Vol. 6, Issue 2
Building a Culture of Feedback
The best policy. Open and honest feedback is the cornerstone of a healthy corporate culture, yet AEC firm leaders too often avoid frank discussions. Even when criticism is constructive, recipients tend to put up their defenses, and those delivering difficult messages are filled with angst. Avoiding uncomfortable conversations, however, can allow job-performance issues to fester until they can only be addressed with drastic actions, such as firings.
Be like Mike. Ever dream of being a professional athlete? Here’s a chance to emulate one because elite athletes seek out coaching and crave feedback in order to improve performance. Similarly, corporate leaders should seek feedback about their managerial styles and their firms in general. Build trust with employees by soliciting their opinions. Reward candor, and set an example by not becoming defensive at any criticism.
Message delivery. Particularly in the AEC industry, which has many introverts, firm leaders often find it harder to give critical feedback than to receive it. A helpful technique to employ is the Situation-Behavior-Impact system developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. This system requires leaders to be specific about when and where a particular situation occurred, to describe the observable behavior by stating the facts without editorializing or passing judgments, and to detail the impact those actions had on them and others inside the firm. This technique shouldn’t be employed just for critical feedback but for recognizing positive contributions as well.
Practice makes perfect. It shouldn’t be a surprise that most people do poor jobs delivering and receiving criticism considering that so few have been trained to do so. Conduct workshops that teach employees precise language to use when giving and getting feedback. Role-play based on actual situations, and practice feedback loops until they become second-nature. When instructing employees on how to receive feedback, have them start with the assumption that the messenger is well-intended and make them understand that the person on the other end of a difficult conversation would rather be doing just about anything else.
Look for Humanity in Your Next Leaders
Rethink the model. Brash, egotistical, and opinionated CEOs might adorn the covers of business magazines and be held up as managerial models based on the sheer power of their personalities, but research shows that humility is the most valuable attribute shared by successful leaders. A study of 105 information technology companies published in the Journal of Management in 2015 found that companies with more humble CEOs exhibited better collaboration, team integration, and strategic flexibility. “Most of the thinking suggests leaders should be charismatic, attention-seeking, and persuasive,” Ryne Sherman, chief science officer for personality assessment company Hogan Assessments, said in an October 2018 Wall Street Journal article. “Yet such leaders tend to ruin their companies because they take on more than they can handle, are overconfident, and don’t listen to feedback from others.”
Spotting humility. By definition, humble leaders avoid the spotlight. So how can you identify the humble next-generation leaders inside your organization? Look for employees who know not only their strengths, but also their weaknesses and want to improve them. Humble leaders acknowledge their mistakes and are not afraid to change course when they see their initial decisions are not working. They do what’s best for the organization, not themselves. They know they don’t have all the answers, but they know the right questions to ask. Look for project managers who inspire teamwork, foster open communication, and deflect praise to their teams.
Away from the spotlight. “Organizations are making a push to hire and promote workers who lead effectively but don’t seek the spotlight,” the Wall Street Journal reported. To assist employers, companies such as Hogan Assessments are developing workplace personality tests to measure humility. At Patagonia, job-seekers are assessed for humility from the moment they walk in the door. After job interviews, receptionists are asked about how interviewees engaged with them at the front desk and whether they were respectful.
The Surprising Pitfall for Remote Workers – Burnout
Oh, the irony. As companies try to help their workers achieve a better work-life balance, it has become more common for them to allow employees to work from home. According to the 2018 Future Workforce Report by Upwork, 63% of American companies offer some form of flexible work. There is some irony, then, that a workplace arrangement that was designed to alleviate worker stress is having the opposite effect in some cases, resulting in worker burnout.
Thanks a lot. While some employers might worry about lower productivity among remote workers, a November 2018 article on the Harvard Business Review website reports that burnout could be a bigger pitfall. According to the article, remote workers might press harder to prove to their employers that the more flexible arrangement won’t cause their work to suffer and also to repay their gratitude. “Employees respond to the ability to work flexibly by exerting additional effort, in order to return benefit to their employer,” reports the article. “That feeling of indebtedness can lead some remote employees to keep their foot on the gas until they run out of fuel.”
Worlds colliding. Working from home may reduce the stress of commuting and schedule-juggling, but it can elevate it other ways. Without strict boundaries between work life and home life, employees might simultaneously feel the need to get tasks done on both fronts and become overwhelmed. Remote workers may also struggle to find any time to decompress. According to the 2019 State of Remote Work report produced by Buffer, 22% of remote workers report their biggest challenge is that they can’t unplug after work.
Set some boundaries. It’s tougher to spot signs of burnout in remote employees, so check in often to ensure they don’t feel isolated. Advise employees to disconnect from their home life as much as possible when working remotely. Help them to set boundaries and stick to routines, and encourage them to take periodic breaks throughout their day to stay fresh.
June 12-13, 2019 • San Francisco, CA
Attend THE event for architecture and engineering firm leaders interested in expanding into the West.
A/E CEO EVENT AT
September 5-6, 2019 • Boston, MA
A one-of-a-kind forum for A/E firm leaders to discuss the future of the industry.
Premier Training for AEC Leadership
Arrange for a structured professional development program that can coach your entire AEC leadership team.