The world of politics attracts regular media attention but, in recent months, the spotlight has been focused more than ever on it due to various political contests on both sides of the Atlantic.
Since the late 1970s, HR professionals have developed the now-widespread process of people discussing their strengths and weaknesses with their managers, being set objectives, and being offered support.
Recently, former HR practitioner and university lecturer Martyn Sloman, who now writes on social and political issues, described a party political situation several years ago with which he was personally acquainted. Martyn explained that a (now former) politician “was a decent fellow but lacked the skills to be effective” in politics. A senior party official advised that local officials should agree on the areas where the politician was deficient, give him every opportunity to improve, and support him in the process. Only after this had failed should there be a move to remove him from office.
“Changes in behavior are most likely to work when the individual recognizes the problem and is willing to do something about it. If securing commitment doesn’t work, compliance involves imposing a solution, and the final step – consequences – involves telling the individual the potentially serious implications of continued under-performance.“
Martyn believes that a legitimate criticism of Western political systems is that increasing numbers of politicians have no working experience outside politics. This means that they never been given the “support and challenge“ that underpins performance improvement.
Consequently, these politicians can deny their deficiencies – blaming everyone except themselves. Martyn adds, “There’s no prospect of commitment and we move straight to consequences – leading to dire electoral prospects.”
Even outside the formal PM process, politicians receive vast quantities of . The amount of this can blind them to at least some of its truths. In any case – according to research by Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, at a NeuroLeadership Summit in Boston, MA – people (not just politicians) who receive feedback apply it only about 30 percent of the time.
Ken Blanchard – the U.S.-based management and leadership expert, speaker and author of more than 60 books, including – is credited with saying that, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” According to , who, unsurprisingly, advocates truthful, timely feedback, “I first heard that phrase from a former colleague, Rick Tate.
“He explained it in sports terms. Can you imagine training for the Olympics with no one telling you how fast you ran or how high you jumped? That idea seems ludicrous, yet many people operate in a vacuum in organizations, not knowing how well they‘re doing on any given task.“
While we should all accept feedback gladly because it can provide insights to help us to improve our performance, all of us – also – know the fear of feedback because it can be personally destructive. This fear can make us apprehensive about – even resistant to – receiving feedback.
In a work setting, if not necessarily in politics, there are ways to overcome this apprehension and resistance. One such process is:
- Don’t presume that the “feedback-receiver“ sees his or her behavior in the same way that you do.
- So, acknowledge that you’re expressing an opinion.
- Ask to hear the other person’s opinion, too. These insights can help you to secure commitment when you get to step 11 of this process.
- Use neutral language, avoiding words that carry negative connotations.
- Don’t place blame.
- Focus on what the “receiver” does (performance) not how he makes others feel (personality) – because it’s easier to be more objective about actions than feelings.
- Ask for similar feedback from the “receiver” about yourself and the opinions that you’re expressing.
- Be brave enough to ask, “How am I contributing to this problem?”
- Listen carefully and “actively” throughout, then...
- Respond appropriately, being as positive and specific as possible.
- Secure a commitment – as Martyn recommends. Make a specific request for a behavior change. Be open to counter-offers but conclude with an agreement on the goal.
This process must be conducted one-on-one – never publicly. Bear in mind, too, that people tend to become what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be.
Richard Lowe, the Director of Training and Digital Learning Solutions at , says: “There’s a misconception that PM is, effectively, an annual appraisal – yet feedback should never be just trotted out once a year. PM should happen every day.
“If managers are trained well in PM, staff should feel coached, stretched and motivated by the process. PM is as much about catching people doing things right as it is about correcting and feeding back improvement opportunities.“
, the owner of U.K.-based training company , says, “It‘s common for people to fear feedback because it can stem from criticism of their behavior and performance. Yet giving feedback should be a motivational experience for both the giver and receiver, as it gives transparency to your communication and views.”