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Part 2 – Why Diversity Efforts Fail – A Four Part Series of Observations and Recommendations

If Lebron James (Basketball), Dustin Johnson (Golf), Tom Brady (Football), Serena Williams (Tennis) and Derek Jeter (baseball) need coaches to give them honest and candid feedback on their performance then we all need feedback on our work performance. We can’t expect that employees will get it on their own. Leaders must give honest feedback if they expect the performance of their team to improve.

Many corporate cultures have the appearance of being very polite but what that often signals is a culture that is afraid to speak honestly and directly to people and one that encourages these conversations to occur behind their backs. This coupled with the fear of saying something wrong or being misinterpreted has severely restricted meaningful discussions about performance and encourages coaching and development sessions that barely scratch the surface.

What I hear most from people is this, “I don’t know what to say/do”. Here are a few suggestions (Influenced by and adapted from Randy Hain’s article “A Road Map to Candid Work Conversations” that might be helpful to you as you attempt to have a candid conversation about performance.

  1. Model it. As a manager and leader, we must be the change we want to see in others. We must ask ourselves are we setting a good example for others. Do we give and receive honest and candid feedback?
  2. Admit mistakes. One of the best ways to begin an honest and candid conversation is to be humble enough to admit we made a mistake and own the consequences.
  3. Don’t make someone a lightning rod! If someone has the courage to speak out and speak up about a painful topic, publicly acknowledge and thank them for their honesty and encourage others to follow their example.
  4. Be courteous and ask permission. Whenever delivering what may be taken as difficult feedback, ask permission before giving it. Simply say: “May I have permission to be candid?” In all the years, I have seen it approached this way, no one has ever said no. Not once. The other person enters a psychological “contract” where they know something will be shared they may not like, but they appreciate the courtesy and are prepared to receive what is shared.
  5. Give permission. Let everyone around you know you are sincerely open to hearing their candid thoughts. Rather than putting someone on the spot and asking for feedback (which often inspires anxiety), try giving those around you blanket permission to come to you in private when they have something to share. When receiving candid feedback, always thank the person who offered it and avoid being defensive.
  6. Be Balanced In Your Candid Conversation. Always be balanced in your candid feedback to your audience if you want your message to be easily accepted. Egos can be easily bruised in these exchanges and being balanced is a way we can defuse the tension our directness may cause. Use phrases like “Are you open to a different perspective?”, “I might suggest…” or “Please consider this…” when offering candid performance feedback. Where applicable, offer sincere praise for things done well in addition to feedback on challenges or ways to improve.
  7. Be Behaviorally Specific and Offer Concrete Suggestions. Difficult feedback can sometimes hurt, but we should view it as a gift aimed at helping our team improve performance and avoid future mistakes. One way to be more helpful is to be clear about the challenging behaviors we have observed and offer suggestions for improvement. Use behaviorally specific language and offer concrete examples.
  8. Avoid embarrassment. It will sometimes be necessary in meetings to have difficult conversations with our colleagues and we should be mindful that we do not want to embarrass them while still delivering an honest and helpful message. There is a huge difference between picking projects apart and picking people
  9. Seek to Understand. We often miss opportunities for candid and substantive conversations because we fail to ask questions and show genuine curiosity. Asking probing questions of others rather than merely stating our opinions can often provide an opportunity to bring difficult topics to light. Examples can look like this: “Mike, do you feel like you are having the kind of success you hoped for in your new role?” or “Sarah, I am concerned that you might miss your goals this Quarter. What do you see as the obstacles in your way and how can I help you overcome them?”
  10. Feedback is best given in person and in private. As a rule, nothing should ever be conveyed via email that is emotional, awkward or subject to misinterpretation. If it all possible, I would encourage delivering candid feedback in private to ensure maximum receptivity. Candor is best suited for in-person conversations or by phone, if necessary.
  11. Promote candor through team accountability. Real collaboration is unlikely to occur when people don’t trust one another to speak with candor. Suggest to your team that candor be required in every team or staff meeting and be sure to model it for others. Take turns holding each other accountable for this behavior and do not be afraid to respectfully call out your colleagues when someone avoids addressing difficult issues.
  12. No retaliation allowed. This is not the time to be a bully or be coercive. There is no place for this kind of behavior in a culture and workplace that is diverse and inclusive. Demeaning our colleagues or retaliating against them in any way should not be tolerated in a workplace that claims to value their employees and diversity and inclusion.

As we end on performance management, candid conversations and culture, it’s important to think about the company’s culture when developing a D&I effort. What will the culture sustain or reject? How to plan for cultural barriers? This is will be the subject of the third pitfall…A lack of a change management approach to diversity and inclusion.

© Benton+Bradford Consulting