers and HR. If they haven’t caused a high level of offence, determine whether you want to give them a chance to change.

In the meantime, there are ways you can prevent rogue employees from inflicting damage on the organization by limiting and monitoring their access to information. Use identity and access management (IAM) software to increase security. With IAM software, you can regulate the amount of access employees have to pertinent data and files depending on their role. Look for software that records login information and activity for each user, allows them to update their own profiles, and can handle a large volume of users in the system without compromising performance.

If it’s a disrespectful employee you’re dealing with, evaluate how you position yourself as a manager: are you too lenient with the person in question? Do you allow them to break certain rules? Are they doing whatever they want? If you tolerate a workspace in which certain people can behave this way while others can’t, then you’re the problem. But whether you’ve been unwittingly encouraging such behaviour or not, reexamine the way you treat all employees. Reimplement the company values and the most important policies. Present these policies and guidelines clearly, as outlined in the employment agreement, to everyone.

Fellow coworkers can help handle a rogue colleague and spot other potential threats if they’re trained in detecting rogue behaviour. For example, if an employee notices their colleague taking frequent trips to the photocopier or printer when their job doesn’t really require, there’s a possibility the employee is stealing company info or using the machine for personal things. A properly-trained employee could ask their coworker about the issue (their frequent use of a machine); maybe their colleague is stealing proprietary company secrets, delivering that information to a competing business or using it for their own entrepreneurial project. Keeping employees aware of these sorts of issues will increase awareness and create a more stable and secure work environment. If anybody feels disrespected by a fellow colleague or is suspicious of their conduct, they should feel empowered to report them.

Speaking of corporate espionage, you may want to do some digging yourself. Take a look at the rogue employee’s social media channels. Ensure they’re abiding by the organization’s social media policy and aren’t bad-mouthing the company (and/or its affiliates or partners), especially after a significant incident like a demotion or another disciplinary issue. This would be detrimental to brand image and cause distrust among your customers, which is obviously bad for business.

– Joséphine Mwanvua
 

Business photo created by yanalya – www.freepik.com

Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict happens. Differences of opinion and different work styles can create problems, straining relationships between coworkers and reducing their efficiency and productivity. They may become unmotivated and dread coming into the office. But if properly handled, conflict can also be an opportunity to move toward a better organized work environment.

Below are some steps to help managers avoid and resolve conflict in the workplace:

Communication

Clear communication plays an important role in avoiding conflicts in the workplace. Be very clear and specific with your message and communicate in a way that everyone can understand. When talking with or emailing your colleagues, make sure they understand everything being discussed, as misunderstandings can lead to more problems in the future. Ensure that all necessary information is being properly conveyed to avoid this.

Clarify Misunderstandings

When conflicts arise, bring both parties together and let them have a professional and respectful conversation. Make sure each party understands the other’s point of view. At the end of the discussion, make sure an agreement of some sort has been reached and any misinterpretations are addressed.

Consider All Sides

Speak with each party individually to understand the issue behind the conflict. Ask them for suggestions on how to best avoid this situation in the future. After hearing everyone out, analyze the feedback and focus on the problem itself rather than the specifics of who did what. Any action taken should be with the goal of improving the overall work environment. Meet again with the parties involved and provide your solution. Be impartial and emphasize what’s best for the company in order to avoid future complications.

Eliminate Negative Feelings

Solve the problem in a manner that helps both parties feel like the issue has been resolved in an acceptable manner, ideally with no lingering bitter feelings. Everyone should be satisfied with the solution so that the work environment remains a respectful and friendly place.

Be Cooperative

Everyone has their own way of working and accomplishing tasks. Don’t impose your ideas on others and instead consider their views. Avoid bias, treat everyone equally, and be fair with all your employees and coworkers. Bring it to their attention when they make mistakes, but also applaud them for a job well done. If you make mistake, apologize, and accept your part in causing the problem. Never assume any conflict is insignificant; always try to solve it as soon as possible, rather than letting it fester. Try using written notes or emails to help your peers understand the solution to a problem. And always keep the bigger picture in mind.

Structure

Encourage collaboration. Create a structure that facilitates teamwork and requires staff to work together to complete tasks. This is one of the most effective conflict-resolution techniques and it will make employees realize the importance of working as a team to support each other.

Regardless of the specific workplace, everyone expects a friendly and healthy setting when they’re doing their job. It’s everyone’s responsibility to create a positive work environment. It eliminates stress and keeps employees cheerful. More importantly, it brings out the best in people on a daily basis and helps increase productivity.

U. Lakhia

How Does Your Company Measure Your Potential?

Understanding how your employer gauges your potential can have a major impact on your position at the company, and on your career. If you know what they’re looking for in an employee, you can improve your chances of advancement.

When a manager is evaluating an employee’s potential, they’re considering factors like motivation, skill, experience, and the willingness and ability to learn, and evaluating how that employee can or will impact the company as it moves forward into the future.

Clearly, there is variation in terms of what different companies and management teams look at when determining an employee’s potential. But some factors are common, even if they may seem obvious. Still, knowing how your employer measures your potential can be valuable information both for your own personal development and for your advancement within the company. Here are a few commonly-used indicators.

Quality of Work

There are many ways for an employer or manager to asses the quality of your work. It might be through a series of specifically stated goals they’ve set for you, or through subjective analysis from your direct supervisor or manager. There is also what’s known as the 9-Box Grid method of assessment, a graph with one axis representing an employee’s potential, and the other their performance. So, a high-performing but low-potential worker would be ideal in their current role, while a low-performing but high-potential employee would be in need of coaching to unlock that potential. Other factors companies use to measure performance can be as simple as tracking the number of errors an employee has made, or, depending on the nature of their work, quantitative statistics like the number or amount of sales made or units produced.

360/180-Degree Feedback

The concept behind 360-degree feedback is for an employer to get performance feedback from a staff member’s direct manager, colleagues, subordinates, and customers. This can be done through specific questions or as a more general performance evaluation. Alternately, 180-degree feedback is similar, but is limited to the employee’s co-workers and manager, and is typically utilized when the worker doesn’t manage people and/or interact with customers.

Leadership Potential

Many businesses will also consider their employees’ potential to rise to a leadership position. Part of management is being able to observe when employees demonstrate a knack for managing others, delegating duties, and taking responsibility for projects. In a small or medium-sized business, it’s often easier for management to get a feel for an employee’s abilities and potential to advance by direct observation. (It also costs a business more to hire and train new employees than to promote an internal candidate.) Factors like drive, organizational skill, the ability to learn quickly and think on their feet, and empathy towards colleagues are some of the traits a good manager will look for when assessing an employee’s leadership potential. The Korn Ferry Institute, an authority on leadership and recruiting, has its own test for measuring leadership potential that takes into account many of these traits and more.

Once you have an idea of how your company measures your potential, you’ll be able to adjust your behaviour accordingly and focus on the right things. Whether it’s making a point of being in the office early every day, contributing in meetings, helping your colleagues with their projects, or just putting in the extra effort when executing your duties, demonstrating your potential to management is a sure-fire way to get ahead.

 

Justin Anderson | Assistant Editor

How to Have a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

It’s never easy to have a difficult conversation in the office, especially if you’re deathly afraid of confrontation. However, it’s impossible to manage a company and not have to approach an employee at some point about their behaviour, insubordination, or work quality, and sometimes even terminate them. Brushing the issue under the rug or simply ignoring it can make the situation worse and negatively affect the workplace, productivity, and other employees. There are several different types of difficult conversations that you might need to have at some point, including policy breaches, coworker complaints, dress code violations, and even workstation cleanliness. As a manager or supervisor, it’s important to know the proper way to handle these conversations, or it could do more harm than good.

Prepare Yourself
Before deciding to have the conversation, get prepared by asking what the behaviour is that’s causing the problem, and what outcome from the behaviour is impacting you, the team, the environment, etc. You need to have an understanding yourself before providing clarity to someone else about the issue. This will also keep the focus on the issue and avoid derailing the conversation.

Choose an Appropriate Location
Before entering the conversation or even calling for a meeting with the individual, decide where it will be held. Finding the right location will set the tone of the meeting. Your office is usually the best place, but depending on your company culture, it might ease the tension if you talk over a cup of coffee or lunch at a food court in the building or nearby; this can lessen the chances of the employee feeling embarrassed. However, if it’s a more formal conversation, your office, a conference room, or a boardroom is probably the most appropriate place.

Leave Your Emotions at the Door
When starting the conversation, be straightforward and tell the individual what the purpose of the meeting is. Be sure to not get caught up in your emotions; keep your feelings in check and don’t let them drive the conversation. Focus on the facts and be careful not to say things like, “I feel disappointed,” which will only add biased emotional elements. It also helps to be aware of your preconceived notions about the situation and the person involved, so make sure to leave that at the door as well.

Be Open and Listen
Be calm and fair during the discussion. Don’t project anger or judgment because that may result in the employee getting defensive and things might get heated. Find a balance between polite and firm; be caring but remain professional. It’s important to be open to hearing what the other person has to say. Be mindful and treat them with respect, even if you completely disagree with them.

Brainstorm
It’s important that you brainstorm solutions during the meeting. Ask the employee in question what they think will work. Out of their ideas or suggestions, build on something you like. Asking for their point of view can create a safe atmosphere and encourage them to engage.

Always Follow Up
Following up after the conversation is a good way to smooth over the relationship between you and your employee. It’s also a good way to check up on their progress if there are any changes they need to make. Don’t micromanage, but keep track of how they’re doing, for as long as you think is necessary. If progress needs to be made, there is a possibility they might backslide.

Putting off a difficult conversation will only do more damage to your business. Holding off on speaking to an employee about their performance or attitude won’t help productivity and might even affect the rest of your team. Practice these tips and prepare your points so that you can mentally prepare and be more effective, confident, and comfortable with having difficult conversations. That way, you can get everyone on your team working together and at their highest potential.

 

Helen Jacob | Staff Writer

Silicon Valley’s Rest and Vest Culture is Real

It would be lovely to go to the office and not have to work. Even better to swim, play volleyball and drink beer while there. This isn’t the stuff of fantasy; rather, it’s a new breed of wealthy tech engineers who are playing hard instead of working hard, and they’re doing it on the company’s dime.

 

They are the Rest and Vest bunch, as seen most recently on the hit HBO comedy Silicon Valley. On that show, characters working for fictional tech firm Hooli (a Google analogue), hang out on the office rooftop and guzzle brews while waiting out their contracts or waiting on a big merger or takeover.

In real life, these tech workers are indeed paid insane amounts of money, sometimes millions, to essentially use the office as their own personal play area. The online slang dictionary describes the phenomenon as, “at a place of employment, to do little work while waiting for one’s stock options to vest.”

As Business Insider reports, Microsoft has enabled or encouraged this kind of activity. They’ve sought out niche experts in burgeoning industries, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and offer a generously increasing bonus, called “discretionary equity”, to ensure these employees don’t migrate to another company. In the interim, they can still be university professors or do other lucrative work, all while continuing to collect these “discretionary” bonuses concurrently.

One tech expert who has worked with Microsoft, Intel, and Sony, says there’s a perfectly good explanation for this sort of arrangement.

 

“Competition for great resources is fierce in Silicon Valley, and with the [US] ‘travel ban’ legislation in play, companies’ abilities to recruit and retain the best talent are going to become even more difficult,” notes Lori Schwartz, principal of Story Tech, a Los Angeles-based agency that uses evolving technology to help businesses find strategic solutions. “So it becomes a strategic imperative to get and keep ‘talent’, however necessary, close by.”

 

Tenured employees at tech companies, meanwhile, are doing their own version of playing at the office. They’re coasting through their work – when they bother to do it – knowing that they’re so valued, the company wouldn’t dare let them go. These are the “coasters”, a subset of the Rest and Vest crowd.

But what about the swimming, volleyball, and other fun at the office playground? That’s also abundant and real. All the largest tech firms – Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook, Oracle – offer some variety of carnival-like amenities for employees.

 

Oracle has beach volleyball and a swimming pool; Microsoft boasts Xboxes for its staff, an on-site spa, and fields for cricket or soccer among its “benefits”; Google offers free massages, yoga and a rock climbing wall; and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t let his Facebook hires go a day without opening up the video arcade, the foosball or ping-pong tables. (Employees at the social media giant also get three weeks of paid vacation and unlimited sick days.)

And why even go home, when Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all offer unlimited free food throughout the day?

No surprise, then, that Rest and Vest techies are hardly in short supply at these Fortune 500s, indulging in Silicon Valley’s version of an indoor Coney Island fairway.

Few companies, however, will admit outwardly to grooming the Rest and Vest practice. Band reputation is everything, and no company will risk its brand by allowing employees to talk to the press about this part of tech culture.

Though companies are loath to admit they have these kinds of employees on payroll, they do exist. And some aren’t happy about the practice.

 

“I do understand some of the motivations behind ‘Rest and Vest’, particularly the interest of some companies in keeping ‘top talent’ out of the general job marketplace,” notes Jerrold Landau, a 27-year employee of a global tech company’s Toronto office. “But it goes against everything that my company stands for, and likely, that many other companies stand for.”

 

But these engineers can’t all just be playing Xbox, or there would be no innovations or development. In the looser definition of Rest and Vest are employees who know they can indulge in playtime, so long as they complete what’s expected of them.

Though not exactly sitting on a rooftop drinking beer, Doron Nadivi could, in theory, do that while working. He’s the VP of business, development and growth hacker of Pruvo Net Ltd. – and he’s 10,000 kilometres away from his boss. Nadivi is in Costa Rica, while his company is based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

 

“I can tell you that as long as I provide results, he could care less how many hours I work, rest, vacation, etc.,” he explains. “Results are the name of the game, at least in the eyes of CEOs that understand efficiency over effort-action.”

 

But there is a hidden downside to this lax approach to work that some Rest and Vest tech workers are learning the hard way, primarily when the time comes to move to another job.

Their position and title may have some impressive clout, but when an interviewer or headhunter asks what kinds of things they did while at Google, “played ping-pong and drank beer on the rooftop” is not the best answer.

 

Dave Gordon | DBPC Blog

Photo credit: Haldane Martin