Feedback Season

Feedback Season

For many organisations including mine, it’s “year end” at 30 June, meaning lots of work to close out financial performance measures and work out how well we did as humans. Assessments are made against goals – how did you get away with that for an objective?! – and we try as best as we can to assess behaviours on leadership and teaming for the year just past.

It’s serious business. Countless research and anecdotes tell us people are more likely to leave their workplace because of their boss, not the work, or even the rewards. Leadership has a massive impact on performance, wellbeing, and the one measure most precious to me, happiness.

I don’t recall anyone saying to me – hate work, the boss is a prick, but I’m as happy as can be. Of course, happiness must just be my thing and satisfaction, professional reward, or contentment might be better descriptors for you. In fact I’ve had my happiness both challenged (it’s potentially superficial) – and reaffirmed (deeper happiness), at the same time by some recent reading on Stoicism. Stoicism considers that happiness can be found through virtue, the four main types of which are wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.

Using the Stoics virtues can guide us in feedback.

I think if we could try to give feedback that followed these Stoic principles, it would be a fairly good start for all of us. We could try giving feedback that is:

  • Given in the exercise of good judgment, experience, as a wise person would do – wisdom. Serious feedback needs serious work and is not for the faint-hearted and requires experience. It’s grown up’s work.
  • Fair and equitable according to the receiver’s experience – progressive justice. The platinum rule – treating others as they wish to be treated, not just how you think you might like to be treated.
  • Given honestly and accurately, regardless of the giver’s feeling – courage. Buckle up, this isn’t easy and it takes courage to do it, and do it right. That’s not just “telling the truth” as they can sound blunt, uncaring or abrupt.
  • Given with a sense of reason, balanced against the receiver’s overall performance and the team’s too – moderated. Moderated feedback is kind, generous and fair all at once.

Of course all is this is about supporting the giver. The receiver needs to be equally as prepared, and a wise receiver of feedback will be noticing the care and attention of the giver and playing their part – like an encouraging, nodding member of an audience – to encourage and help the giver too.

Go for it!

Stephen

ps Stoicism developed in the 3rd Century BCE and flourished in the Roman Empire

Those rocks are smaller than you think

Those rocks are smaller than you think

Coming to the end of The Obstacle is the Way I was surprised when the author announced that I was now a philosopher in Stoicism. Although the title of the book is perhaps an obvious clue as to what follows, I hadn’t framed my approach this way. But I found much of the book confirmatory of the usefulness of the concepts of stoicism – especially in a world of disruption (i.e. always!).

The challenging client? Covid anxiety? A war? The intractable work issue? Passive behaviour that feels aggressive? Too many life admins outstanding? All of the above all at once? I try to monitor and notice my own reactions to life’s obstacles – does my heart rate increase, am I irritable, do I start doing detailed work and planning? To notice is to be present in the here and now.

I remember many moons ago working in the Auckland Central police watchhouse – where people who had been arrested were “processed” – until they were bailed or taken to court. As you might imagine, not all customers were particularly happy – many drunk, aggressive and abusive. But you had to search, photograph and fingerprint them, whether they liked it or not. In some respects, achieving the outcomes required behaviour that was the antithesis of the macho, forceful imagine of a uniform cop tackling an alcohol-infused melee. It required the ability to depersonalise the anger directed at you. It’s surprisingly difficult to fingerprint someone – hold their fingers over an inkpad, and roll each finger on the paper – all ten of them – if they don’t want it! I must have achieved a modicum of success as the senior sergeant asked me to stay on for a second six month tour because he said, I had the temperament. I declined, patrols were far more exciting.

But it must have been part of my journey of stoicism, which has really come to the fore these last couple of years, although I’ve never really framed it for myself that way. Perception, Action and Will make up the three disciplines of this book and underpinning it is turning every obstacle into an advantage. In business we might say “turning lemon into lemonade”, or “pivoting now”, but what we’re doing is turning the challenge, the obstacle or disadvantage into an opportunity.

Put another way, declining to be a victim despite the circumstances of apparent unfairness, avoiding catastrophising a situation – living in the present – the book says that unfortunately “We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, whats “behind” this or that..”. Actually most of the time when something isn’t going our way, the person, or people that might be the perceived cause, are more than likely not particularly interested in us. Sad, but good too! It can put perspective into our lives.

Been “disrespected” at work? Who hasn’t been? (who hasn’t done it too?). Was the other person acting with intention? Possibly, but more than likely it was just a moment. So don’t worry. Feed off what they said and come back more powerful appearing more considered and patient as a result.

It’s a perfect day for stoicism. Rain is here after what feels like months of fine weather (unconscious bias of course – there’s been some!), and it’s got that cosy, rain on the roof feeling.

An opportunity to catch up on life admin, and even restart a blog!

Stephen

Headline Photograph: Stonehenge from a visit in 2015. The rocks were quite a bit smaller than I had imagined.

Day 12

Day 12

Settling in was the feeling today. We’ve had two weekends and it’s the third working week we’re in. After my walk this evening I felt quite tired again, not sure why. Have I got Daylight Savings around the wrong way somehow!?

I suspect it’s running on adrenaline for too long, but it could also be all the walking – don’t tell anyone but I have got quite a lot of exercise done – or should I say more regular exercise during the lockdown. Even lost some weight!

Over the weekend I noticed lots of walkers, runners and cyclists out and about, enjoying the great weather in Auckland and getting their essential Lockdown exercise. Walking past the Olympic Pool in Newmarket a bus pulled up and the driver exited. I joked that it was a busy day on the bus today. “No one at all” he said. I commented that you can only get in the back door, and so I assume you can only use your Auckland Transport Hop Card. He told me there were three ways of travelling: If you’re an essential worker, it’s no charge, if you have a Hop Card, you swipe it, and if you haven’t got a Hop Card, you “just take a ride for free“.  Weird times we live in. Even weirder than the payment options, is where do you go, and when you get there what do you do?

Which is more or less what we’ll be asking in 16 days and a bit. We were told it was a minimum of 4 weeks and I’m picking it’s unlikely we’ll be free earlier, until all likelihood of risk is eliminated.

When we assess risks in almost any field that I am aware of we assess Likelihood of the event occurring and the Impact of the event (virus in this case) should it occur. So in assessing the risks of COVID-19 it is firstly necessary to assess the likelihood of the virus spreading.  So if nothing is done to mitigate the virus there is probably a strong likelihood that it will enter the community, obviously really.

One would then look a the actual impact. There seems little doubt that there is harm from the virus. In studies I have read, acknowledging that there’s still lots of research to be done, some general themes appear:

  • Most people suffer mild symptoms.  One Chinese study put this as high as 80%. This must mean that there are many more cases of COVID-19 than the records show, I would have thought. I wonder whether the figure is exponentially higher, globally. But that’s my speculation, but if it’s the case, the death rate is much lower.
  • The death rate increases by age. Although there was a media report recently of a 5 year old dying, it hasn’t come through in the statistics, and subject to that, the death rate for ages 0-9 is zero. By far the greater risk of death is to those over 60-70+ and those with underlying medical conditions. This BBC article suggests that many of those that died would have died from something in the short term anyhow, and argues that to attribute those deaths to COVID-19 is not realistic.  That sounds harsh, but everyone dies of something, and if COVID-19 is the final trigger, it paints a different picture of harm. Be that as it may, patients with cardiovascular disease are much more likely to die, so if you’re 75 with heart disease you’re at high risk of serious harm. Of course, death is not the only harm – being on a ventilator, struggling to breathe for an extended period is not exactly a picnic.
  • There are non-medical impacts too: If there were many cases, we might not have enough medical resources to manage it i.e. beds and personnel.

What we’re hearing a lot more of now is the economic impact of the Lockdown which, on the face of it, has tackled the risk by ensuring that virtually none of the impacts – barring a very small number of exceptions – have come to fruition. And this is where it gets really complicated.

Early information released was that there was the likelihood of 80,000 deaths in New Zealand alone, then it was adjusted to 14,000, then back up to 20,000+.  I doubt that many people think now (or even then) that those figures were even remotely possible, given the relatively small global death rate – I say small because it’s never going to get anywhere near the 1.8m people that died from the Spanish Flu in 1918, and might be within the ballpark of the 150,000 who die each year globally from influenza.

Taking an approach that has virtually eliminated all harm in New Zealand is attractive, but all risk decisions have winners and losers.  In this decision there are a probably relatively small number of winners (we may never know) and many losers, in economic and social terms.

Leaders make decisions on risk daily. No decision is perfect and leaders know that you can’t eliminate risk completely – be that regulatory, economic, timeframes, Cyber protection, or the myriad of other things that need to be assessed for risk. But there will always be risks that leaders determine the impact of is just too great to bear, and will take maximum steps, at the cost of other activities, to eliminate that risk. Physical workforce safety is one of those things.

Whether the virtually complete elimination of the impact of the COVID-19 was the right thing to do is a judgment call made by the Country’s political leaders. We won’t know whether the consensus that this was right or wrong until much later, when the economic and social impacts – the new harm caused to eliminate the virus harm – are properly known.

But I do feel more relaxed about it all having lightly analysed a decision making process!

And that could well be my longest blog – way too long – sorry about that!

Stephen

Acting with integrity

Acting with integrity

Last week my team shared a dinner out to celebrate promotions. We celebrated everyone there and those that were promoted were invited to say a few brief words.

Acting with Integrity is one of PwC’s stated Values and it’s critical to building trust, part of PwC’s purpose. The great thing about true values is the richness that comes bringing them to life. Psychology Today’s discusses the 7 Signs of People with Integrity which calibrated with me.

Firstly, parents who apologise to their children for over-punishment. As a parent, if you overstep the mark, then your children deserve an apology and for you to set aside your pride.

Secondly, bosses who acknowledge their team members’ achievements and downplay their own.

Thirdly, romantic partners who boycott name calling etc.  You’ll know when you’ve acted without integrity by how badly you feel if you resort to name calling to anyone actually.

Drivers who almost never drive aggressively. I’ve started extensively using adaptive cruise control even in the city. It takes almost all the stress from driving. So someone is a few kms slower in front? Breathe. It’s great for wellbeing too.

iStock-938113718.jpgPeople in positions of power apologising for keeping people waiting. It gets easier the more senior you are to keep people waiting, and sometimes it happens because of your role. But don’t get ahead of yourself – whether you’re a specialist or a manager interviewing prospective employees –  that you’re so important you don’t need any humility and humanity.

Coming in sixth is giving someone the benefit of the doubt, when the circumstances are unclear. In my forensic work this is a must. Anything else is an attack on the rule of law, whether that be the law of the land or the work rulebook.

Finally, volunteering. People with integrity help others without a need for reciprocity.

So with that criteria in mind, how do you stack up? We can challenge ourselves on these, and notice these behaviours in those around us. I think you could use some of these to see how prospective leaders stack up.

At our dinner, one of our team who was promoted only referenced the team who had worked with him, and got him to where he was. It was a sure sign of integrity and left a warm feeling all around. This frame is surely the reason why it felt good.

Stephen