Be co-operative on feedback

August 31, 2009

Q: As a new manager, I have to give an employee some feedback on a job she thinks she’s doing well. How can I be direct without getting her back up?

A: Hard feedback is effective when delivered with a soft start-up. First, get a clear picture of how your employee thinks she’s doing and why. Suspend your opinion and explore her perspective with genuine curiosity. While you don’t need to agree, letting her know you understand and accept her will make her more open to your viewpoint later.

Point out qualities you value in her — irrespective of her performance — such as her initiative, determination and reliability. Be direct and specific about what is working and why: “You are diligent and meet your deadlines. You keep projects moving forward and on track.”

Provide clear, concise and matter-of-fact feedback about what’s not working. Point to the tasks — not her personally — avoiding all-or-nothing language.  For example, “your reports lack the necessary details to support your point of view.”

Any hint of impatience or blame will raise defensiveness. Calmly explain the cost to her: “When your reports are superficial, the reader can discount your logic.”  Demonstrate your commitment to her success by pointing to specific changes that would produce successful results: “Including relevant case studies and key metrics would make your argument more compelling.”

Let her know you believe in her ability. “You have a solid grasp of the issues. All you have to do is provide more back-up for the reader.”

Ask her what steps she’s willing to commit to and set a time together to revisit the issue. Limiting the amount of corrective feedback and presenting it as a gift will leave your employee hopeful and motivated rather than daunted and demoralized.

Originally printed in The Province August 30, 2009.

Your strengths will sustain you

October 5, 2008

Q: I’ve just been promoted to senior manager, but I’m intimidated about meeting customers more senior than I. I doubt I have enough to offer someone so experienced. How can I overcome this immediately?

A: A new role can definitely push you out of your comfort zone, but if you didn’t have the potential to grow into the responsibilities, you wouldn’t be in this position.

Build your confidence by leveraging your current strengths. If spontaneity is a challenge, pre-plan your presentation.

Steer the meeting to showcase your unique strengths and knowledge. Promote whatever it is — your technical expertise, business systems integration or financial forecasting. Clearly outline how your solution benefits the client, demonstrating you really understand and care about their needs. Resist the temptation to over-compensate by exaggerating your expertise. They’ll see right through that.

Be honest about what you know and don’t be afraid to say you’ll get back to them when you don’t. Creating space between your interactions can buy you time to formulate intelligent responses.

Before each meeting, take several minutes alone to collect your thoughts and decide what kind of executive presence you want to project: trustworthiness, confidence, flexibility, determination or ingenuity? Think about how you need to show up to demonstrate those characteristics to create that impact.

Finally, enjoy this honeymoon period by giving yourself time to get acquainted with your clients. It is more advantageous to uncover what’s important to them than it is to show off how much you know.

Spend the bulk of your time being genuinely curious about them, what they want, need and how they define success. Forging solid relationships is a wise long-term investment for any promising up-and-comer no matter where their future sights are set.

Originally printed in The Province on October 5, 2008.

Be yourself, not a work impostor

June 17, 2007

Q:  My supervisor insists that to get promoted to the senior executive level I have to increase my visibility by blowing my own horn. I find that self-serving and offensive. How else can I advance?

A:  Don’t fake it to make it. Moulding yourself in order to gain a promotion is short-sighted and may have long-term consequences. Any behaviours you adopt solely to achieve a promotion will surely be expected of you once you win the position. It can also infect you with a chronic case of Impostor Syndrome. The key symptom is incessant questioning of whether you rightfully deserve your new title.

Catching the attention of key decision-makers by maintaining your personal integrity is far more compelling.

Pioneers and risk-takers get noticed. Take a leadership role in projects with significant impact, that are leading-edge or resolve some long-standing pain in the organization. Leverage your strengths and abilities by taking on roles that highlight them.

Results speak volumes. It is impossible to overlook someone who continually brings measurable benefits to the table.

Know your own terms and present your viewpoint with confidence. Demonstrate executive presence by standing for what you believe in. At the same time, welcome others’ contributions by incorporating their input. Be an inspiring leader. Support and empower others’ success. They will be your greatest allies.

Focus on bringing relevant and meaningful added value to everything you do. Visibility and recognition will be a natural byproduct.

Originally printed in The Province,  June 17, 2007.

A bruised ego won’t kill you

March 4, 2007

Q: I was passed over for a promotion in favour of a less-qualified candidate. I’m furious, insulted and feel like quitting. How do I face my humiliation?

A: Being rejected, overlooked or even wronged can be agonizing, but no one has ever died of a bruised ego. Leaving the company will mean enduring yet another application process without a track record to capitalize on. Your greatest victory can still be with your current employer if you take these steps:

  • Get over it. Take a limited amount of time to be angry and nurse your ego back to health. Purge your negative feelings so you can convert the pain into a gain.
  • Get back in the game. Like Olympians, true winners evaluate where they excelled and where they can improve. Schedule a meeting with the decision maker(s). This takes courage, but demonstrates your determination, commitment and passion. Acknowledge the winner. Do not dispute the selection process; instead, be curious and seek feedback.
  • Get the gold. No Olympian trains in isolation. Enlist a mentor and supporters to keep you motivated and moving forward on your plan. Build visibility with decision-makers by reporting on your key accomplishments. Solicit and integrate their feedback.

You are positioning yourself to step into the promotion should the new candidate not work out, to be considered for other upcoming roles or even to have a position created especially for you.

Originally printed in The Province on March 4, 2007.

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