The Breakfast of Champions

Do you know that feedback is considered to be the breakfast of champions? Do you have a formal feedback process with your team at your workplace? How often do you ask your team members to give feedback on you? When I do that very often, I encounter radio silence. Not many people will provide honest feedback, especially if you are the one signing their paycheck. Without a regular serving of feedback, your organization and employees will likely starve in productivity and innovation. Remember, people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves. It’s all based on feedback.

Feedback is information about a person that can help build self-awareness about the impact of their actions. The focus of feedback should be to help others to thrive. Good feedback speeds up learning and builds collaborative and engaged teams.

# Is There A Positive or Negative Feedback?

Sometimes we receive feedback that wasn’t so great. It may be because it is unexpected or based on hearsay or plain unfair or hard to understand. We may likely have felt hurt, frustrated, defensive, blind-sided, or unsure of what to do. Often, a bad experience receiving feedback is the most common reason people do not share feedback with others.

On the other hand, some people experience feedback that was a great experience? You may likely have felt appreciated, respected and that the person genuinely wanted to help you to improve. What was it about this feedback that made such a positive impact? Maybe it was well-timed, genuine, helpful, or specific enough to act on? Feedback like this builds happy, engaged, and high-performing teams.

We often think about feedback as positive or negative. It can make it a more stressful experience than it needs to be. A way to think about feedback that avoids this is as ‘reinforcing’ or ‘redirecting.’ In this framing, all feedback is positive. Reinforcing feedback is when your feedback encourages someone to continue a certain behavior. Alternatively, redirecting feedback encourages someone to adopt a new behavior in favor of an old one. In both cases, the focus is to help a person thrive. Criticism on its own is not feedback.

Whether your feedback is reinforcing or redirecting, your focus should be on helping a person to improve. For it to happen, it is important to ask yourself:

  • What impact do I want my feedback to have?
  • Is my feedback constructive?
  • Is my feedback actionable?

# Stop using blur words !!

Think of feedback that you could give to someone on your team. Maybe the team member is doing something great, or maybe it’s something you’d like to see change.  While giving feedback, do not use blur words or general statements that are not specific enough to be actionable. For example:

  • “You’re unprofessional.”
  • “Your email is too sloppy.”
  • “Your summary is awesome.”

None of the above examples have enough detail to be helpful and are hard to interpret and measure. What exactly is ‘unprofessional’? How sloppy is “too sloppy”? Blur words can result in well-intentioned feedback being misunderstood. They can cause distress and rarely support constructive change. Let’s look at how to avoid this? Simple, let’s be specific while giving our feedback and stop using the blur words. Let’s go back to the previous example and be specific to understand the difference.

You’re unprofessional. You were late for the meeting yesterday. It would have been great if you could have given the organizer a heads up in advance or apologized.
Your email is too sloppy. I noticed your email had a few spelling mistakes. Maybe do a quick spell check before sending.

 

Your summary is awesome.

Your summary captured the key points and made it easy to decide what to do next.

The most honest feedback is often given peer-to-peer and can teach us more about our engagement levels and improvement opportunities than we could ever hope to get from the top-down feedback and appraisals. It is important to know how our coworkers perceive us. We spend more time with them and have deeper and more personal relationships with them. Therefore their feedback is first-hand.

Also, every time you offer feedback, make sure that some of it are positive. It would be best if you gave equal importance to praising successes as you offer suggestions for improvement. One-on-one feedback discussions with team members should be private. Do not share the conversation with someone else. In giving feedback, you’re seeking to help the person and the organization. Nothing good will come from sharing one person’s issues with another.

Try writing a piece of specific feedback for someone you work with today. You don’t have to share it, but writing it down will help raise your awareness of the words you use.

Ask Stupid questions !!

Let’s discuss stupid questions in this week’s blog post. In my opinion, there are no stupid questions, only stupid people who don’t ask questions. From my own experience, I was surprised to know that most of our colleagues generally won’t hesitate to help when we ask a question even if it seems embarrassingly obvious to us. I’ve discovered something over the years that many times my best learning has come from someone else’s question. Think about it; you don’t know what you don’t know. And that includes asking specific questions. Sometimes you don’t know the question to ask. But someone else. Who is at a higher level of awareness may just ask a question that is like a lightbulb moment for you. Have you ever experienced that before?

Asking dumb questions is a lot easier than fixing dumb mistakes.

One of the biggest problems that I noticed in my professional career is that people refrain from asking questions on their minds for fear of coming across as stupid or for fear of being judged by others. The next time you’re in your team meeting, and a silly question crosses your mind, don’t be afraid to ask it. I assure you that at least one other person in the room is probably contemplating the same question. You never know. Next time when you think about it, remember that you’re not the only one thinking of stupid questions. You just need to have the courage to ask these questions out loud.

I often noticed that people in the room are glad you asked, as they were too fearful to ask themselves. Also, when the first person asks a question, everyone else in the room starts asking questions. Here is why asking dumb questions considered to be good for your career.

  • Proof that you have been paying attention: However stupid your question may be, it will establish the fact that you are listening and very much interested in the conversation. Asking a question is always a lot better than wondering whether to ask or not. Chances are there for the so-called stupid question was not being so stupid after all.
  • Gain more insight: By asking right or wrong questions, you understand the topic at hand to the best of your ability. It will position you better when you need to talk about the same topic with other members of your team.
    • What if you were to mess up big time just because you had the chance to ask that stupid question, but you didn’t?
    • What if getting the answer to that question made things clear for you and saved you either from wasting hours finding the solution or making a blunder?
  • Avoid errors and improve the quality of work: By asking questions, you will enhance your chances of making fewer mistakes when processing the work item related to the topic because your understanding reflects in your work.

It is very important to ask stupid questions without sounding stupid. In 2007, during my first international travel on a work assignment to Alberta Department of Transportation Edmonton, Canada, I avoided drinking coffee during the first two weeks in the new office because I don’t know how to use the Espresso coffee machine. Whenever I fail to resist my urge to drink coffee, I keep an eye on my team members’ movements towards the vending machine. Yes, you are right; I am dependent on the coffee-making skills of my team members. After a week, I had to suck it up ask an embarrassingly easy question: “So, how do you brew a new pot of coffee?” Irrespective of your level of experience, you will encounter similar situations frequently in your life. Sometimes you don’t quite understand something how your co-workers can do effortlessly. You’ll have to begin by asking some “stupid” questions.

  • Observe First: Sometimes, we can find the answer to our question without asking verbally but by simply observing. Therefore if time is not of the essence, then you can try first by observing someone who mastered the skill. When your manager asks you to do something. First, google it. Even if you do not find step by step solution, but you will gain some insight. You will be able to ask more meaningful questions, and you will be able to position yourself better to understand the answers.
  • Ask with Confidence: Asking “stupid” questions won’t damage your career. When you phrase them the right way, you’ll demonstrate that you’re competent and, more importantly, not afraid to ask for whatever you need to get the job done. At the same time, you need to refrain from keeping asking the same question over and over. Think whether or not it’s something that you could have easily found out with some quick research.
There are no stupid questions.

Stupid people don’t ask questions.

It certainly seems daunting in the beginning, and just like anything else, it gets easier the more you do it. It’s ok even your question gets a bunch of laughter before it’s answered. You should be okay with that, as long as it gets answered. You never know that your stupid question might have brought some happiness to somebody. It’s ok to emerge as a winner in the end by delivering better results at the risk of being sounded like a dumb.

During my first software job, my manager told me that some of my questions are so stupid, but I still asked him because the alternative would be to stay puzzled and make a mistake because I wasn’t clear. So, to have peace of mind before asking the question, I remember requesting my manager to allow me to ask five stupid questions in a week. It worked for me, and him too. I was at peace before asking the question. However, I would like to remind you that certain questions will be classified as stupid questions. For example, what if you were not listening and paying attention and asked the same question that is already being answered. It is stupid, isn’t it?

 

 

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Leaders & Remote Work

As a leader what are you expected to do to establish good remote work culture within your teams & organization? 

It seems there are more than 10,000 books available on Amazon on remote working. No wonder why remote working is considered difficult. Here are some of the things leaders can do to create a good remote work culture.

1/ Ensure that your staff has the right infrastructure, which includes but is not limited to laptops, network connectivity, and software to dial into audio and video conference calls, remote access to everything that they need to carry out their day to day work, etc.
2/ Develop routines and help teams to have a disciplined way of managing the day. For example, in our company, all teams will have a brief stand-up meeting at the beginning of the day and end their day with an evening daily scrum meeting. Have a rhythm. Things will be much more fluid in remote working, and managers should trust that employees will do their best to get their work done.
3/ Make sure that team members constantly feel like they know what’s going on. You need to communicate what’s happening at the organizational level because they feel like they’ve been extracted from the mothership when working from home. They wonder what’s happening at the company, with clients, and with common objectives. The communication around those is extremely important. So you should email more, share more.
4/ Ensure that no staff member will feel like they have less access to you than others. At home, people’s imaginations begin to go wild. So you have to be available to everyone equally. Finally, when you run your group meetings, aim for inclusion, and balance the airtime, everyone feels seen and heard.
5/ You need to be much more visible right now — through video conferencing or taped recordings — to give people confidence, calm them down, and be healers- or hope-givers-in-chief.

We are much more powerful than we think we are !!

During this weekend, I have come across a great insight illustrated through a simple story. I highly recommend you to read this story till the end and understand that our real strength lies not in independence but in interdependence, and seeking support is not a sign of weakness, you will make your life easy at work no matter how difficult your task is.
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A young boy and his father were walking along a forest path. At some point, they came across a large tree branch on the ground in front of them.

The boy asked his father, “If I try, do you think I could move that branch?” His father replied, “I am sure you can if you use all your strength.”

The boy tried his best to lift or push the branch, but he was not strong enough, and he couldn’t move it.

He said, with disappointment, “You were wrong, dad. I can’t move it.”

“Try again,” replied his father.

Again, the boy tried hard to push the branch. He struggled, but it did not move.

“Dad, I cannot do it,” said the boy.

Finally, his father said, “Son, I advised you to use all your strength. You didn’t. You didn’t ask for my help.”

Team Work

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Some reflections on this story…

We haven’t used all our strength until we have recognized, appreciated, and galvanized the strength and support of those who love and surround us and those who care about our purpose.

  Our real strength lies not in independence but in interdependence. No individual person has all the strengths, resources, and stamina required for the complete blossoming of their vision. That requires the inspired collaboration of many like-hearted beings.

  To ask for help and support when we need it is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of wisdom. It is a call for the greater strength that lives in our togetherness.

When by yourself,

You cannot manage,

To complete any task,

Use ALL your strength,

Turn around and ASK!