Gen Y Employees, Felons, and Constructive...
Gen Y Employees, Felons, and Constructive Feedback

Do you want your team members to welcome your constructive feedback—rather than defend against it or resent it?

Do you want to help create an environment that inspires excellence and frowns on mediocrity?

If so, you can benefit from two very diverse sources of excellence:

1) a non-profit organization that rehabs hardened criminals with a 90% success rate

2) a college library

In the outstanding book "Influence: The Power to Change Anything", the authors tell the storey of Dr. Mimi Silbert who started the Delancey Street Foundation. Her organization takes gang members, drug dealers, and other criminals with multiple felonies and helps them turn their lives around.

Her typical new hire comes with 18 felony convictions, years of being homeless, and a lifetime of drug addiction. On their first stay, they start work, whether it’s washing dishes in restaurant, hauling furniture for a moving company, or working for one of her many companies.

Without the aid of professional staff, therapists, or guards, Dr. Silbert’s organization has changed the lives of over 14,000 former criminals, with 90% never returning to drugs or crime. Instead, they earn degrees, enter professions, and go live lives they never believed possible.

The Power of Positive Peer Pressure and Honest Feedback

She realized that her ability to overcome years of negative expectations and programs would depend on her ability to create an environment that provided even stronger positive expectations and messages.

To do that, she created an atmosphere where residents get a never ending stream of positive and negative feedback from their peers. At the heart of this are 20-30 formal and informal leaders whose opinions matter most to residents. In the words of authors:

“Powered by an incessant wave of positive and negative feedback from people who matter a great deal to them, Delancey residents find that change is the path of least resistance. That’s why 90 percent of those who graduate from Silbert’s community stick with the changes they’ve made for the rest of their lives.

Because getting feedback was a regular part of daily live, residents not only grew to accept it, but grew because of it. Contrast that with environments were bad behavior goes unchallenged and where peer pressure pulls people down to the lowest common denominator. At Delancey Foundation, positive peer pressure pulled people up to a higher level of functioning.

From Felons to College Students Shelving Books

Let’s leave the world of felons transforming their lives into the world of college students shelving books.

You see, as I was reading this, I found myself remembering an interview I did with Heather Burroughs of the University of New Hampshire’s library.

Awhile back, at a seminar I was giving, Heather stood out from the crowd in the quality of her input about what she and her colleagues were doing to bring out the best in their employees.

Since I’m always interested in learning specific examples of what excellent managers do that works, I asked Heather if she would be willing to do an interview.

I’ll share more of what they do, but for this post, I want to share her response to this question:

“I often hear managers express frustration that their younger employees aren’t responsive to feedback. They either get defensive, blame others, or simply deny the accuracy of the feedback. What do you find to work related to this?”

Creating the Conditions for Welcomed Feedback

Heather’s answer?

“We try to give lots of clear feedback.”

Besides not addressing performance issues quickly, “We try to make it a habit of catching students doing things right.”

Heather went on to say: “If you’ve heard a lot about the good things you do over time, and also get corrective feedback whenever you need it, when you do get negative feedback, it doesn’t feel like your world is crashing in or that your supervisor thinks you’re doing a lousy job at everything.”

Because of the ongoing feedback—both positive and corrective—their employees have:

1. An accurate picture of their abilities and work performance. - Because they get ongoing feedback, they know where they stand, and are therefore likely have an have an accurate self-appraisal of their abilities and performance.

This is critical to one’s ability to receive corrective feedback. If our self-appraisal is far different from the feedback we get, we’re likely to either discard it or feel hurt about being misunderstood and misperceived.

Because Heather and the rest of the management team is so clear with their feedback, employees are unlikely to suffer from the “Legend in Your Own Mind” syndrome fostered by the absence of clear corrective feedback.

2. A productive attitude about corrective feedback - Unlike many managers who, because of their discomfort with giving corrective feedback, wait until the performance issue becomes a full blown problem, UNH Library managers, give corrective feedback on an as-needed basis. Thus, it’s seen as a natural part of work life by their employees. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s not something that requires a spirited defense or a search for someone else to blame.

When positive and negative feedback are just a regular part of life, it’s seen as what it is: information that can be used to improve one’s game. It’s like a video game. You don’t feel hurt and rejected each time your move doesn’t get you points. It’s just feedback to help you perfect your game.

How to Benefit From This

Challenge any beliefs you might have that giving corrective feedback has to be an uncomfortable experience for you or the other person. See it for what it is: useful information that we all must receive to “improve our game.”

2. Share this blog post with your team and ask them to give examples of when they’ve received feedback in a constructive way and when they’ve received it in an unproductive way. Use this information to improve your feedback giving approach.

3. Ask team members individually for feedback on where you can:

a. Be more clear with your feedback.
b. Give more feedback.
c. Give corrective feedback in a more effective way.

4. If you’re really serious about raising the level of performance in your organization, engage your fellow managers in a discussion about how management can foster and model frank, open feedback with one’s peers.