How do you get reliable feedback?
Here’s a great piece of advice:
“Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”
(I think this advice is probably doubly true for cats.)
Using feedback from your doting dog is like believing ‘yes men’ (or women). If you use this faulty information as a basis for learning, it’s unlikely you will achieve your goals or be successful.
Marion Diamond, a neuroscientist who researches into how your environment changes your brain often stresses that: “Without feedback there is no learning.”
Feedback is the bedrock for learning new and better ways of doing things. Without feedback your learning is completely random (or worse) and you can’t identify what action to take in order to get the results you are after.
Feedback is only useful if it is reliable. The trouble is; how do you get reliable feedback?
The difference between Feedback and Opinion
First of all you need to know what real feedback is.
“You’re great!” is not feedback. It’s as useful as the adoration of your pet. It’s just an opinion (or worse in the case of your cat, where it’s really a bribe). It might make you feel good, but it’s pretty useless as far as learning is concerned.
If you acted on this feedback from your cat all the time, your cat would be the size of a small car.
For feedback to be useful, you need to know exactly what you did that made the difference.
So if you get feedback like “You’re great”, you need to get the feedback behind it. Just ask: “What did I do to make you say that?” You may be surprised.
This same technique is also very useful when it comes to the negative side of this equation. When people say unpleasant or hurtful things, like: “You’re useless.” Or “You’re just lazy.” Or “You’re no good at this.”
You can always identify this kind of useless “feedback” because it starts with “You are” and is a comment on you, not what you have said or done.
In this case ask: “What have I done that makes you think I am lazy?” (Note the use of the word “Think”; you are not admitting anything, just getting some information.) Guess what? Very often your accuser will not have any useful information at all. If they can’t come up with anything, simply say: “I’m very keen to improve, so if it does happen again, please let me know, and tell me what you’d like me to do differently.”
If they do have something useful and accurate, just thank them and see how you can use it. You may need to ask for more details. Often it’s nowhere near as bad as you think.
What is feedback?
Feedback is factual information about what you said or did that enables you to make a decision about what to do in the future.
The more accurate feedback you get, the easier you will find it to improve in every field and achieve your goals.
So get it as often as you can – it’s the quickest route to success.
Personnel Problems and the Tasmanian Tiger
We went to Australia in March and while we were there, we went to visit the fabulous
Jewel Cave near Margaret River.
The tour guide was particularly well informed and skilled at making the whole visit extremely interesting and enjoyable.
It was during our slightly scary tour round a small portion of these enormous underground caverns that we learned about a Tasmanian Tiger who had met an untimely death in one part of the cave.
The skeleton of a very ancient specimen had been found there. It must have fallen in and been unable to escape in the pitch-blackness. What a horrible end.
After the tour I read some more of the information at the visitors’ site about the Tasmanian Tiger. I discovered how the very last one of these animals had died in Beaumaris Zoo in 1939. To my horror I learned that it died because of “personnel issues”. Due to these issues the poor animal had been left out in its cage in the freezing cold with no shelter.
The implication was that this last Tasmanian Tiger died because someone did not care properly for it. And that happened because of some “personnel issues”. This could have meant anything from poor performance to a really bad recruitment. There was no more information, but this example serves to underline the fact that a “personnel issue” generally has a far bigger impact than the “issue” itself.
The tragedy is that many managers don’t seem to realize this. They carry on, ignoring problems that are staring them in the face, perhaps hoping they will go away, rather than tackling them. Why do they do that?
They don’t know how to tackle personnel issues
I believe that one reason is that they don’t know what to do, or where to start. Sometimes it’s because they get no help of support from their own manager. This kind of weakness is inexcusable. It’s what the managers are paid for.
I recently heard of once case where an employee asked a trainer who ran workshops on bullying how to deal with the bullying he was currently being subjected to. With a shrug, the trainer told him to “roll with the punches”.
They don’t know how much it’s costing
Very frequently managers have no idea of the knock on costs of poor performance and personnel issues. I imagine that includes the managers above.
The managers are completely unaware that by not tackling a “personnel issue” they are costing their employer thousands. I’ve heard estimates that a bad hire, or poor performer can cost you up to 14 X their salary. I also know some people who could tell you it’s cost them more than that.
Check the costs
Personnel Issues invariably mean that someone, somewhere, is not performing as they need to be. So something is either not getting done or is being done to a standard below the standard that you require.
The costs are often hidden. They can be spread out across many areas, especially with issues like bullying. So if there is a bit of an issue, you really need to check how bad it is and do something about it before it gets really bad.
The poor Tasmanian Tiger is just one sad example of those costs. It was a victim of a problem that is all too common and a reminder that this kind of thing has probably been going on for as long as people have been employed by others.
You need to have more meetings
Here’s an interesting thought – do you need to have more meetings? Usually people on my workshops complain they have too many meetings. In fact during more than 20 years of running workshops and courses on Time Management and coaching hundreds of people,
not a single one has ever said they wanted more meetings. I can just imagine their response at the thought.
Yet that was the intriguing idea being put to me during a call recently.
As you have probably guessed, it wasn’t just about having ‘more meetings’; it was more specific than that. It was about having very short, daily meetings with your team. When I say short, I mean five minutes. These are meetings with a very strict and clear agenda, with no going off piste.
What is your objective?
So often I discover that people are spending time (or should I say ‘serving time’) in meetings with fluffy, vague objectives or none at all. The meetings are to ‘discuss’, ‘review’ or ‘look at’ something. Not only are they going over old ground, but in many cases the participants are merely repeating what they have said in several previous meetings.
These are not the meetings we are talking about here. The objectives of the meetings I am describing are to ensure that everyone knows what they need to achieve that day in order for the team objectives to be achieved. These meetings are a tool you use in order to ensure that everyone knows what the priorities and what they need to do so that they work effectively with everyone else and ensure the goals are met.
It sounded familiar
As I listened to the description it started to sound familiar. It was exactly what I used to do many years ago when I ran various departments. Each time I took over a new department, the meetings always followed the same pattern. At first they would take half an hour. Then, over the weeks the time would reduce right down till they were short and succinct.
This was because, at the beginning, there were issues from the past that needed to be resolved. Once they had been dealt with, there were the current issues. Then, when they were resolved, it was much more efficient because you were focusing on getting it right in the future and making sure you didn’t get problems in the first place.
If you are not having these meetings with your team, I highly recommend that you start. Doing this well is a key leadership skill and will make a big difference. You’ll find it takes up a bit of time at first, but if you do it right I guarantee your results (and possibly your life) will improve.
How to avoid this costly recruitment mistake
Have you even interviewed someone and liked them so much you’ve offered them a job? And then regretted it later?
It’s so easy to do and it’s such a costly mistake to make. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure” as they say.
How does this happen? And how do you avoid this mistake?
Lack of proper preparation
It’s very easy to be a bit vague about what you need in a role. You may just need someone to ‘help out’ and ‘do a bit of admin’. Or ‘just someone who answers the phones’ or ‘who keeps things organised’.
We recruit a lot of those kinds of people for our clients.
What we find is that in the past, they have not really thought about the kind of person who would be good at that job, so instead, they’ve just recruited someone who ‘was great in the interview’.
Being great in the interview does not always correlate with being great in the job.
There are many jobs where the opposite to this can be true. Many people who are good at doing lots of detailed admin work, reliably and faultlessly, are often no the ‘life and soul of the party’ types.
As a consequence of this, they can come across as rather quiet and even nervous at interview. However, their opposites, the kind who will not be able to concentrate and will make lots of mistakes (many of which you won’t discover till after they’ve left) come across very well in interviews.
How to avoid the problem
You need to be really clear, as part of your preparation, what kind of person you need.
Find someone who is good at this job or a similar one
The best way to do this is to find someone who is already good at a similar job and see what they are like.
Once you have someone who you know can do the job, you need to work out some ways to identify this kind of person during your recruitment process.
Get the facts
Do as much research as you can. Check their application form and the records you have of their progress through the recruitment process. Find out about their background and qualifications (not always as good as you might have guessed). Then ask them some of your typical interview questions and see what they say.
Very often you’ll find that their answers are not the ones you would typically look for.
Just doing this small bit of extra research can prevent you from many costly mistakes. When you get the right person you wonder how you ever managed without them.