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Giving Negative Feedback – 5 Methods that Will Help You

Giving Negative Feedback – 5 Methods that Will Help You

It is always difficult to have a conversation about something someone is not doing well enough, at work. However, without these conversations, and appropriate avenues to facilitate these conversations, getting better would never be an option. Giving Negative Feedback is something that can get uncomfortable for either of the two reasons: 1. not being sensitive enough, 2. for being too sensitive and not putting across your point clearly. However, if you are in the shoes of someone who is expected to help your co-workers grow – by providing them with timely and accurate feedback, you will have to familiarize yourself with the process of delivering feedback. And it won’t always be positive feedback.

Here are 5 methods that will help you deliver negative feedback in a more structured, professional, and hopefully pleasant way:

  1. Take the help of self-assessments

    If you use self-assessments, your job is already half done. Using a pre-made self assessment checklist, and asking your team member to complete it before the feedback meeting helps both of you gain perspective about the current situation. In a lot of ways, it also helps both concerned get on the same page. By taking the help of a self-assessment you help prepare yourself for the meeting, and also give the concerned person an opportunity to rate himself/ herself honestly. During your meeting, this can be used as a yardstick to discuss the feedback you have.

  2. Use their job description as a basis

    Another “tool” apart from the self-assessment checklist that you can use to facilitate the feedback session is the job description of the team member. A job description is an outline of the expected roles and responsibilities of an employee. By using it as a basis of comparison to the actual tasks and objectives being met by the individual, you will have an idea about if he/she is aligned with the job description or has deviated from it. This will also help you point this out to your team member.

  3. Support your feedback with examples

    The basis for your negative feedback would be specific. And it is important to say out loud the specifics of the feedback. In other words, if your feedback comes with an example of a specific situation, bring it up. By doing so, you are able to be clear in your communication and this will also help you tackle the next steps of thinking about a solution to the problem. When you speak in vague terms, finding solutions to problems become difficult. As a result of which the problem may keep occurring.

  4. Speak about strengths

    It is important to support or balance your negative feedback with positive feedback. Remember that the objective of the feedback session is to bring to the notice of the team member what is not working, and to motivate him/ her to do better, and not the contrary. If it were the contrary then this would have been a meeting to discuss the individual’s termination from the organization. Therefore, it is important to also speak about the skills and the strengths of the individual. It is also important to be careful about how you speak. Adopting a tone that is firm, yet kind is the best bet. Do make sure that the session is a dialogue. Listening is as important as speaking!

  5. Remind yourself that this is your job

    No matter how hard it is to carry through this session, you need to because after all, it is your job. Before the session, it is important for you to orient yourself about it so you can be as professional as possible. Remember that it is not a personal reason being discussed, but a professional one. Hence, you must remain objective through out. It is also important to keep in mind that the team member concerned may not view the feedback as objectively as you provide it. In which case, you would have to remind yourself to hold your ground and tell yourself that you are doing your job.

Have you been in a position where you have had to discuss or provide negative feedback to a team member? What worked for you and what didn’t? Hearing from you always motivates us to write better, so do write back!

Five Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies for Managers

Five Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies for Managers

Learning how to effectively and efficiently resolve conflict is one of the most important skills for a leader, and a manager. The work place is representative of a stand alone universe in itself. In which case, it is only obvious that it will have people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse goals and objectives in their minds. While diversity is a bonus, it can also lead to making differences more obvious. Which in turn could lead to conflict. Conflict in work place is an unavoidable situation. Imagining the existence of a completely harmonious  work place is just an idyllic thought. While conflict is an unavoidable part of the day-to-day functioning at the workplace, there are tried and tested strategies to effectively diffuse conflict, and your role as the manager is crucial towards the methods adopted for resolution of the conflict. Have a look at some of the best and most effective Conflict Resolution Strategies.

Conflict Resolution Strategies #1 – Practice on Building Foresight

Prevention is better than cure. Most conflicts can be predicted, detected and prevented in an early stage. To avoid matters from escalating, watch out for situations which feel like they could blow up into a potential conflict. This is where your experience and acumen as a manager comes in handy. A stitch in time could save the day.

Conflict Resolution Strategies #2 – Be Objective

When called upon or intervening to resolve a conflict, it is important to review the matter in an objective manner. Being objective in situations of conflict helps you think clearly, and helps you move towards a fair, efficient and speedy resolution. It is easy to assume one party as the victim, and the other as the perpetrator when things are taken at face value. However, that is where your role as a manager is crucial. Look at the whole matter objectively, taking stock of, and recording facts wherever necessary before making a judgement or pronouncing any decision.

Conflict Resolution Strategies #3 – Call for a private meeting

Speaking to the concerned parties at the same time and place while the matter is still fresh, can only cause things to get worse. A process of reconciliation should definitely be initiated, however not at the very outset. Call for a private meeting with both parties concerned and hear them out individually. This will help you get a clearer picture of the issues, and will also function as a cooling period for both parties. In a way, they get to speak what’s on their mind and that in itself is a crucial part of conflict resolution.

Conflict Resolution Strategies #4 – Keep it professional

Once a conflict goes down the personal route, it is a very sticky and unpleasant situation to recover from. It may be very difficult to stop an escalation in that direction, because the base of no conflict is wholly professional, whereas the base of all conflicts are definitely to some extent ideological. Ideological conflicts in turn, can quickly turn into personal ones. Your intervention as the manager is what stops the conflict from turning into a personal one. As a manager, keep your treatment of the conflict as professional as possible and avert/ reject any personal stabs.

Conflict Resolution Strategies #5 – Not every conflict needs your intervention

Understanding that conflict is a natural part of the work space is a lesson you will learn over time as a manager. Not every conflict will need your intervention, and it is up to you to choose which ones need your intervention. Allow for a culture where conflicts can be resolved naturally and mutually. That is how it should work for most small-scale conflicts. Knowing just when to step in is a managerial art, one that comes with experience and practice. But having faith that your team can resolve a conflict on its own is also a managerial art.

Being in a leadership position is not easy because there will be situations you will have to deal with, which given a choice you’d choose not to deal with. That is where the challenge of being a good and efficient manager lies.  How you deal with these issues affect the environment in the organisation, and the productivity and vibe of your team. Never hesitate to reach out to senior colleagues or mentors for advice on a given situation related to conflict resolution – keeping in mind the confidentiality of the parties involved, of course.

Have a case study or personal experience on effective conflict resolution strategies? This is the right place to put them out! Comments invited.

Importance of Mental Health Awareness at Work

Importance of Mental Health Awareness at Work

While efforts for mental health awareness in the space has picked up pace, there still is a long way to go. Recent studies and research has shown the direct link between mental health and performance or productivity.

To understand why mental health awareness at the workplace is an issue to be addressed immediately one must look at the bigger picture of how serious the concern really is. Numbers are absolute, and make an impact in a way that words cannot. So here are some numbers to put things into perspective, before we delve further into the topic.

Mental Health Awareness – A Reality Check

  • 56 million Indians, or 4.5% of India’s population suffer from depression.
  • While nearly 10 per cent of the population has common mental disorders, 1.9 per cent of the population suffers from severe mental disorders. [Source: WHO]
  • The WHO has defined sustainable development goals and elaborated the impact of mental illnesses and suicide on them. The suicide rate in India in 2015 at 15.7/100,000 is higher than the regional average of 12.9 and the global average of 10.6. Suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 15–29 in India. [source: Mental Health Awareness: The Indian Scenario]
  • There is just one psychiatrist for four lakh Indians. Another expert said there were 4,000 psychiatrists, 1,000 psychologists and 3,000 social workers for the whole of the country and only 1,022 college seats for mental health professionals are set aside in India. [Source: World Mental Health Day: India’s Mental Health Crisis In Numbers]

Can the World of Work Make a Difference?

Yes it can.

Coming away from the scary numbers, let’s talk about how the world of work can make a positive difference to the existing scenario.

Why should the world of work make a difference?

Because about 8-10 hours out of 24 hours of our day is spent at work.

How can the work-space make a difference to our mental health awareness?

1. First things first, by acknowledging the importance of mental health and mental health awareness.

This made news recently, when an employee wrote to her CEO informing that she would be taking some time off, so she can come back a ‘100%’. The CEO’s response is up here for all of us to see.

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Acknowledging that taking care of your mental health is important is the first step towards creating awareness. Being fit mentally is just as important as being fit physically to be at your productive best. However, it is impossible to bring about change without acknowledgment of the issue.

2. Tackling the associated Stigma

The social stigma attached to mental health comes in the way of even acknowledging mental health issues and dialogues. This continues to be one of the main road blocks towards addressing mental health concerns. Along with dealing with the mental health concerns, the individual is also at the receiving end of a great deal of social prejudice and discrimination. One way work spaces can help tackle this is by holding frequent workshops, webinars, or even focused conversations and dialogues on mental health. It is because of the social stigma attached that more often than not, mental health concerns are internalized.  Addressing them by holding sustained conversations about them is the only to bust the stigma.

3. Making resources available

By creating a work environment where the employees have access to basic mental health resources, should they need it, is a great way of showing support for mental health concerns. When we say resources, we mean very simple, basic resources, which in fact should become a norm. For example, a counselor at a designated desk. If the organisation cannot afford a full-time counselor, you could bring someone on board for 2 or 3 days a week and he/ she could be made available on appointment. Similarly, other easy ways are by creating a resource pool of short  video clips or documents on mental health which could be circulated amongst the employees on email.

Spending some time on creating a ‘Mental Health Directory’, can also be hugely beneficial, not just for your organisation, but for anyone who has access to this directory. Recently, students from the Azim Premji University in Bangalore, created a Mental Health Directory for the city of Bangalore, which has valuable information regarding all available mental resources in the city. Awareness centers, recreational  centers, wellness centers, counselors, psychiatrists, alternative care services, rehabilitation centers are some of the many resources which have been documented within this directory.

4. Small changes to the work-space design can make big differences

When we say changes to work space design, we do not mean big, expensive changes. We mean a basic mindfulness check of your work space.

While companies invest in many strategies to support the physical health of employees, from flu vaccinations to filtered air systems, ignoring employees’ mental health means businesses risk losing any gains they make in physical health support. Depression, stress, substance abuse, financial distress, work-life balance, ADHD, and, yes, even workplace bullying are all issues with which workers are dealing and that have a large drain on productivity. – Jennifer Stukenberg, How to design workspaces that support employee mental health.

Being mindful in how the work-space is designed plays a huge role in enhancing the productivity of your employees, by supporting their mental health. The most basic checklist is as follows –

  • Well lit and ventilated work space.
  • Away from noise and distraction.
  • Ensuring cohesiveness by positioning the employees in such a way that they can see each other and feel connected, instead of feeling isolated.
  • Some green around – there are plenty of options for indoor plants!

5. Building Empathy into the Organizational Culture

How sustainable all the above listed options are, is entirely dependent on the larger culture of the organisation. Cultivating ’empathy’ as a culture within the organisation is the key to understanding mental health concerns.

Empathy is not sympathy or pity. Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings from their perspective. It’s about putting yourself authentically in someone else’s shoes. Asking questions from their point of view and not yours, pausing, listening and thinking about the opportunities / issues from that person’s position. Why Every Business Needs a Culture of Empathy

Without the concept of empathy, understanding mental health concerns, or working towards mental health awareness will remain a distant dream. Also, the culture of empathy really starts at the top. It is the vision of the organisation, and the outlook of those on the top to fulfill the vision which makes all the difference.

We leave you with this thought provoking TedTalk by renowned mental health practitioner, Vikram Patel, on Mental Health for All by Involving All. In his talk, Patel argues why mental health shouldn’t just be a privilege of the first world, as it is today, and should be accessible to all. He goes beyond just posing problems by proposing low cost and effective solutions to address these issues.

Are you ready to take on, what may be called as your ‘basic responsibility’ to make mental health accessible for your employees?

Five Ways to Survive and Thrive during Organisation Structure Changes

Five Ways to Survive and Thrive during Organisation Structure Changes

It starts with tremors and before you realise what is happening, the ground starts shaking violently under your feet and there you are in the middle of a major seismic activity hanging on for dear life to your seat. Hold on – I am not talking about cyclones, tsunamis or earthquakes of the natural kind. I am referring to the ground-shaking encountered during organizational structure changes. If you have ever worked in the corporate world, you know the kind I mean…. A quarter or two of underperformance and you can almost guarantee that the phrase “need for change” starts appearing in management communication. Unfortunately, this drive for the need for change usually does not focus on looking at the customer value creation, the business strategy or the execution gaps. The target is usually a few leaders and some shuffling of positions and responsibilities here and there at the top levels and maybe an acquisition – all under the banner “organizing for success”.

That’s all good (actually not, this is shifting the problem elsewhere and maybe creating a new set of problems but it’s a topic for another day) but in a hierarchical organization which majority of orgs are still – this is very unsettling for all the layers of people below. And given that org changes are the norm and hiding under your seat or the blanket at home till the dust settles down in the hope that things will turn out ok in the end could be an option, there is a better option as well and that is – to Be Prepared.

I consider myself a veteran at this org change business having gone through some 25 odd organization transitions in my career – some of which I just about survived and some in which I thrived. So here is my checklist of tips on coming out a winner in such transitions:

Tip #1 – Be an Intrapreneur: No matter which layer or function you are in the structure, always be a leader.  The security of a good job in a big company often brings in a sense of complacency.  In today’s scenarios, this complacency is very very risky for your career. If you were an entrepreneur or working in a startup, what would you be doing? Hustling everyday, that’s what – because what exists today might not exist tomorrow. So bring in that hustle factor into your job everyday – work for today. As Jim Rohn said – work harder on yourself than you do on your job or business.  Be an intrapreneur – an entrepreneur within your organisation. My mentor, Entrepreneur David K Williams, shared the four essential traits of an intrapreneur – read here. Do your best work and keep yourself relevant and you become sure of yourself and the fear of changing bosses, changing teams, changes at workplace will not be a fear anymore.

Tip#2 – Be Visible:  Doing great work and no one other than your immediate boss and your team knowing about it is not going to help you when your boss changes or your team changes. Much as you may hate the idea of it, you have to promote yourself. As I have written in one of my earlier posts, this was a hard-earned lesson for me. I had always believed that my work will speak for itself and rewards may be delayed but will never be denied. But then, who knows what tomorrow may bring? You cannot afford to be shy if you want your work to be recognized.  Be aware of your worth and don’t settle for less. You have to be your own marketing manager and actively market the value that you bring in to your manager, department and organization. Make sure people know who you are and what you do. Make your achievements and contributions visible as and when they happen and not just list them at appraisal time.

Tip #3 – Help Others: The single most important thing that you can do for your career is to help others in their careers. Read that line again – it is true. In life or in work, what you give is what you get. Its extra work I admit but the benefits far outweigh the efforts. I have always held the belief that real assets that we build at work are the relationships – you don’t lose these when you switch jobs or lose jobs. All the career advice about having a strong network around you is right – but it starts with an attitude of helping, of giving. Be the go-to person – be the first person that people around you think of when there is an issue to be resolved or a problem to be solved. You become an asset for your boss, your team and you company. And being an asset gives you plenty of leverage during an organizational transition – it gives you the negotiating power to tap the opportunities that the transition may bring.,

Tip #4 – Collect Mentors: A good mentor is invaluable for your career success. A mentor can be someone in your corner when you need some additional support. And if you have one within the company, she can protect you when things go wrong, propose you for great assignments and be your own internal reference. Look around you to find people who you admire and are role models for where you want to be. Don’t limit yourself to one mentor. You might look to one for domain expertise, to another for industry expertise, and yet another for personal scenarios when you need practical and helpful advice or brainstorming. And if you are lucky to find a great mentor, invest in that relationship and make sure that you too offer support when your mentor needs it.

Tip #5 – Be Aware: Of the work that you do, of your worth, of the games around you and of what is right. This Career Manifesto by Michael Wade says it all:

1. Unless you’re working in a coal mine, an emergency ward, or their equivalent, spare us the sad stories about your tough job. The biggest risk most of us face in the course of a day is a paper cut.

2. Yes, your boss is an idiot at times. So what? (Do you think your associates sit around and marvel at your deep thoughts?) If you cannot give your boss basic loyalty, either report the weasel to the proper authorities or be gone.

3. You are paid to take meaningful actions, not superficial ones. Don’t brag about that memo you sent out or how hard you work. Tell us what you achieved.

4. Although your title may be the same, the job that you were hired to do three years ago is probably not the job you have now. When you are just coasting and not thinking several steps ahead of your responsibilities, you are in dinosaur territory and a meteor is coming.

5. If you suspect that you’re working in a madhouse, you probably are. Even sociopaths have jobs. Don’t delude yourself by thinking you’ll change what the organization regards as a “turkey farm.” Flee.

6. Your technical skills may impress the other geeks, but if you can’t get along with your co-workers, you’re a litigation breeder. Don’t be surprised if management regards you as an expensive risk.

7. If you have a problem with co-workers, have the guts to tell them, preferably in words of one syllable.

8. Don’t believe what the organization says it does. Its practices are its real policies. Study what is rewarded and what is punished and you’ll have a better clue as to what’s going on.

9. Don’t expect to be perfect. Focus on doing right instead of being right. It will simplify the world enormously.

10. If you plan on showing them what you’re capable of only after you get promoted, you need to reverse your thinking.

 So what do you think? What tip did I miss? Tell me your story – I would love to hear and learn from you.

Pic Courtesy:  Scott Adams – http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1997-11-22/

Five Strategies to shift from a Cost Cutting to a Business Growth mindset through Operational Excellence – Business Operations

Five Strategies to shift from a Cost Cutting to a Business Growth mindset through Operational Excellence – Business Operations

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Do more with less is a common refrain in any margin focused organization. But this management guidance should come with a big “Handle with Care” sticker. In the enthusiasm to meet cost cutting targets, sometimes organizations forget the “doing more” part and only focus on the “with less” part. By the time, the realization sets in that the growth engine has stalled, it is too late. And most likely, you are left with an organizational culture where “fear” rules supreme and “fun” is a word that belongs outside the work-place. Result – Bottom line improves in the short-term but starts declining after reaching a threshold. With stagnant or diminishing top-line, no amount of cost cutting can help improve profits dramatically after a certain point.

High performance is multi-dimensional – putting the entire organization’s focus on just costs is counter-productive. While margin improvement is crucial, good solid revenue growth is even more important to build a sustainable, profitable business. And these two goals should not be in conflict with each other. With some discipline and mindset changes enforced in day-to-day business operations, one can successfully do the balancing act so that the organization does not lose its focus on growing revenues while keeping a tight control on costs.

The entire business framework that you work in can be used to influence changes in the right direction. Here are five strategies that I have seen business leaders use successfully to shift the organization to a revenue growth mindset in no particular order:

Strategy 1: Budgeting – Put your money where growth is The key to building a high-performance and growth focused culture is to make sure you consider “‘what“ and “how“ you will get to your destination – the clear guidelines of what you need to do now to reach where you want to be in a specific timeline. And, what better place to define this than in your annual business budget. For example what are the core competencies that you need to develop in the current year so that the growth for the next two-three years are secured? What investments of the previous year have not achieved desired results and needs a change in strategy? What partners and channels needed to be cultivated in current year to be able to stay competitive in the market? While a lot of attention is given on the cost items to achieve the top line for the current year, not much attention is given to the few investments that are needed to accelerate the growth for the longer term. Budgeting is a great tool to ensure that the organization is well prepared and aligned for growth.

Strategy 2: Granularity of Growth – Identify the Growth Drivers –  Research shows that having multiple avenues to growth pays off during good times and bad.  In the book – Granularity of Growth (Wiley, April 2008), the authors identified that increased market-share is seldom a driver of growth. They contend, instead, that growth is driven by where a company chooses to compete: which market segments it participates in and how much merger-and-acquisition activity it pursues in these markets. The key is to focus on granularity, to breakdown big-picture strategy into its smallest relevant components. To uncover pockets of opportunity, executives need to dig down to deeper levels of their businesses and organizations. And of course, get the execution plan in place for the opportunities identified.

Strategy 3: Clarion Call – Aligning the Organization to the Vision – It is critical that every employee knows and understands the vision of the organization and the strategy for growth. Re-orienting people is not an easy job but it can be done if the leadership can clearly articulate the problem statement behind the vision and the urgent changes that are needed to get everyone on the board. The idea here is to get people really involved and committed to growth – logic and reason have their place, but in initiatives like this the emotions of people have to be tapped. Hence the need for a clarion call (en.wiktionary.org/wiki/clarion_call – Appeal, urgent call to action).  And also the need for a re-organization too – to move your best people (sales, operations, delivery) from low growth or stagnant business areas to high growth areas to leverage your talent and shake off the inertia.

Strategy 4: Platform for Ideas – Make Innovation more than a buzz word Innovation is the Petri dish for exponential growth. But without a specific team accountable for innovation (which could be new product ideas, new business models, new markets, new acquisitions or new competencies) the focus on exponential growth is lost in the day-to-day block and tackle for meeting the short-term business targets. One person in the senior leadership should have the mandate to lead this team and the authority to champion and approve initiatives that are separate from the company’s core business and to execute on these initiatives. This provides an ecosystem of a structure, time and resources for a “start-up” within the larger organization to help move beyond the comfort zone and also future-proof the business against risks to existing business.

Strategy 5: Metrics and Rewards –Targets breed Performance – Coming to my favorite topic, setting metrics and commensurate rewards is an important lever to quickly drive and arrive at the behavior needed to go beyond just incremental growth.  For example – setting a target of 5% revenue growth year on year with a slightly higher target for profits is quite acceptable but this can be achieved by a little more push on existing services or products. There is no compelling need to look for completely new sources of revenue or new business models. What is needed here is BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), metrics that can be used to track and measure not only the results but the investments, resources and behaviors that are needed to achieve the goals and of course, equally Big rewards to excite and enthuse the teams to think differently, get out of their comfort zone and act like entrepreneurs.

Profitable double-digit growth can become a possibility and not just a fluke. By thinking proactively and building growth into day-to-day business operations, the cost cutting trap can be avoided. A growth oriented mindset can indeed become part of the organization culture when the management plans and puts in place the systems to ensure that growth opportunities are identified and pursued as diligently as costs are controlled.

What have I missed? What growth strategies have you seen work? How and what have you factored in your plans for next year to enable double-digit growth? I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Picture courtesy : http://www.flickr.com/photos/ytueresburroyyomemonto/2687124044/

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