Feedback: how to turn towards the sunshine

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It’s a pleasure to share some insights this week from one of our associate coaches, Emily Taylor, of Green Grass Coaching, who specialises in career and development coaching; in this post, Emily suggests a way in which we can review feedback that accentuates the positive:

When I was a child I had an autograph book. Apart from once queuing (with some trepidation) to get Darth Vader’s signature, it was mainly full of messages from friends and family. My Grandma’s message to me was this (apparently an old Maori proverb):

Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.

I was struck by its optimism and ever since then the idea of having a positive outlook has always stayed with me. I have come to see how the more you focus your attention on the positive things, the more likely you are to notice them. I also recognise how appreciating these can help you to see further positive possibilities and even create more ‘sunshine’.

I am interested in how people apply this concept in their working lives; how we use the idea of focusing on the positive in order to develop performance (in individuals, teams and businesses) and how we use it to guide our decision making.

Long after my Grandma wrote this message, I came across the theory of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a method of problem solving pioneered by Cooperrider & Srivastva, Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s. The essence of this approach is a belief that the questions we ask are never neutral; they help us to move in the direction where we focus most persistently. Rather than looking at ways to ‘fix a problem’ (asking questions about what isn’t working well, what is wrong or weak) this approach looks at how to ‘accelerate or enhance’ by asking what is good or working well in order to discover new or untapped opportunities.

The slant of the question influences our perceptions, feelings and motivation to change….

If our focus is largely on the less good or negative elements, will positive change and development always be an uphill struggle? Also, how many people can see or hear 10 great things and then feel deflated and fixated by just one perceived bad thing?

I am not suggesting that all negative elements be ignored, rather that the angle taken to review and evolve it can help determine the outcome. In fact, I have witnessed great benefit had by individuals who received apparently negative feedback and were inspired to make positive behavioural changes as a result. There were a number of ingredients that enabled this:

  1. the recipients were hungry to learn

  2. the person helping them review their feedback was skilled in coaching and asking AI questions to explore and discover meaning, value and potential

  3. the overall focus was positive and forward thinking

It is often this last point that really helps someone to galvanise their self-belief, motivation and action. For example, try asking yourself this positive line of inquiry in relation to your career:

  • What do I enjoy about my job – what inspires me?

  • What am I really good at?

  • What attracted me to the career I am in or the company I work with?

  • What are the possibilities for me to develop further or become more fulfilled?

  • If success was guaranteed, what bold steps would I take?

Asking these powerful questions can help steer you (and in this case your career) in the direction you really want to go. Think how much more inspired and proactive you are likely to feel using this appreciative route as opposed to “what do I hate about my job, what irritates me most, what am I least good at”.

When next reviewing your own feedback (or helping someone else to review theirs), try to focus questions on your strengths, what themes you are noticing, what assumptions you could test, where you add most value and how you could further apply this to benefit you/your customers/the business. Consciously frame questions with the possibility of positive change, learning and creating forward movement….and let any shadows fall behind you.

Emily Taylor, Green Grass Coaching

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Trying hard to not know the answer

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Seen the same problem before? Thought through how the conversation is going to go already and can’t see why we don’t just shortcut to the end? Unable to see why someone is seeing such a difficulty in a situation? You already know the answer.

Anyone who has performed a management or coaching role; or, more often for me now, debriefed a 360 feedback report, will recognise the burning instinct to give someone the answer. People with problems or questions themselves often wish to get that answer too and it can feel great to give them what they are looking for.

If you are biologically predisposed to provide solutions as I appear to be then holding back, listening, exploring, asking questions can be very difficult. Yet it is critical. While there is no need to overcomplicate unnecesarily, the temptation of the simple answer leads to false starts and moves responsibility onto the coach. The proponents of the GROW model of coaching will recognise how hard it can be to explore and clarify the Goal, understanding the Reality and explore a variety Options rather than simply leap to the solution / Way forward.

360 feedback reports often provide a fantastic input into a conversation. But the recipient of the feedback has so much history, experience, capabilities, challenges, know-how on the ground that as a debriefer you cannot know the answer to what the feedback is saying or what should be done. It is really worth trying very hard to not know the answer.


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The value of values – How to embed values in your organisation

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We are delighted to have a guest post this week from Rob Da Costa with whom we have had the pleasure of working with over the last year – Rob is a business coach, mentor and trainer, believing that a successful business puts equal focus on the commercial AND cultural needs of their organisation.

In this post, Rob explores the value of values; why they are important and what you can do to help embed them within your organisation.

The value of values

Many businesses claim that they are clear about their organisation’s values. They proudly display them on their wall above their reception and promote them on their website, yet when you ask staff about the values they either can’t recall them or are cynical about them.

Why have values?

Values define the personality and culture of a business. They are the DNA of any organisation. They are particularly useful for helping recruit the right staff and helping the business make the big decisions. Values provide an outline and framework for appropriate behaviours both internally, towards each other and externally towards customers.

Embedding values

So how do you embed values into an organisation and ensure that they are lived every day? Values words in themselves are not that useful. However, defining the behaviours that underlie the values is what brings them to life. Where possible making the definition of values an inclusive process gets the buy-in from the whole organisation.

An Example

A client wishes to define their values so they send out a 100-word exercise to all staff asking them to pick five words from the list that they believe defines the company today and in the future. The input is collated and the top 10 words identified. From this list the management team picks three words that differentiate themselves from their marketplace and identifies who they are and/or who they aspire to be.

Bringing them to life
Once we have these words, we now need to define the behaviours that underlie them. So for each word we look at the behaviours both internally (company to employee, employee to employee etc.) and externally (company to client, etc). This work then needs to be rolled out throughout the whole organisation.

To bring and keep the values/behaviours alive there are a number of activities that can be done including assigning staff different words to own, to celebrating examples of staff who demonstrably live the values, to creating visuals that are displayed on the walls to incorporating a discussion about values in the recruitment and induction process and incorporating feedback around the values/behaviours in performance appraisal & 360 degree feedback processes.

Values in themselves are not that useful, it’s the behaviours that underlie them that brings them to life and provides a day-to-day demonstration of those values in action.

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