Feedback and Coaching - Questions & Answers

This page contains questions asked on the topic of Feedback and Coaching both during the webinar and via the Have a Question feature. For your convenience, we have the questions broken out by theme. One of the most popular themes was questions around creating a culture of feedback; see the video below to learn about four essential elements that are proven to help create a feedback rich culture.

Creating a Culture of Feedback

Questions and Answers

General

Q: How would you recommend we reward employee's successes when the employee is in a union position and a financial incentive is not possible?

A: Incentives and recognition don't always have to be monetarily based. It could be as simple as expressing gratitude for a job well done or coming up with a symbol of recognition. Talk to your teams and have them decide what means the most when it comes to recognizing their successes.

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Q: Is there a certification or badge for completing the course modules at supervising.umn.edu?

A: We don't have these in place yet, but let us know if you are interested in having some type of incentives for recognition.

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Performance, Potential, Readiness

Q: Is it appropriate to ask employees to self-assess?

A: Yes, this is appropriate to use for development discussions. However, keep in mind that self-ratings are likely to be inflated.

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Q: How do you motivate a complacent employee who is doing well in their position?

A: If an employee is doing well in their position (i.e. meeting expectations), then motivating them further involves helping them see what's in it for them if they develop beyond their current role. Connect development with their professional and career goals. If they are complacent, talk with them about their behavior and how it affects others. Keep in mind, if they are meeting expectations, they are demonstrating at least some motivation.

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Q: When is "competent, meets standards" good enough? Is continual improvement a requirement? Is it possible?

A: If the person is not improving in terms of increasing their skills and/or the breadth of their work, they are likely to become bored and possibly become a retention risk. In addition, since work is constantly changing and demands often go up over time, if someone is not improving, they may fall behind.

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Feedback

Q: How do you deal with a defensive employee who always tries to deflect the coaching?

A: Instead of feed "back" think about the concept of feed "forward." Defensiveness happens when you point out what someone isn't doing well or being critical of the way someone did something in the past. Feed forward focuses on the future: here's what success looks like and giving suggestions on how to obtain success. Generally if you focus more on the future, "here's what would work well, vs here's what you did wrong," your messaging will be better received. Also, giving feedback about their defensive behavior is also really important because it gives them responsibility about that pattern, which they may not always be aware.

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Q: What kind of follow up do you do to ensure the feedback was acted on, etc.?

A: Mutually agree on next steps and check in on progress regularly. Be sure to notice any positive behavior change (or lack thereof) and discuss during your regular check ins.

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Q: What should you do when you check your biases and find out that you have them?

A: Be sure to focus your feedback on behaviors and the impact of those behaviors. Relying as much as possible on objective information and observable behavior is the best way to minimize bias.

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Q: I'm young and relatively new to the department. I'm supervising someone who has a long history with the department and is significantly older than me. How can I best provide feedback without undermining her past experience here since I'm so new?

A: When coming into a new leadership role, it's common to focus on making our mark and prove that we're competent. However, the best thing you can do is actively listen to everyone on the new team and determine what it is people have to offer. This means making sure people are heard which will help you gather their input and buy-in with you as the new supervisor. This will challenge your assumptions about how things are working and allow you to assess the environment of the new team. Keep in mind that introverts may not openly share ideas with you so seek opportunities to draw out ideas and experience from people who are quiet - like in a one-on-one check in. Also seek out people with more experience and bring them the challenges and problems and ask for their advice.

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Q: What would "getting feedback from their peers" look like? Like a survey? Wouldn't this just make them defensive?

A: It could be as simple as having a conversation with one or more peers about the behaviors the person is trying to improve. There are formal tools, such as 360 surveys, that can be used. If you expect the person to be hesitant to ask for feedback, model the behavior by asking them to give you feedback. This approach assures them you want to hear feedback and will do something with it. You can also have them focus on asking for positive feedback or suggestions for how they might become even more effective. Creating an environment of psychological safety in which the person receiving the feedback is at ease and feels safe makes all the difference. And when they do receive feedback, coach them on the feedback they receive.

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Q: I am curious about ideas for introducing a new culture of feedback and coaching to a team. There is culture change involved, and that is not easy.

A: Leadership and Talent Development encourages this culture of feedback in which people not only GIVE feedback regularly, but they also ASK for it. Check out the video at the top of this page to learn about four essential elements that are proven to help create a feedback rich culture.

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Q: How do I work with an employee who comes in with a notion that he or she is going to get negative feedback from the supervisor no matter what?

A: Make sure to catch him/her in the moment doing positive things and praise them so that feedback isn't all negative. Also have a discussion about this behavior and call it out so that it's addressed.

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Coaching

Q: How do you coach or give feedback when an employee is only willing to stay with the status quo and unwilling to learn or do more?

A: Since work is constantly changing and demands often go up over time, if someone is not improving, they may fall behind in their skills and abilities. Pointing this out to them may help create the self-awareness and motivation for them to make a change. If they do not improve and start to become a retention risk, you may need to think about how you'll hold the person accountable if changes are not made.

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Q: Is an honest look at workloads and right sizing important before feedback & coaching begin? Also do learning styles come into play?

A: Yes, as you learned, think of feedback in the "get ready, get set, give feedback" approach. Getting ready and getting set involve the timing of the feedback. If the person is in the middle of a task, it's best to wait until they are finished, otherwise feedback can be too distracting. Research suggests that learning styles do not make much of a difference, rather, it's the the level of expertise or prior knowledge the person has that plays an important role in giving feedback.

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Q: What is the best way to coach a long term employee who is very difficult and has created negative tones from their controlling approach to various situations and people in their dept just avoid them. They are aware but, their response is, "this how I am."

A: Unpack their perception of "this is how I am." Separate their strengths and their opportunities by making them aware of how they're perceived by others in the department. Also, performance is about meeting expectations for results as well as how those results are achieved. If you have not set clear expectations for how results are achieved (i.e., behavioral competencies such as: demonstrating appreciation for others’ efforts and contributions or maintaining productive relationships with others), this would be a good next step. Check out the U of M behavioral competency model to see if these might help you discuss expectations. If you have set these expectations, and the person is not meeting them, then this would be a performance issue.

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Giving Feedback That Works

Q: What if feedback has been given over and over and over but the employee keeps up the same behavior?

A: Assuming this question is coming from a supervisor inquiring about an employee, you might start by determining if they have self-awareness about how their behavior is impacting you and others. It’s also important to make sure the individual knows what is expected of them in terms of work responsibilities and behaviors, and understands the feedback you provided. Sometimes as supervisors we believe we’re being clear in conveying expectations, but this might not be the case, particularly if you and the employee have different communication styles. You might prepare talking points ahead of time and articulate next steps you’d like the employee to take. Then ask them if they understand the feedback and answer any questions they may have. You may also want to follow up by email, just to ensure you're both on the same page.

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Q: What happens if you inherited an employee who has been in the department for a long time and feels unappreciated and gets defensive when you try to do coaching?

A: If they have felt unappreciated for a long time, it may take a while for them to trust that things are changing. Listen to what they have to say and try to understand their perspective, even if you disagree with it. It might be that they haven't been heard for a long time. Once that's established, let them know the intention of coaching is to help them learn and grow. Assess which step in the coaching process might be the biggest issue (e.g., self-awareness, motivation, etc.).

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Q: Can you share some methods for coaching self-awareness?

A: Most people have some degree of self-awareness but may be unaware of their impact on others. If you give direct feedback using the SBI (Situation-Behavior-Impact) approach and convey the impact of someone's behavor, it may become clearer to them what they need to do to self-correct and strengthen their self-awareness. You could also see if other people who are impacted could give similar feedback. In addition, help the individual assess their areas of strengths and opportunities by having a conversation and sharing your observations. Ask questions like: "What are your greatest strengths?" "How would others describe you?" Be sure to focus on providing behavioral feedback and describing the impact of their behavior on others; this helps keep the focus on objective and actionable information.

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Q: Do you have any tips on how to scale this approach up when you may be supervising a very large staff (and even 15-minute check-ins are not always realistic)?

A: Quick check-ins do take time, but the time you spend doing them should save you time in the long run. With a large number of direct reports, figure out what is realistic and how much time is needed - once a month, once a quarter? It may vary based on the employee or the project/goals they are working on. It could also be a quick check-in with a group that is all working on a similar project. The focus is less about the amount of time and more about the status of the work and the quality of the conversation. Be efficient and have a structure – like 1-2 targeted questions that address the status and ideas for keeping it moving forward. By focusing on the right things - behaviors, progress toward goals, removing barriers from work, etc., the check-in should take less time, allow you to interact with more direct reports, and still be a valuable conversation. 

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Q: Do you offer resources for developing self-awareness and motivation?

A: Yes. Go to supervising.umn.edu, Module 1: Feedback and Coaching. We have a "Quick Guide to Coaching" that describes our coaching model which begins with self-awareness and motivation as the first two steps. The guide has sample questions to ask when coaching, and suggestions on what success looks like.

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Q: How detailed should the definitions of success be? Seems like there is a danger of micromanaging.

A: Give your direct reports enough information regarding your expectations and let them drive their own definition of success. This will hold them more accountable. It's also helpful to collaborate on defining next steps and who will do what by when. This way, you won't need to follow up because you have both agreed on a deadline and the next time you'll check in on progress.

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Q: How can you elicit what motivates someone without just simply asking them 'what motivates you?'

A: Ask them about their interests outside of work and/or what do they like to do. If you listen carefully, you might pick up on what makes them tick. For example, they may say they volunteer (they value altrusim), or are in a scrapbooking group (they value aesthetics), etc. Another angle to take is to ask them what they enjoy about the projects they are working on - maybe it is because it is visible (motivated by recognition) or that it allows them more authority (motivated by leading). Listening for the qualities of their work or their personal life that drive them should give you some indication about what drives their motviation. Once you start to understand what is motivating someone, try to give them opportunities to experience what motivates them at work.

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Q: If a person was raised in a culture where questioning authority figures or admitting mistakes is not generally accepted, what recommendations do you have?

A: As with all of your employees, it's important to get to know them individually, their communication style, and cultural perspective. Reinforce that they can come to you with questions and that everyone makes errors on occasion. It might take some time before they are comfortable with this, but creating a safe space is especially helpful. It's important that you are able to articulate your expectations of them, just as you would other employees.

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Q: Are there any distinctions between coaching/feedback for growth and development vs. performance issues? Or is the process the same?

A: In most cases, there isn't a difference between coaching for development and performance. The purpose of both is to help the person to develop the skills, knowledge, and abilities they need to be successful and effective. In cases where performance is not meeting expectations, you've continued to give feedback and coaching, and the person's performance is not improving, then you may want to partner with your local HR to discuss options. However, most of the time, this won't be necessary and ongoing coaching and feedback will be successful.

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