Speedy DELIVERy

Last week I took advantage of a pretty cool opportunity…

A few months ago I had submitted an idea for a talk to a local conference called PrDCDeliver. It’s the touchier, feel-ier, leader-ier side of another local technical conference (PrDC – Prairie Dev Con) that runs in my city every spring.

As with most things it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and being a friend of the conference organizer, I secured a spot “delivering” (see what I did there) a talk on Inspiring Team Growth Through Meaningful Feedback (you can download the presentation slides here). I’d like to think the presentation abstract I submitted had something to do with it, but who knows.

presenting
Pardon the graininess the room was definitely rocking mood lighting

Despite being a topic I’m more than familiar with (Post #1 Post #2), I had a fantastic support group backing me up in the weeks leading up to the conference.

While I’ve spoken at events before, I’ve never had an opportunity to speak to:

  1. A local audience
    It really changes things when you may never see the attendees ever again
  2. A group of IT Professionals
    Who can be an extremely critical audience (which is both good and bad)

… so I knew I had to bring my A game.

Thankfully, some of the fantastic nerds I work with offered to sit through a few dry runs of my content and offer up some feedback of their own. After three increasingly-polished attempts I felt as though I had refined a talk I had presented 5 or 6 times in the past into something of which I was much more proud.

Slides were scrapped, ideas were thrown out, jokes were dad-ified, and tons and tons of words were trimmed from the original version I had used multiple times in the past. In the end I produced the deck linked above and it was thanks to the efforts of that support group (thanks again @adamkrieger and the rest of you – who don’t have blogs I’m pretty sure)

The feedback I got on the talk was generally pretty damn good. Most of the attendees who submitted a few things that could still be improved, naturally, but that’s the benefit of putting your ideas out there … People can look at it, critique it, and generally tear you a new one without fear, cause hell, they don’t know you. The trick is, take what you learned and get better.

Here is a link to download the slides I presented at the conference

I’m leaving them just as they were presented at Deliver and I’m not going to edit them or update them as I think they represent a moment in time, just the way the blog posts I linked above do as well.

If you end up grabbing a copy, let me know what you think, I’m interested in gathering up some more feedback and continuing to iterate on something I’d like to continue to present about in the future.

Thanks for the read!

 

Next Level Feedback – How-To

For Part 1 of this post Click Here

Alright, continuing on from last week…

We’re all on board with the fact that feedback is valuable, we all want better feedback, and we can probably do a better job of writing it than we have been, yeah? Good, then we’re on the right track!

Next up … the hard part … HOW!!

Lots of processes you read about online are great at identifying the reasons why you should do something but often don’t go into enough detail to really support the hypothesis or provide a clear way forward to assist in making any real change to the habits you currently have in place. You should KNOW this isn’t that kind of blog, right?

The fact is, upping your game from where you are to where you want to get to can be accomplished by focusing on the strategies mentioned in part 1 and following through the steps outlined below. Before we jump right into it, however, lets talk about why I think this particular process so great, and why I think it really unlocks your ability to up your game!

There are lots of books written on the ideas of managing people and businesses, or even specifically on providing valuable feedback. This list is a sample of some of the books I’ve read, most of which are pretty good with the exception of Crucial Conversations and (ironically) Thanks for the feedback. These books put a stronger emphasis on the people and practically disregard applying any one particular method over another. The idea that values and relationships come before process or rules is absolutely critical (check out Start With Why as a bonus read for a deeper look at this exact point – or watch this video for the “short short version“). The interesting thing, which may be obvious to some, is that when you look at some of the common themes presented throughout most of these books, you end up with a pretty short list:

Honesty, Trust, and Transparency

2

This feels a bit like: if people trust you, believe that you have their best interest at heart, have the capability to understand where you’re coming from, and you’re willing to put your name on those opinions (lending some additional credibility) in a forum that can be reviewed by both the receiver and their managers, then they’re more likely to take your observations and grow from them.

Hmmm … this suddenly feels a like one of those obvious information is obvious moments doesn’t it?

I subscribe to the ideas put forward in the Alan Fine and Dale Carnegie books as guides for how to engage with people and help them realize their own potential. Luckily, we can also derive a few strategies for facilitating the creation of the best possible feedback with ideas merged from those two books as well.

The first key to great feedback … is to avoid writing it at all

Wait, what?

I mean this in the most literal way possible. When you’re sitting down to write feedback don’t write anything down at first, someone else can (and probably should) do that for you.

3

One of the biggest breakthroughs I had in coaching people on this topic is when I realized just how powerful a facilitator can be. Acting as a record keeper and assistant during an initial brainstorming process. This is true brainstorming. Sit down with a facilitator you can trust (there’s that word again) and suddenly the words just start spilling out of your mouth probably faster than they can be recorded (make sure its all getting captured before moving on, however, your ideas are all gold!). It’s amazing how much of an improvement you’ll see in your own feedback when you advance from writing on your own to using a facilitator. It’s so easy to give yourself an “out” when you’re sitting there drumming your fingers on the keyboard or tapping a pen/pencil on your notepad. There is nothing stopping you from just throwing your hands up and saying “Bah I can’t think of anything!” and then finding yourself doing something else within a few minutes.

To start, we’re going to come up with a list of themes or concepts that can describe the person for whom you will be providing feedback. This is just a list words, don’t worry about the grammar, don’t worry about phrasing, don’t worry about antagonizing language, just get it all down. Pretend as though you were posed the following question:

Give me the first set of words that come to your mind when you think of … <Mr. Black>

Positive things, negative, it doesn’t matter. Just get all the descriptors you can think of out of your head and into the hands of your facilitator. The idea here is to get enough points down to be able to describe the person in 20 words or so.

For example, here’s a list:

  • Project Management Skills
  • Organization / Organized
  • Leader / Leadership
  • Task Completion
  • Communication
  • Time Management

These concepts aren’t associated to things they excel at or need to improve on. Are they a fantastic Project Manager, or do they need all the help they can get? Are their communication skill excellent, or lacking? We’re not worried about any context, stories, or extra words at this point. When the list is done, you can move on to step two.

Context is key

We talked about this a bunch in the last post. Without context, the receiver won’t have any clue what it is you’re talking about. We need to make sure that isn’t the case. Now we mentioned the first step was a good brain storming session with a facilitator, and one of the keys there is that the facilitator doesn’t provide any opinions on the results. Next up … context!

The faciliator’s job is to ensure the completeness of the information provided. This is a definitely a skill that requires practice, but asking questions that demand answers will definitely help to flesh out the categories noted in our previous step. Leading with questions like:

“How so”?

“In what way could they be [better / improved / more like ____ / etc.] (this counts for both areas for growth as well as strengths)

“Compared to the [best / worst] person in the same / similar role how do they compare at ____”?

Leading (or being led) through this exercise should result in a conversation where your feelings about the individual are put forward in a way that feels natural and un-hindered by the constraints of typing, sentence structure, or even tact. The idea here isn’t to write your masterpiece, its to make sure that when you do sit down to write it everything you need is already there.

Some of the most valuable things to focus on when providing this additional context are:

  • Why the category you’re discussing matters (to you).
  • Managing the perception people have as it relates to the category at hand
  • How you feel they could improve in the future
  • Frequency of their successes or failures (as a result of the trait)

Remember, the goal here is growth … you want to make sure you’re truly celebrating the individual’s successes as well as assisting them in overcoming their weaknesses (perceived or otherwise).

Give me an example

We have now created for ourselves a list of categories and provided an explanation as to why those categories are relevant (to you). You know what really pushes your feedback right to the peak?

Examples

Nothing says …

I care enough about your continued growth that I can literally cite moments, meetings, deliverables, or conversations in which you really [excelled/failed] while working with me

…like an example of when / why / where / how / with whom something happened.

It proves you were paying attention and valuing the contributions of the individual. Remember we’re being timely with our submissions here – so the success/failure (however small) recently happened. It also acts as an additional support to the contextually relevant stuff you provided in step two!

Clean up after yourself would ya?

When you’ve finished all the work leading up to now, you’re just about ready to put this thing out there. Last order of business is, at the same time, the easiest as well as the most important. Now is when you need to go through all the content you have, add in your own flavor, and start to massage the language (not the message) to up the likelihood that the receiver believes that you believe in their growth and will respond positively to your feedback.

It’s really crucial to practice, practice, practice till you get better at this last step. Forget what you know about the sandwich method, everyone who’s been on the receiving end of it knows that its not genuine anyway (especially if you can’t think of a good top or bottom “bun”). Forget about softening the blow; I’m not suggesting you behave rudely or degrading to anyone. In fact, quite the opposite. What we’re looking for here it a genuine, truthful, and honest write up that recognizes someone’s strengths, challenges their areas for growth, and proves to them that you care enough to spend some time thinking about their abilities and potential for even greater successes.4

I have been told that his approach is a complete game-changer when it comes to writing feedback. It’s been nothing but a huge success working with my clients and co-workers leveraging this method. It’s so incredible and empowering to see someone go from frustrated to immensely proud after working through a particularity challenging write up. Now, this isn’t to say that there isn’t some degree of difficulty in working with this. Following the steps is easy enough with a facilitator, learning to facilitate is a bit more challenging (but as I said above, hugely rewarding).

Shoot me an email if you get a chance to try this method in either role, or leave a comment if you’ve previously tried it and can vouch for its effectiveness!

Happy writing!

Next Level Feedback

In the software world we hear a lot about this idea of software craftsmanship, but really, taking pride in the work we do or the deliverables we provide is something we should all appreciate. With that in mind, lets think about something most of us do on a fairly regular basis: Provide Feedback / Reviews / etc. for our colleagues. With that in mind, lets also think about getting a whole lot better at doing it. In other words, lets stop just writing feedback and start crafting it.

First a little bit of context (more on that later) …

At Online, we have an annual review cycle in place where feedback can be submitted anytime but specifically gets compiled and reviewed annually with your career mentor. Everyone has a different opinion on reviews and review cycles, but for the most part this system works well (especially since you aren’t confined to the cycle – you can provide feedback at anytime). In addition to this review process, everyone also has a Career Mentor (CM), someone to help them navigate the consultant landscape as it were. Your CM reviews your submitted feedback and discussed ways to improve in the coming year in addition to compiling some thoughts around a plan to actually realize those improvements.

Now, back to the topic at hand…

Over the past few years, feedback (and I’m talking about good feedback – not to be confused with positive feedback) has been one of the things I’ve been passionate about. I had an epiphany a couple of years ago when I was working on putting together a review for one of my team members. Going over the feedback submissions he received over the past year, most of them were not very useful at all. One thing I did notice, however, was that a select few of the submissions were good. Very good. The key for me was seeing what exactly was different about those particular submissions and putting together not only the traits that made them amazing, but an approach anyone can use to create awesome feedback every… single … time.

First lets talk about those traits. Most of the feedback I was reading at the time was poor for one, or more, of the following reasons:

It is provided out of context from when it would be most useful

Something you can do to guarantee people respond poorly to your feedback, is to provide it completely out of context.

Pro-tip: if you’re not providing feedback in a timely fashion, or you’re brushing something off face-to-face and then slamming someone in a written report after the fact… you’re doing it wrong. Level yourself up and commit to providing feedback in a timely manner when its both positive or negative.

It lacks any context or rationale providing the recipient with the submitter’s point of view

So-and-so is absolutely TERRIBLE at writing documents.

Straight up … this isn’t feedback.
It’s a statement.

statement

Writing feedback in this way allows a large degree of subjectivity to creep (or maybe dive-bomb is a better word) it’s way in, clouding what you actually meant. The problem with this statement is that it quite literally changes the feedback’s message from what the you think it means to how the recipient interprets it’s meaning.

Your 5-WHY’s (with a splash of don’t use absolutes) typically solve this problem in two shakes.

  1. When did this issue start happening?
  2. Where did it happen?
  3. Why was this happening?
  4. Who was involved?
  5. What actually happened?
  6. Avoid absolutes – don’t say “always” or “never”

With proper context, even if the receiver doesn’t necessarily agree with you, at least they’ll be able to remember what it was that was happening and you’ll have common ground from which you can start some discourse.

The spirit of the feedback focuses on criticism rather than growth

So-and-so really needs to up their game in client meetings.

The saying, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar definitely, rings true here. Focusing on growth helps you to focus on, and provide constructive points of view throughout the entire submission. Best part is, this works even if the write up is regarding something the individual already excels at. For example:

I’ve seen so-and-so manage our meetings expertly and pull together a team even in times of extreme turmoil. What I’d really like to see is a follow up email or plan regarding the next steps we discussed in those meetings.

This is when you should be thinking along the lines of:

you could be even better if…  rather than you didn’t do very well because…

either or

The real win here (for everyone) is that you get buy-in (a.k.a. Trust) from the recipient because they believe you have their best interest at heart. This concept of trust means the recipient will be more willing to not only accept the feedback but also act upon it. When you think about it realistically, this is obviously the only reason to give feedback in the first place (to promote growth through positive change). Feedback for feedback’s sake is total nonsense.

The feedback doesn’t enable the receiver to improve

So-and-so needs to manage their time better when working with multiple clients.

Providing not only the areas for improvement, but also the strategies required for improving, will give the recipient everything they need to be successful on future engagements or projects. A common thread among all feedback books / blogs / etc. is that smart people want better feedback. They want this, of course, because smart people also want to constantly improve themselves. If you tie this back to the third item in our list, the fact that you want growth, then you really should be explaining how to grow.

Focusing on improving these four things in your own feedback can ensure the recipient is:

Understanding (because of timeliness)

Accepting (because of rationale and context)

Trusting (because of your focus on your their growth) and

Acting (because you provided a way forward).