All else being equal, why do some managers excel as leaders while others fell behind?
If you haven't read the study, Google's Project Oxygen answered this question after analyzing over 10,000 different manager observations, including performance reviews and employee surveys.
I'm not going to rehash the whole story, but one of the major themes that came out of the research was that employees valued even-keeled bosses. That insight couldn't be more appropriate timing-wise as managers across the globe gear up for performance reviews.
We've all had bosses lose their cool. Although none of us are impervious to the occasional stress overload, the truth is, even a single occurrence can change the dynamics of your team.
My story isn't that uncommon, unfortunately.
It was my first job, working in an automotive dealership as a salesman. It can be a stressful environment. It's highly competitive, and everyone is under loads of pressure to sell cars-- none more than the sales manager. In addition to working the numbers on every car deal, they also manage the dealership's profit and loss statement, seeing how every sale affects the bottom line.
I was young and inexperienced. To be honest, I didn't have the right mentality to be in car sales. I was too accommodating, had a hard time telling the customer "no," and as a result, gave away more margin in deals than I should have.
I can remember this day as if it were yesterday. I had a customer interested in a new car, and we were negotiating the numbers. At this point, I was on my third or fourth trip back into my manager's office, which was about three to four trips too many. In the dealership world, this is a sign that you're not in control of the process. Every time you go back into the sales office, you're signaling to the customer that you have more to give.
My manager was fed up. Not only did we almost give away the car, but the customer also walked -- all of that for nothing.
As soon as the customer stepped outside the dealership, my manager went off. Although I was pulled into their office, the whole dealership could hear the scolding that I was receiving. I was humiliated.
Thinking back on the situation, I can fully understand my manager's frustration. Although warranted, the delivery, however, could have been more effective had they read Google's research. From that point on, I walked on eggshells, was terrified to ask for help, and saw my manager as a necessary evil. As you could imagine, it affected our relationship and productivity.
In situations like this and others where you need to deliver constructive criticism, here are a couple of guidelines to live by:
Make it timely, but not real-time.
I'm usually a proponent of real-time feedback. But, in situations where emotions run high, it's always better to take a step back and clear your mind before delivering constructive criticism. Take time to decompress and reset your emotions to ensure your approach isn't irrational.
If left unchecked, emotions can quickly hijack a conversation. Staying calm ensures that employees don't immediately go on the defensive. When present during performance conversations, emotions often set an accusatory and judgemental tone. As most do when backed into a corner, employees will put up their guard squashing the likelihood that your feedback sinks in.
Structure for success.
Another reason to avoid immediate emotional exchanges with employees is the fact that we're all biased.
Everyone is filled with preconceived notions or ideas that influence our rational decision-making. To ensure that we act fairly and reasonably, it's helpful to use a feedback framework. Two of my favorites are the SAO model (Situation, Action, and Outcome) and the GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options, and Will).
SAO prevents managers from making generalizations. It forces them to call out specific situations, describe the action being called into question, and clarify the negative outcome. For example, last week, during our team meeting, you came in 20 minutes late. As a result, the team was thrown off-course and we didn't get to all the items on the agenda.
GROW is more of a coaching model. As managers walk employees through their initial goal, discuss what really happened, prompt employees to offer up potential solutions, and hone in on an action plan, they simultaneously teach employees how to think. Although our knee-jerk reaction suggests that we should tell employees what to do, leading them to mutually agreed-upon solutions increases the probability that they follow through with the plan.
Even-keeled means under control and balanced. Both are extremely difficult during times of corrective action. Following these two guideposts will help you deliver more effective feedback while preserving a productive relationship with employees.