We're currently living in a state of disruption. What we knew as normal has turned on its head and with that, we're establishing a new normal – while making history, nonetheless. We're entering the eighth week of physical distancing and work-from-home measures. Time Magazine says the coronavirus outbreak is also the world's largest work-from-home experiment. Are your performance, feedback and coaching practices prepared?
For many organizations around the world, business as usual has a new look and feel – it has shifted, evolved, changed, and in some instances, stalled. And big changes like this have a ripple effect on employees and beyond. The COVID-19 pandemic has been categorized as a collective trauma, and now more than ever, employees may require or crave additional feedback, coaching and recognition for the work they are doing.
According to Gallup, 81 percent of full-time employees in the US say COVID-19 has disrupted their life "a great deal" or "a fair amount" and 61 percent of full-time employees are working from home due to COVID-19 pandemic closures.
All this leads to a big and rather important question: How do you ensure that your employees feel equipped to do their job (including coaching and feedback support and technical requirements) compounded with potential stress and worry about the pandemic and the likelihood of kids, spouses, and pets at home that can be an unusual distraction? That's a lot to consider.
Coaching isn't one-size-fits-all
We all manage stress and subsequent reactions differently. And during a time of unprecedented change it's likely that people will require different approaches to coaching and feedback to meet their own needs.
Employee engagement and workplace culture expert Jason Lauritsen suggests that a simple way to make performance feedback and coaching more meaningful and effective is to create ownership and autonomy from the employee side.
Our current reality is unrivaled. It's likely that employees feel uneasy about the current situation and unnerved by the unknown. By providing your employees with autonomy in the feedback and performance process, you are giving them the responsibility to initiate the feedback request and also to decide who provides them with feedback – someone they work with, someone they trust – and influence over the focus of the feedback, whether it's a particular project or a specific part of their performance.
When you give employees ownership of the feedback process, it's helpful to provide a library of questions that they can choose from. A feedback tip from Jason: Use feed-forward questions that ask for recommendations or suggestions for the future so employees have something to work towards.
Get feedback instead of giving
We recently attended achieve Engagement's virtual conference on employee engagement . One of the discussion topics was feedback and what we do with it in our current state. The advice? Meet your employees where they are. Now isn't the time to seem out of touch. It's never been more important to get a pulse on your organization and understand where your employees are at, and how the pandemic is impacting them. A key takeaway: focus on getting feedback instead of giving it right now.
Big picture thinking
How do you help your employees see that the work they are doing contributes to the bigger picture? It can be easy to lose sight of that -- especially in our current environment. To help employees, encourage big picture thinking through feedback to help highlight how the work they are doing connects to the organization's overall mission, goals and purpose.
According to Gallup, only 20 percent of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do work that exceeds expectations.
International speaker, author and consultant Steve Simpson says that the key to better performance feedback and coaching is an employee-led process versus a top-down approach. Workplace culture must be a top priority for leadership, and once that is established the process will flow logically – including a genuine desire to help employees align with the aspirational culture and the need for personal growth.
Meaningful communication is key
In times of uncertainty, employees likely want to understand the future of their role and the organization. It's important to keep the lines of communication open and free-flowing. Life has changed dramatically from what we knew, so it is key that your communication practices reflect that change. This will help settle unease in employees, but it's also an opportunity to spark conversations about coaching, feedback and performance. Don't forget to have an informal check-in as well, to connect on life, family and hobbies outside of day-to-day work responsibilities.
Stacia Garr, Co-Founder and Principal Analyst of Red Thread Research has three tips that can help make the feedback and coaching process more meaningful for employees.
- An effective coach helps employees learn from their mistakes. And have useful ongoing conversations about performance to provide employees with the information they need to improve their skills.
- Candor allows managers to manage difficult conversations effectively or be open to new information. This creates a relationship built on trust between employees and managers.
- When the manager removes barriers to individual work, they also enable individual autonomy.
Embrace the new normal
Jason Lauritsen said it perfectly: Only by designing work to feel more like a relationship can we create the kind of work experiences that allow human beings to truly thrive. And creating that kind of environment matters now more than ever.
The work environment changes daily as companies embrace remote work and some make tough decisions regarding the future of their workforce. Performance, coaching and feedback may not seem like a top priority amidst other changes, but don't lose sight of the opportunity to connect with employees, ask them for feedback and recognize areas for encouragement and growth.
And one thing remains constant throughout it all: We're all in this together.