“The last 10 percent is always the hardest part,” a direct report once said as he invited me to share what I was truly thinking about his performance.
Despite the open invitation, I found it hard to offer honest, direct feedback. For those of us taught to be kind, delivering bad news can feel like we’re breaking a code of honor.
Receiving feedback isn’t easy either. Egos can be fragile, and we are often afraid of what we might hear. Deep down, most of us want to be affirmed. “You’re doing a good job! Honest!”
Without being willing to give and receive honest feedback, we cannot grow as leaders or help others do the same. Ken Blanchard said feedback is the breakfast of champions. So why would most of us rather go hungry?
Don Miller, in his StoryBrand workshop, says most stories boil down to a few basic questions, principal among them “Am I good enough?” Our best movies, and our best leaders, struggle to answer this question at a deeply personal level.
Note: this article was originally published online at Forbes.com.
Find It, Flip It, Elevate It: A Feedback Process that Works
We use a simple three-step process: “Find It, Flip It, Elevate It.” This pattern, drawn from the Appreciative Inquiry methodology, is simple to learn and can be applied to any challenge. Leaders who master it are known for their capacity to inspire action and drive positive results.
#1: Find It: The first step is to identify the “problem,” the issue you want to change.
#2: Flip It: Next, you flip it from a negative to a positive. What do you want more of?
#3: Elevate It: Finally, you elevate it so that it inspires peak performance.
Here’s a simple example: Tim’s office has a reception desk staffed by Carol. Because their team is small, Carol struggles to get breaks away from her desk. That means she often eats at her desk, even nibbling as she talks to colleagues or as guests are entering the reception area.
Find it: Tim thinks Carol’s habit of eating at her desk creates an unprofessional appearance, especially for guests.
Flip it: Tim wants Carol to eat somewhere other than her desk but still keep the reception desk staffed at all times.
Elevate it: Tim reframes what he wants to inspire peak performance: “As part of our brand for delivering exceptional service, we want to work together to make an incredible first impression and to convey professionalism to our all customers, guests, and colleagues.”
Next step: Tim shares his elevated vision with Carol and the rest of the team, offering examples of what a professional work environment looks like and asking their help to create it. Then he works with Carol and the team to identify a colleague who could work at the receptionist’s desk throughout the day, to give Carol time to eat elsewhere.
In this example, Tim isn’t ignoring the problem; he’s simply putting his focus on attaining excellence. His situation is a relatively simple one. Here’s a more complex example: Kerrie is the VP of an engineering team at a mid-size manufacturing company. Lately she’s noticed a lot of “not my problem” responses to concerns that arise throughout product development and testing. Telling others to “take ownership” hasn’t helped. Kerrie wants to speak with her senior directors about the problem.
Find it: Team leaders aren’t taking responsibility for the whole process, pushing problems up (or down) stream. It’s slowing down the R&D cycle and over-burdening the few employees who do take responsibility.
Flip It: What Kerrie really want is an engineering team that takes ownership for solving problems, no matter where they occurred in the cycle.
Elevate It: Kerrie reframes what she wants to inspire peak performance: “Our goal is to be the industry leader in product quality and time to market. In order to do that, we need to think and act like a team of owners, who jump in fast to fix problems and inspire others to do the same.”
Next steps: Kerrie recognizes this problem is complex and involves entrenched behaviors. A single conversation won’t solve it. She designs a process that evolves; it begins first with a meeting of her senior leadership team, where she outlines her elevated vision and then asks, “When we are at our best in thinking and acting like owners and fixing problems fast, what does it look like? What do we do that drives peak performance?” Once she collects responses, she asks the directors to use their knowledge of what has worked in the past to take it to the next level for the future. Then she asks each senior director to have the same conversation with his or her team.
The message gets repeated at an all-hands meetings and in company newsletters. When direct reports call her with problems, Kerrie asks, “What do you think?” instead of jumping in with a solution. (See a video for more on this approach at this link.) Within a few weeks, Kerrie notices she receives fewer urgent phone calls and more updates that problems were identified and solved.
Take the finger pointing out of feedback, with these tips from @ValuesDriven.
Why Give Feedback This Way? It Works!
Flipping feedback takes the finger pointing out of the equation and puts the focus on achieving exceptional performance. You’re no longer getting bogged down in blame and retribution. Instead, you’re focused on defining and building a better future. (For more on getting rid of blame, see this previous post on 9 reasons people fail and how to fix it.)
By finding, flipping, and elevating feedback, we create a shared vision: a future we want to work toward. We don’t point fingers or place blame, and we don’t have to mince words because our language can be supportive and positive. People want to work for leaders who master this sort of feedback because it strengthens and builds up. It inspires changed behavior. It finds new sources of ability and resolve, and guides teams to new levels of success.
The “Find it, Flip It, Elevate It” model uses the ideas of Appreciative Inquiry. Learn more about Appreciative Inquiry and our upcoming training events at this link.