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Framework of feedback in an organization - Liane Davey [Interview]
November 23, 2020

About Liane Davey

Framework of feedback in an organization - Liane Davey [Interview]

Liane Davey has been helping teams worldwide to work effectively and with the right spirit. She's the co-founder and principal of 3COze Inc. She's the author of the book “The Good Fight” and she's also a very well known keynote speaker and facilitator. She has been working towards the betterment of teams in the workplace and on improving workplace cultures. We are very happy to have someone of her stature on our series today.

Aishwarya Jain

Framework Of Feedback In An Organization - Liane Davey [Interview]

We have the pleasure of welcoming Liane Davey today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum -  peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month. 


Welcome, Liane.


Thank you. It’s so good to be here.


It's our pleasure Liane.

So Liane, can you tell us a little bit about, what is 'The Good Fight' all about?


Yeah, it's the idea that there are just natural conflicts, things that come up all day, every day when you work in an organization. And if we try and avoid those things then the necessary decisions and things we have to do in business just stop happening. So it can affect our productivity, it can affect our trust as team members, and it can create a lot of stress for us as individuals.

So “The Good Fight” is a book that says we all need to get better at conflict and understand how conflict can be a really productive part of a healthy team.


That’s interesting. So you do talk a lot about how to create better-performing teams, right?

So what’s the crux of building high performing teams? What's the primary focus? 


Yeah, there's actually two things that I work on with any team that I'm facilitating.

One is that the team needs to be very clear about how their work affects the outcomes of the organization. So we want to get alignment from - I know my job, I know how my job fits with your job. I know how we as a team fit in with other teams and how all of that lines up to adding value for the customer.

So really strong alignment and clarity in pretty much every moment of the day about what matters most. That's the first thing.

And the second thing is really about the team dynamic. So do we have a level of trust that allows us to communicate transparently, candidly with one another that allows us to have those conflicts, knowing, trusting that our relationships will come out stronger on the other side?

"Great teams have those two things in common. They're very clear and aligned about what they do, and they have strong trust and communication that supports how they do it. Those are the two kind of secret sauce."


Right, I mean, that's a good cultural fit to,  kind of make a team that's very high performing and so that everybody is engaged and there's a good experience. There's a good team experience and the leader can also really create that high performance into the team.

As a leader, I'm sure it's very difficult to really understand the mindsets of so many people and everyone’s different in the team.

So how should a leader approach this? And what can a leader specifically do to create a high-performance team? 


Yeah, so in the good fight, I have two different approaches. So one is, I provide tools that are tools to help the team leader work through these exercises with their team to both neutralize most conflicts by setting clear expectations and then normalize the conflicts that are going to stay among roles because there's natural tension and should be natural tension between our roles.

So that's the first piece, providing all the tools and exercises and everything you need to be able to systemize, the kinds of conversations you need.

But you mentioned a really great point, which is that every human on the team is a little bit different and the second half of the equation, is much less to stomach and much more individual. And that's where I spent a lot of time in the good fight, talking about how do you actually have a conversation one on one with your folks?

How do you learn to communicate with them and then connect with them to understand what drives them? What are they afraid of? What triggers them? What brings out their best? So a great team leader needs to have these two things going on at the same time.  

"How do we create some things that are common for the whole team, through processes and exercises that are easy to facilitate with your team and then how do we have room for things that are very different?"

...conversations that are different, much more personalized to each member of the team? And a great leader knows how to balance those two.


Right, So it's about having some common goals on team level and then also kind of, go to an individual level and then connect with them and align towards into which they need and you create a crafted experience individually as well. 


Exactly, because I have a speech called 'Change has Changed', and it's about how we're coping with perpetual change. and that was before COVID-19. So, what we're doing is we often manage a team. Overall, many managers' primary interaction with their teams are in a team meetings or things like that.

The problem is, when someone's in perpetual change, you don't know if their personal stress response is to become complacent and to kind of check out and lean back, or whether they're individual responses to become immobilised by trying to do it all to become too anxious to act. And so you can't manage by meeting in that kind of a time.

You need to understand, is this a person who is too complacent and I need to turn up the heat? Or is this somebody who's working towards her trying to cope with too much? And I need to turn down the heat so I can make room for that very individual type of management that was important because of where our world was at two months ago?

It's absolutely, even more important when we don't know there are folks who are thriving in this new work from home environments there, more introverted, they like that. They can have time to focus and concentrate. They hated their open office. And there are folks who are just so craving interaction and that shot at the coffee station, you need to manage those people differently now more than ever.


Right, So it's about the mindset again.

It's like some people are doing great because they're introverts right now but they are not really comfortable in their office environments. As a leader, you need to be empathetic to your employees and understand. What is it that ticks them? What is it that gets some? 


Yes. Yes. And not making assumptions. You do that by talking with people by asking where they're at by paying a lot of attention to where do you see the best of them. And where do you start to see them in stress behavior. So yeah, absolutely.


Right. And what about, you spoke about tools, helping leaders to achieve certain objectives.

So what kind of tools to really help out inside situations and how can you choose to be an enabler in creating a good team? 


I think there's all manner of different tools. So I talked about some of the tools that help create a shared set of expectations. Those are great kinds of tools and I find there are lots of tools that allow us to get better inside. An understanding of one another as people.

So those kinds of style tools or personality tools can give a lot of insight and give people language to talk to one another. Tools that help you run more effective meetings. There is just such a spectrum, but you know there's, it's a great time to be looking for some of those tools that will support you, make you feel like you have a process you can work through with your team. It's a great time for that.


Absolutely, it's one time where you can actually take technology and use it in a very positive manner to communicate, to connect, to contribute. And that would be the key to a well functioning team especially right now. 


Yeah, absolutely. So I wrote a post recently about how do we use the technology of communication more effectively during this time? So one of the things I've been noticing is that our communication has started to be very diffused over a number of different channels.

So whereas email used to be the primary technology of the workplace now we've got some people emailing us, some people WhatsApping us, a Slack channel we have to manage. People are texting us. We're getting IM’s from folks. You know WhatsApp from other people and so one of the things that's really important in this time is to set some guiding principles for your team about how you're gonna use the different communication platforms, try and streamline them.

Because I find I'm already feeling a generalised sense of anxiety from coping with Covid in the first place, just going grocery shopping makes me worry about, did I touch my face? So...

"I don't need the added anxiety of, did I miss a text from a customer that I should have found? So really starting to use technology as a way of streamlining what's coming at us."

That's the simplest, simplest way of using technology in this kind of a time more effectively. But I think one that's going to affect almost all of us, so taking 1/2 an hour to agree with your team about what communication tools are we gonna use? How are we gonna make them more effective?

Just zoom rules. Just everybody figuring out about, you know, everybody be on mute, but, you know, make sure people have their cameras on and the first few rounds of meetings I know it was sort of some with cameras on, some without, So we've got to figure all these things out. But getting those communication tools and technologies figured out is the first thing we can do. I know that this long haul of working from home will be more efficient and more effective. 


Absolutely. And I completely agree with you on the anxiety part that better us email was just one communication channel before. Now it's just so many tools together. Everyone's texting and pinging you and you just get really anxious, you know, because you want to reply to them as soon as possible and then you fall in that loop and you just you really have to cope up with that. 


Yes, absolutely. 


Yeah. That makes sense.

So do you think this, working remotely or functioning in such a work-from-home situation, do you think this will continue even after the pandemic? Do you think people will opt up for this option more? 


Yeah, my guess. And I don't have a crystal ball, but my guess would be there will probably be a little bit more of it as we're getting better and better at having meetings, conducting business over virtual means, I think people, if you think about people who have burdensome commutes of an hour, an hour and 1/2 each way, every day, you know, starting to say, 'Hey, let's have on our team a couple days a week where we just assume that people are gonna work from home.'

We could see that they were more productive. We could. I think maybe we'll start to have more of these meeting-free days. So I think there are lots of people who will probably dial-up their work from home. Maybe a little more, you know, our current model is when you have a meeting, you get on a plane and you go to that meeting, and I think all of us are, You know, I have been on 25 flights in 2020 before the 12 of March.

So, how many of those did I not need to take? How many of those could be replaced by really great technology? And we all know this technology is gonna get better and better and better in a hurry, so I think we're going to see more of it. That said, I think we now also better understand what these things are not great for. And I think they'll have this craving for many people just to have the casual conversation by the coffee pot that they haven't had in a while.

So I hope we go to something balanced and for me, that's what I'm gonna try and do. I'm gonna stop to ask the question, 'Do we really need to do this in person?' Then when the answer is yes, I'm gonna be so thrilled that I'm gonna be able to actually go and give somebody a hug again. It'll feel amazing.


Yeah, I absolutely agree. And it's really gonna be tough. If people start working from home remotely all the time, it will be so tough as a leader to get people all the time to get them engaged in to really create a better performing team. I think that's very different from when you're doing it remotely right.


But, although what's a big benefit of this is that I think the worst situation  "The toughest situation for a team is when some people are together in an office and then some people are in their homes."

"The toughest situation for a team is when some people are together in an office and then some people are in their homes."

That's incredibly difficult. And if you've ever tried to call into a meeting where you're just alone and they're in a room, shuffling papers and telling jokes and so this has been the great level, or at least everyone is in the same boat.

And that's a much better situation for team building than this sort of hybrid model of some together and some not, so there are some silver linings of this situation. I think that's one of them. That's a lot of folks who have been in the head office now have a lot more empathy for the folks who tried to be doing meetings over a conference call all this time and I could see some of them, as people are complaining about background noise or things like that.

I can just see the folks who have been remote all along. Just being like, 'Oh, now, you see, I've been dealing with this for five years' (laughing), so at least that's one benefit.



But what do you think about teams that are in different geographical locations? How did you build a great team? 


It's so hard, So my best advice is to invest in once a year or some interval like that, being physically together, because if you can spend three or four days together, we know that there is something important that happens when we eat together. It's probably very primal. It has an animal.

If you eat with someone, it means you're willing to be vulnerable in front of them. So we know there are things that happen in the brain when you physically eat with someone. So if you're in a geographically dispersed team making the investment when possible, once a year or at the start of the team to be physically together.

You can then go a long time on web calls and still have that same feeling in that same connection, but wherever possible, if that's not possible, I think you could almost do that virtually. I would schedule in time where there's no agenda, and we've seen a lot of this going on lately. We've seen people having virtual meals with their families. I think that's a really powerful thing you can do.

So if everyone on your team picks that time spot, that works best for all your teams and just turn on the Webcam for half an hour to just chat. Find the agenda-free time. If you can't be together literally, then at least be together without having an agenda. Just time to chat where you are? How's it going? 


Right. So just taking out some time just to see each other's faces and have casual talks if people are willing right?


Yeah, yes. Absolutely.


Makes sense.

And how much of this concept of OKR’s and key performance indicators, are you a believer in these concepts to build high performing teams?


I think measurement is really, really important. I think the hard thing is picking the right measures. So first of all, picking a small enough number that it's things you can really focus on, but the challenge of that is as soon as you pick too few, then people tend to find a way to game the system. They'll find a way to make those measures look good by letting other things slide.

So you have to have enough that you've got some tension among the measures to make sure we don't have people just gaming the system. So that's important. Making sure people have confidence in the measures that the way they're being measured feels valid, but also that the goals in the objective seem within reach, it's okay to have a stretch.

But as soon as those measures feel so far away that I just, forget it, I'm never gonna achieve that. So it's really hard. So yes... "Measures are incredibly important. Setting the right goals that feel motivational without being motivational. It's hard work."

"Measures are incredibly important. Setting the right goals that feel motivational without being motivational. It's hard work."


Right, So you definitely have to have some measures in place. But it just has to be not one or two, we're not just, kind of overshadowing one over the other, but they make us balance off measurements.

And what's your opinion on the gig economy? Because there are a lot of kinds of gig economy. The freelancers, the contract workers and labourers, the people who are doing something on projects, so now that we think is going to evolve in the coming future. If you consider a lot of millennials or in the workforce and they like doing this. But after the Covid, do you think that's gonna change? What's your opinion?


Yeah, I think It's interesting because you can think about the gig economy at two very, very different categories. So, you know, I'm a consultant. I've been a part of the gig economy for many years. It works for me. I love it, but I am in a position of privilege, and I'm in a position to be able to, you know, make enough when I am working to save for rainy days and global pandemics too.

Have that kind of control to be able to take the work I want and not take the work I don't want. But that is a privilege. And that is not what the gig economy means to so many people, and so, so many of the younger folks who didn't work during the 2008 financial crisis, I think, might have enjoyed the flexibility of the gig economy and liked that, and liked not being tied down.

But they aren't yet familiar with what it means to then not have a source of income for a period of time, they didn't probably have the savings that they needed. They don't have the health care benefits, those sorts of things. So we're going to see a lot of people be hurt very badly in the gig economy in the next little while. So I think we have to think about that.

"The ones that worry me are the organizations that claim people are contractors for their benefit."

While these corporations are sort of massive and not meeting to take care of people because they claim they are contractors, when really those people you know basically are tied to them, do not have the freedom of the gig economy. So I think we're gonna get our definitions a lot more clear.

I think these lawsuits that have been going on about whether somebody is a contractor legally or not, I think we're going to see more of that. And we're going to see a lot of sober second thoughts, about is the gig economy really for me? Am I okay with having no safety net? And I think it's gonna be different in countries you know. I'm Canadian. It's different here where everyone has health care.

There's nobody that's going to be without health care because they're a gig worker versus in the US, where the gig economy is gonna be feeling very, very vulnerable at the moment. So there's gonna be a big reckoning about the gig economy. I think in the next little while. 



And do you think that workplaces all the time that become more inclusive of gig workers, have they become more open towards, being equal to having FTE’s - the full time employees and the gig workers?


Yeah, I think for the most part, they are. I think it's going to depend on the caliber of the gig workers. So I think if you're really good people understand that you know, having a really talented resource where you have the flexibility to say we only need to a couple of days a week or we're only going to need you in a limited team engagement.

And if someone is really good, I think they're welcomed with open arms. And you know, quality is always the issue in the gig economy. You better be good at what you do if you're going to do the gig economy or else it's going to be a very fast revolving door for you, and that's not a very good position to be in. But I think it's the way it goes these days. People are much more accustomed to working with people who are contractors, and that's a good thing. 



And when you're building high performing teams, you have some members who are probably not that great at what they do, when they're kind of the weakest link in the chain. How do you handle such people?


Yeah, so I think it's the boss's responsibility to manage that sort of thing.

"And where we get into trouble is when people try and manage their own peers, and that's where a lot of animosity comes up."

It's not a good thing. And so if you have a peer who is not performing as much as you wish, you know, First of all, try giving them some feedback.

Try helping them, try to do something positive and constructive yourself. If you do need to speak with your manager about it, it's really important that you not complain about somebody but instead ask for some advice. So I am, I'm working with XYZ on this project and I'm not sure he's getting it or he committed to have something to me by friday, and I didn't get it.

You can share something very objective, and then you say, what advice would you give me? How should I manage this? And what that does is without complaining, It highlights to your manager that there might be something here she needs to look into. There might be an issue, and it gives you the chance to get some advice and coaching about how to handle it.

So if you have somebody you work with who is not performing, just know, first of all, it's not your it's not your call to make and remembering that is important and trying to deal with it yourself or complaining about it yourself is not gonna make anything better. It's gonna make things worse,

So if you need to do something, help them support them, coach them. That's not working. Highlight it to the manager and ask for some support and advice about what to do. But ultimately the best you can do is focus on your role and, uh, and doing as well as you possibly can. 


Right. Of course.

And as a manager, when do you kind of take the stance that all right, you know this person is not the right fit for my organization for my team. And I must let go of this person?


Usually sooner than people, actually do. So usually, once you make the decision that somebody's in the wrong role, they needs to change roles or whether they're in the wrong organization, usually people, because we're nice people. Usually we let that go on too long, and we get hyper focused on being fair to the person who's not performing. And we forget that the longer we try and let that person hang on, we're actually being unfair to all the rest of the team.

So you always want to have given a couple of rounds, minimum of feedback and coaching and escalating the feedback. So it's clear that this is now performance that's affecting your ability to stay in the organization, than to have one less round, but says, okay, this is now officially a performance improvement plan.

But you can move through those cycles in the matter of a month or two, making sure that you've checked for whether there's an issue with their personal life, whether they have health issues that need to be addressed, making sure you take in some of those sorts of things and soliciting the advice of HR. But, you know, this is something that needs to be dealt within two or three months, not two or three years like it sometimes can be.


Yes. So you have to be very cognisant of everybody in the team. And then you kind of give feedback to that person 2 or 3 times and then make a judgment call whether that person is really fit for the team or not.


Yeah, absolutely.



And when it comes to feedback, giving feedback, do you believe that leaders or managers should constantly keep giving critical feedback or should it just be once or twice a year. What do you believe? 


Oh, no. feedback constantly. But much more than critical feedback. Giving positive feedback, constantly, sort of catching somebody. Marcus Buckingham speaks very eloquently about this topic. How do you catch somebody doing something awesome? “That's awesome! What was that? What made you think of that?” That sort of thing so constantly is great. So what I talk about is it's really important to get very high frequency but low impact feedback.

So a little as you're walking back from a meeting that chance to just say, hey, I loved when you brought this up. Next time, could you also add a little more of this, so very, very, very frequently, as opposed to when we go to this treating feedback as part of a performance management process, it tends to then be very low frequency, But then the impact is very high.

We've had no real-time information to work on, so you should be thinking about in every interaction.

"How do I either provide some feedback that reinforces something they did that I think is great and I want to see more of or give them some insight about how their actions landed that might not have been their intent so that they can continue to get better."

It's just in a way that most people wouldn't even think of this feedback. It's just constant little bits of information that help people understand.


Just like constant nudges but a very high frequency and low impact.


Right. And instead of just simple praise, which is awesome, you know what was awesome. What did they say? What did they do. What do they not do? All of which gives people more information about what you think is great and what you want more of and less of.


Recognition is important. And plus, you know, kind of telling them that, hey, you could do this better or you could try this out so that they don't feel the weight of it but they're encouraged to perform better. 


Yeah, just in terms of language. So rather than you could do this better, it should be more personalised, “So here’s what just landed with me”. “Here's what I'd love to see or hear” right? So it's not a judgment in the same way. It's not good or bad, because that makes us feel criticized, judged and sometimes that creates more resistance.

But instead saying, you know, “This is what really resonated with me, I love that. I'd love more of that.” Or when, “You brought up this case example that got me thinking about a whole bunch of other issues, and I lost the thread. You know, it might be better for me if that example didn't come up till later in your presentation so that I stay with you.”

So it's not good or bad. It's letting somebody understand. How did their behavior impact you? And they may choose to use up feedback or not. And it may also be true or not true, or good or not good. But it's all you being able to do is give them information about what was your truth? 


Yeah, I think that's more important. Just be transparent and to discuss what is it that you would like to see as a leader, it’s their choice, whether they kind of improve over time? And I think, yeah, I think that would be, really work.

Well, you know, that takes me to the last question of this interview Liane.

If you have any other important sound bites that you'd like to leave us with.


I know conflict is something and those hard conversations we've been talking about, like feedback or things like that. They're uncomfortable for us as humans, we have as humans this natural desire to connect with people, particularly people we see as part of our group.

So I know it's hard. I know it's uncomfortable, but the reason I wrote “The Good Fight” is because some things are worth fighting for, and that's what I would encourage everyone is to, recognize that some things are worth fighting for. And if you could step up to some of those hard conversations, you'll see that you become more productive, you have higher trust, not less trust. And some of the stress of carrying those issues and resentments and grudges around go away. So some things are worth fighting for.


Absolutely not just be an escapist, but you're actually being an objectivist and use conflict to make things more productive for you. 


Yeah, absolutely.


It's a wonderful message. Well, it was a pleasure talking to Liane, and I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. As for me, it's really been a learning experience. Thank you so much.


It's my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity. 


I really had a lot of fun, you have very high energy. And I love your opinions out there, I loved it.

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