Feedback on the age of isolation: Three steps to effective conversations in the new environment
José Tomás García gives us some advice for better conversations.
Whether you are working remotely for your company’s HR department or leading a team from your home, you may, like me, have noticed there has been a growing taboo lately about discussing issues such as performance reviews and yearly goals (especially those which relate to variable compensation).
Given the state of the world right now, today's revolving subject isn't based on people’s achievements as much as it may have been before, and rightfully so, since most of the top managers in organisations understand today's priorities are their physical and mental wellbeing.
However, at the same time there’s a natural feeling of anxiety coming from both employees and leaders regarding performance and results. Businesses are slowing down and numbers are getting more difficult to come by, and while everyone is still waiting for HR to shed some light on this, their situation is no different from the rest.
The future still holds a great amount of uncertainty and nobody can be really sure about which path to take.
Working at home is great for some, nerve-wracking for others; there's no set recipe for knowing what works best for each person on our team.
That being said, unpredictability calls for accompaniments and feedback as the main tools for leaders to get the best out of their team members and make them feel a little more optimistic about today’s scenario. As such, here are three simple tips that you can easily use to have better performance conversations:
Avoid optimism bias
With physical and mental health our main concern right now, the last thing we're thinking about is overwhelming employees/colleagues with not-so-positive outlets regarding the way they have been working and that’s actually a positive thing to be worried about. It's actually called 'empathy' and it's one skill every leader should have.
But is that really what your team wants to hear?
A recent study found that when avoiding honesty, people miss out on opportunities that they appreciate in the long run. Honesty is exactly what we need when engaging with our employees right now to ignite opportunity and change. In the words of Simon Sinek “even if it's bad news, they can adjust their expectations and react accordingly.” 
Another famous army leader you probably have heard of, once said "Never awake me when you have good news...but when you have bad news, arouse me immediately, for then there is not an instant to be lost." His name was Napoleon, who lost more men to typhus (an even greater epidemic) than to his enemy.
Identify the 2 W's: When and Where
In other words, know your audience. Working at home is great for some, nerve-wracking for others; therefore, there's no set recipe for knowing what works best for each person on our team.
For many people, feedback conversations, even those with a positive outcome, can be very uncomfortable, so some may prefer having a telephone conversation somewhere else rather than in their living room or wherever he or she has their workplace set up, possibly exposed to their family or roommates.
Same goes with deciding when you are planning on doing these. Some are getting most of their work done later in the day, because they can focus better then. For example, a single parent who would not be able to have a thoughtful conversation if you're setting up an appointment when he or she is preparing lunch.
Encourage a growth mindset
Psychologist Carol Dweck defined people with a growth mindset as those who 'believe that their success depends on time and effort.'
Now this is a tricky one, because unlike other work-related situations, what we're currently facing carries many real limitations. While you can't tell your team to feel like they're the owners of the world, there are two simple things you can apply in your daily routine:
- Go for quick wins (and pave the way for eventual losses): If possible, avoid focusing exclusively on the big picture and set small and reachable goals to create a sense of achievement that will make your team feel that they’re in control. Also, have the same mindset when it comes to eventual failures. Spot possible mistakes early so that things do not get out of hand and the morale of your people takes a hit.
- Choose the right words: When giving praise, don’t concentrate so much on the results as on the process and how is everyone is doing the best that they can. Make them feel like the leading players with simple phrases like: 'I can’t believe how much you have improved since all this started', 'I admire the positive attitude you have shown despite all of the difficulties', 'You seem to handle online meetings so well' or 'Could you share some tips with the rest of the team?'
About the author
José Tomás García is an HR specialised pyschogist based in Chile.
[1 ]Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.
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