By Caroline Creedon
Getting the Best Performance Culture (Part 1)
We’re bound to face difficult conversations from time to time. As tough as they may seem, they’re critical moments in shaping our company culture.
I sat down with Shelley Johnson from Boldside Consulting to learn how to approach difficult conversations and give constructive feedback in a way that sets someone up to receive it.
Shelley began by redefining the term “high performance” so that it no longer just addresses profit or results but instead considers it a sliding scale that balances culture and results equally.
For instance, someone may be great at getting results, but if they’re a jerk to work with, they’re not performing to high standards, are they? On the same note, someone may be absolutely lovely in the break room but constantly dropping the ball in the boardroom, so we can’t really classify them as “high performing” either.
To understand how to make difficult conversations productive, we first need to define what “good” looks like in our own books. Ultimately, “high performance” is an equal balance of contribution to culture and contribution to results.
The next step is a bit of self-reflection. In order to give feedback, we need to have a clear understanding of the current circumstances and our future goals. Take a moment to consider the following 4 questions about your own leadership and company culture:
- What problems have you been tolerating?
- What issues have you been downplaying? (Are you justifying bad behavior?)
- What conversations have you been avoiding?
- Are there any elephants in the room or unspoken concerns?
Often, when we think of problems within our team, we instinctively retreat. But in order to see any progress, we need to get clarity on the root cause of a roadblock. Only then can we know what conversations need to be had, and with whom.
Now, let’s get into the good stuff. Shelley has a super straightforward 4-step framework to help you give effective and considerate feedback as a team leader:
Step 1: Core
Start by naming a core concern or pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed.
Step 2: Situation
Give at least one concrete example or situation that supports your concern. Note that if
you find you’ve been tolerating something for a while, the more examples you can give,
the stronger your feedback will be.
Step 3: Impact
Describe the impact of your concern on yourself, others, the team, or
the workplace overall. This is often the most important aspect of any difficult conversation as it helps demonstrate the significance of a problem and allows the person to recognize why the problem needs to be addressed.
Step 4: Action
Addressing an issue is only the start of moving forward. The final step here is to develop
an action plan together so that all parties involved have a clear understanding of what to
expect moving forward.
Now, let me throw a curveball question at you. What’s your favorite film score?
Whether it’s Lord of the Rings or Love Actually, the composer of that score put a lot of thought into how to get every member of the orchestra to play just the right note at the right time. A good conductor uses all those different notes together to create something beautiful, a specific tension that harmonizes perfectly.
What we don’t want is a single orchestra full of cellos, nor do we want an orchestra of uncoordinated musicians. No. We want a symphony of instruments all working together to create something beautiful.
Our teams are no different. We have a diverse range of people doing all different things. Inevitably, that can create some conflict every now and then.
As the leader of your team, you are the conductor of your team’s tension.
Now, reframe your mindset when it comes to conflict and tension. Often, we habitually think of these as bad things, but in reality, these moments of tension are completely natural. They simply need a good conductor to smooth them out.
Shelley introduced me to an incredible saying by Adam Grant that goes like this: “The goal isn’t to have less conflict, it’s to have the right kind of conflict.” So the next question you need to ask yourself is whether or not the conflicts you’re having at work are the right kind of conflicts.
Perhaps more importantly, are you doing a good job at navigating and conducting them? In other words, are you using the tension within your team as fuel to better it?
The first step to getting better at conducting tension is being able to identify which type of conflict you’re dealing with, and helping the people on your team do the same. There are three types:
- Relationship conflict, caused by differences in personality, preferences, or values.
- Status conflict, caused by a disagreement about authority.
- Task conflict, based on different expected processes or outcomes of a specific job.
It’s worth noting that task conflict is the healthiest form of conflict in the workplace, but when task conflict goes unaddressed, it can turn into relationship or status conflict which is both much more difficult to resolve.
Once we know which type of conflict we’re dealing with, we can respond with the right type of feedback.
The next step is to consider how we communicate with our team. In saying that, one of the most important aspects of our communication strategy needs to be consistency. We need to approach every issue immediately, every time, and with the same mentality of a conductor harmonizing their orchestra, so that our team members can trust us with their concerns. If we lose that consistency, we lose the trust of the people on our team.
Stay tuned for part two of this info-packed session of tips and tricks (including the 7 Fundamental Rules of Feedback) to turn difficult conversations into opportunities for your entire team to thrive!
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