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Feedback is a gift and other lies we tell ourselves at work (book review)

liesThis review first in the April 6th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Nine Lies About Work – A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World

By Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

Thanks for your feedback.

Now it’s our turn.

Your feedback is not a gift. Or it’s a gift we didn’t ask for and can’t return.

Truth be told, we don’t want unsolicited advice and constructive criticism. We don’t need to be fixed, rated, ranked, saved from ourselves or shown the error of our ways.

Your intentions may be good but your feedback won’t put a pep in our step or kick our productivity into higher gear.

“People don’t need feedback,” say Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, authors of Nine Lies About Work. “They need attention, and moreover, attention to what they do best. And they become more engaged and therefore more productive when we give it to them.”

Ask people on high performing teams if they’re recognized for excellent work and they’ll strongly agree.

The Gallup Organization looked at what drives employee engagement.  To put yourself in the running for worst manager of the year honours, don’t give any feedback to the people you lead. For every engaged employee, you’ll have 20 who’ve checked out.

A leader who gives negative feedback will have two engaged employees for every one who’s disengaged, according to Gallup.

And the leader who gives positive feedback gets 20 highly engaged employees for every one who’s disengaged. That’s the starting line-up you need for a winning team.

So what’s the best way to be positive with your feedback?

Tell us how you feel when our outstanding work catches your attention and makes an impression.

“For a team member, nothing is more believable, and thus more powerful, than your sharing what you saw from her and how it made you feel. Or what it made you think. Or what it caused you to realize. Or how and where you will now rely on her. These are your reactions, and when you share them with specificity, and with detail, you aren’t judging her or rating her or fixing her. You are simply reflecting to her the unique ‘dent’ she just made in the world, as seen through one person’s eyes – yours.”

But won’t accentuating the positive trip up your responsibility as a leader to have difficult yet necessary conversations with underperforming employees?

The need to shore up shortcomings is another of the lies we tell ourselves at work, say Buckingham and Goodall.

Instead of highlighting areas for improvement, focus instead on our strengths. These are the activities that make us feel strong. We eagerly anticipate doing them. We lose track of time when we do them. And we feel fulfilled after we’ve done them.

“We can’t always explain why, but some activities seem to contain ingredients that breathe life into us, that lift us up out of ourselves to reveal something finer, more resilient and more creative.”

Our strengths offer the greatest opportunity for our continued learning and growth and yield the greatest immediate and long-term returns for higher productivity.

According to Buckingham and Goodall, the best leaders leverage the unique strengths of each person on their team. You may not meet all 30 of your organization’s core competencies but you’ll excel in a few. The other members on your team will do the same and together, you’ll achieve great things. Diversity of strengths will be your team’s most valuable asset.

“Define the outcomes you want from your team and its members, and then look for each person’s strength signs to figure out how each person can reach those outcomes most efficiently, most amazingly, most creatively, and most joyfully. The moment you realize you’re in the outcomes business, is the moment you turn each person’s uniqueness from a bug into a feature.”

Give a copy of this book to everyone in your organization who’s leading a team and make it essential reading.  As Buckingham and Goodall point out, corporate culture is overrated because we don’t truly care which organizations we work for. But we do care deeply about the team we belong to. We’ll stay with a great team in a lousy organization but bolt from a lousy team in a great organization.  And that’s why deciding who leads teams is the single most important decision your organization will make. Choose wisely and then help your team leaders debunk the nine lies we tell ourselves about work.

THE NINE LIES ABOUT WORK AND THE TRUTH

Lie – People care which company they work for. Truth – It’s all about the team we work on within our organization.

Lie – The best plan wins. Truth – It’s the best intelligence – the most accurate, real-time data – that wins. Smart organizations invest in intelligence-gathering systems.

Lie – The best companies cascade goals. Truth – The best companies cascade meaning. People don’t need to be told what to do, they want to be told why.

Lie – The best people are well-rounded. Truth – The best people play to their unique strengths.

Lie – People need feedback. Truth – People want attention given in a safe and nonjudgmental environment.

Lie – People can reliably rate other people. Truth – the unique personality of whoever’s doing the rating has an outsized and highly subjective influence on whoever’s being rated.

Lie – People have potential. Truth – People have momentum.

Lie – Work-life balance matters most. Truth – Love-in-work is matters most.

Lie – Leadership is a thing. Truth – How followers feel is more important than the qualities in a leader. “We follow people who are really good at something that matters to us,” say Buckingham and Goodall.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

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