Sunday, May 23, 2010

How did you respond to other's work today ?

Scenario# 1:
A test engineer working to test an application seemingly works hard to find an all important bug that is potentially a show stopper. He later takes care of all the possible details to log the defect. This defect goes into the series of confrontations with the Development team and after much of back and forth, the development team agrees to fix the defect. This makes the test engineer happy but he does not get to hear any words about his effort from his superior or for that matter none of his colleagues respond back on good skills that he displayed.

Sounds a familiar situation! It might be. I think most of us have gone through such an event or may be would have gone through it so many times that we have stopped caring that someone would respond.

Scenario# 2:
Reciting the above story again and this time say the end response is changed. The superior of the test engineer looses his temper on him when the confrontation with the Development team was happening without understanding the bigger picture of what he was trying to achieve. This definitely is an unreasonable response but not a unique one. Most of the people face the situation when they get reprimanded prematurely. I have faced it . You must have faced it too.

The question here is not how often you have faced outcomes in Scenario# 1 and 2 in your work life or how you responded when faced with this situation. But i think the bigger question seemingly is what are the prime factors that lead to such situations ? The prime factors not pertaining to the individual at the receiving end but largely why such situations arise.

Primarily, Why does an individual seek a response to any work done by him or her ?
Note that i have chosen the word "response" instead of "feedback" here. The prime reason for that is because the feedback can be positive or negative but the response to a particular situation may vary depending upon the context.

Any individual may seek a response to his or her work for myraid of reasons. One of the greatest reasons is Self esteem needs. If an individual feels he has done a good work,depending upon a kind of person he/she is- may seek approval from others to feel good himself. Self esteem needs are the most basic of the human needs and if it is not met, the individual will tend to be discouraged in a longer run. Every employee in true sense seeks that "feel good" factor from the job he is doing. It is one of the intangible benefits that an organization can provide in addition to all the incentives etc.
Other reason can be seeking the ways to improve his or her efforts. By giving right response, an Individual can enhance the work performance manifold.
One way a response to work can help is showing what is the "right" way to do a task in a given context.

Does the response needs to be given only by his superior ?
The answer to this question may be tricky as it largely depends upon the Organization or team culture as setup by the Group head. Going by the traditional model, the feedback of a certain task is given by one's superior only. But the avenues of an employee to improve does not end at the Superior's feedback given the fact that Superior may be working under several external forces when undertaking a feedback session. The employees truly looking to improve upon their work skills do not solely rely on feedback from superior and seek the improvement ideas from all possible quarters in a professional manner. I strongly beleive that for a success of team, followership is more important than leadership. One of the key responsibilities of a follower is to seek feedback and also give feedback. The practice of giving feedback may vary depending upon the organizational culture. Please note that the word "Follower" is generally looked down upon by certain section of employees. In my world, a follower is the most important element of a team and plays a crucial role to make the leader, the team and the organization successful.

Ken Blanchard's "response model":
I think it is apt to discuss the "response model" suggested by Ken Blanchard in his book- the little book of coaching

There are 4 ways in which a coach can respond when the team member does some work-
1. No response:
It means no acknowledgement what-so-ever of the work done.
2. Negative response:
It means that the coach is always on the look out for a mistake and blasts off, if it happens (how-so-ever minor).
3. Redirection response:
It means that the coach helps the employee understand the correct way and helps redirect the energies of the employee towards the goals when a mistake or failure happens.
4. Positive response:
It means that the coach makes an efforts to find the positive things and bestows a genuine appreciation for the good job done.

The responses# 1 and 2 above are quite common in today’s work place and infact these responses are easy in a way and for most people it do not require any effort at all. It is very easy for the Coaches to come up with these responses being in their comfort zones. In my experience, the no response is sometimes more dangerous than a negative response as it instills the doubt in an employee’s minds as to whether his work is worthwhile to the organization afterall.

Most coaches struggle to give responses# 3 and 4. Giving an heart-felt praise or an honest redirection requires guts and courage to leave that typical comfort zone- a skill that doesnt come naturally to many. But the fact of the matter is that a Redirection response or a Positive response goes a long way in ensuring that intent of response is internalized properly.

How often do you choose Redirection or Positive response in your coaching ?

7 comments:

Vittal said...

Hi Anuj,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I agree with the points expressed.
I had a couple of points to add.

It takes extreme sincere effort from team supervisors to give an honest unbiased feedback. It’s often easy to sit on the other side of the table in a so called 1x1 session and pass some irrelevant feedback. It takes keen observation on part of supervisors to be aware of what his team members are working on. It takes efforts and as per me it’s worth it, else in the 1x1 feedback session everything under the sun is discussed except what is important and relevant.
I have faced it, if not the worst version, but definitely the bad version of what I described above.
Bottom line, supervisors need to know individual team members working style, strength and interest and also keep them self updated of what actual efforts they are putting and show sincere efforts in helping team members reach next level of their individual efficiency and become better engineers.

As you mentioned, supervisors need to move way beyond their comfort zone to achieve this.

On giving responses, I wanted to add below points

Sharing banana:

Sharing banana is a good response. What actually I meant was, small encouragement when team member has done some real good stuff, going beyond the call of duty, if it deserves an honest praise, give it. Just a talk, congratulating him on his work, a “Job Well Done” mail will do the job. No one demands a trophy every time. Just share a banana. These small words of encouragement keep the motivation mill running.

Sandwich feedback:

Sandwich feedback should be avoided at all cost. This is usually used when supervisors want to play diplomatic and still give feedback. Usually they start with talking all good stuff the team member has done, boast his confidence, that’s just one layer and then comes the bitter bit, saying you did these, these items which are bad and you need to change and they close it with one more sweet layer that you are doing fabulous job. The receiver is lost in the whole discussion as to what his supervisor was speaking about. Was it that he wanted him to improve or continuing his good work? As the numbers say, 2 is to 1, receiver will go with mindset all is well and he need not do anything extra.
There goes the message, lost in the sandwich 

Timely responses:

A timely response/feedback ensures the team members that their supervisors are aware of their work. In particular, when we are working with cross site teams, an appreciation mail from cross site comes in and then the local Manager seconds it. This brings in a sense that, whatever we are working on is not even been observed.

Timely responses ensure sense of achievement. If they come at the end of the year during discussion definitely the content, context and effectiveness is all diluted.


Getting an honest lead is always not possible, so keep oneself focused and try to improve. Project good work and where ever possible project your colleagues work in good light, if it deserves an honest appreciation, give it. It’s up to individual to keep oneself motivated and take the correct message from any discussion you have. If a change in you, results in a better you, that change is worth it. Put efforts to reevaluate you and put constant effort to improve.

As I said these are just my thoughts.

Thanks,
Vittal

amagazine said...

Hi Vittal,
Thanks for sharing your views. I largely agree with them. The fact of the matter is that giving formal feedback becomes easier if one's response is timely and honest. Its always better replying on "timely response" than a "formal feedback" for better results.
In general, anything that isnt honest and timely is not a feedback in true sense but may be a mere formality.

Regards,
Anuj

Renjith Menon said...

Very nice post!! .
When talking about feedback from supervisor yet another topic which is usually discussed together is appreciation in public Vs Private. What are your views on this and how does this effect the team culture?

In one of my earlier team we followed a culture of appreciating and thanking each other whenever someone does a great job or extend any help. We observed this made a significant cultural shift in the team, what we observed that lot of people really like to get a peer appreciation which they feel is more honest.

Vittal said...

Hi Anuj,

Renjith's comment triggered a new thought in me, which i missed out mentioning in my 1st comment.

I sincerely feel that "Private Appreciation" actually work reverse and demotivates individuals.

When a supervisor gives a Private Appreciation, doesn't a thought cross your mind, "is he honest in what he is saying", "how can i be sure he is not telling the same story to others also".

May be it is the level of trust between the supervisor and team member responsible for this.

A public feedback in turn establish the deserving candidates credibility in the team. It not only ensures that supervisors have appreciated individual work, but team members also start respecting the individual. In a way it also motivates other team member to gain similar appreciation for their work.

Thanks,
Vittal

amagazine said...

Hi Renjith,
Thanks for sharung your views. Some of my thoughts here-

When talking about feedback from supervisor yet another topic which is usually discussed together is appreciation in public Vs Private. What are your views on this and how does this effect the team culture?

I will quote of my recent discussions with Tathagat Varma (http://www.managewell.net), which is very relevant to interesting question you had put forward-

"As you said, we struggle to utilize response #3 and #4 and often resort to #1 and #2, which is a shame. I don’t know if this is a very cultural and ‘Indian’ thing, or there is more to it than meets the eye. Americans are definitely more vocal about responses, even if many people might believe there is more of pep-talk than real feedback. Irrespective, pep-talk is still a great response to motivate someone! Europeans are perhaps little subdued, and Asians or Indians are definitely much more conservative with showering appreciation. Is it that we believe that an extravagent display of appreciation could (a) get to the head of the recepient, or (b) set the expectations that everytime someone does something, it has to be appreciated, or (c) we feel singling out one in the team might not be good for the teamwork, or (d) make it difficult if next time they have to give a tough feedback to that person, or some other reason(s) ?"

I guess the above excerpt really catches what goes on in the mind of a person showering praise or rather the "dilemma of public praise" in cultural context. Though Public praise is often labeled as a preferred mode of praise but when we view it in cultural context, the responses tend to vary.
Another dimension is, lets say a Superviser is an Intovert guy whose "preferred" mode is definitely not public due to the way he is but he is honest in communicating the praises privately and makes sure that people who matter knows of the good job his sub-ordinate has done. Is there anything wrong is such a praise though its private ? I really dont think so as not everyone is as forthcoming is displaying emotions as probably some of the more extroverted guys.

In one of my earlier team we followed a culture of appreciating and thanking each other whenever someone does a great job or extend any help. We observed this made a significant cultural shift in the team, what we observed that lot of people really like to get a peer appreciation which they feel is more honest.

Thanks for sharing this. It is a wonderful concept worth replicating. I think peer feedbacks would more often be honest, clear and effective.

amagazine said...

Hi Vittal,

I sincerely feel that "Private Appreciation" actually work reverse and demotivates individuals.
When a supervisor gives a Private Appreciation, doesn't a thought cross your mind, "is he honest in what he is saying", "how can i be sure he is not telling the same story to others also".
May be it is the level of trust between the supervisor and team member responsible for this.


You rightly pointed out in the end. It the eventually boils down to the level of trust within team starting from supervior to the team members. If one has questions about the honesty of the praise, then for sure the basis of whole relationship is on a shaky trust foundation.
I have found out that as an individual, it is best to be neutral in such situations rather be reactive.

In general, i dont see Private Appreciation as much bad as long as it is communicated with right intent.

A public feedback in turn establish the deserving candidates credibility in the team. It not only ensures that supervisors have appreciated individual work, but team members also start respecting the individual. In a way it also motivates other team member to gain similar appreciation for their work.

I dont think the respect of team members is entirely dependent upon how supervisor percieves one's work. In the end, work speaks for itself and your good work will be noticed by colleagues much earlier that supervisor most of the times.

Vittal said...

Hi Anuj,

Thanks for the clarification.
I agree to your points.

Till the time we have a Honest and Timely feedback being given, no matter which is the means(public or private appreciation of work), the purpose is served.

Thanks,
Vittal