This article is part of the Human Systems Organizational Health Leadership Principle series: 15 principles that relate to the overall health of your organization. Other Human Systems Leadership Principles are contained in the Change Management, Community Embedding, Mutual Empowerment, and Ethics categories.
Today we are looking at HS Leadership Principle #9: The organization provides a system of effective and consistent supervision.
The Dreaded Performance Review
More and more, I am reading articles that advocate for the elimination of the traditional performance review – I could not agree more. At the very least, anything that involves a rating scale must go. Scales are inherently biased and can also be very inconsistent. Even a performance review without scales that happens as often as four times a year will not be nearly as effective – or even as palatable for the receiver – as consistent, respectful, growth-oriented validation and feedback. More on this in a bit.
HS Leadership Principle #9 refers to “supervision” because that’s what we call this kind of feedback in the social work and human services world. Individuals who work directly with clients, patients, students, etc. generally do best when they have a supervisor or mentor with whom they meet on a weekly basis to discuss successes and challenges. Often, the organization or licensing process requires it because working with these populations can be extraordinarily difficult, both in terms of skill development and emotional labor. It is very easy to project your own emotions, biases, and personal challenges onto your relationship with your client or patient, because the work itself can be emotional. Ideally, after each supervision session, the supervisee records what was discussed and any action items in writing so both the supervisor and supervisee can follow up at the next session.
I’m not suggesting that all organizations copy the supervision model from human services, because this model was designed to address the development of professional skills in therapeutic and related professions. The idea behind supervision, however – regular validation and constructive feedback – can be applied. Validation refers to two processes: a) identifying and validating emotions and b) identifying and celebrating successes. Constructive feedback refers to feedback for the receiver that identifies behaviors or actions that could be improved to better meet the goals of the position and the organization.
Steps to Creating a System of Validation and Feedback
Step 1: Acknowledge and promote the necessity and advantages of multi-way validation and constructive feedback.
“Multi-way” is just a fancy way of saying that any individual in an organization can validate and provide feedback to any other individual in the organization. Supervisors should expect and welcome validation and constructive feedback from supervisees. Creating an open feedback loop in which everybody in the organization is involved can both build relationships and increase accountability, if done carefully and correctly. Creating a culture in your organization wherein both open and easy acknowledgement of successes and challenges can be very beneficial, but difficult to achieve for a few reasons. First, you will have a hard time convincing people at the “bottom of the hierarchy” that people at the “top” would like to hear from them. Of course, you may also have trouble convincing people at the “top” that they actually want to hear from people at the “bottom”. Second, you don’t want people to get carried away and start making negative comments on everything they notice, especially if those comments are not directly related to their ability to do their job. Creating some guidelines around what requires constructive feedback prior to implementing this kind of system is strongly advised.
Step 2: Everybody in the organization identifies at least one individual who will provide regular validation and constructive feedback on their work.
The individual who provides feedback on your work should be somebody who: a) works with you on a regular basis, preferably at least a few times a week; b) has a thorough understanding of how your position and work fits into the organization’s goals, mission, and vision; and c) has a thorough understanding of how your position and work fits with that of other employees’. Often, this will be your supervisor, but it doesn’t have to be. Ideally, you should be receiving regular validation and feedback from two or more people.
Step 3: Validation and feedback sessions happen at least once a week, and are preferably directly tied into specific projects; but validation of success can and should happen much more often.
I’m not going to go into the best way to give constructive feedback, because there are many books and articles written by experts in those areas, but I will just say that you should be providing at least three times the amount of praise and validation compared to feedback designed to encourage behavior change. In addition, constructive feedback should be as specific as possible, and so should praise and validation.
Step 4: Turn constructive feedback into action items and record them for follow up. Any time constructive feedback is given, both the giver and receiver need to decide what specific action items should come out of the feedback. The receiver then records the action items for follow-up. The record could be as simple as an email, or something more systematic and integrated, like a personal performance management document that gets updated after every validation and feedback session. The key here is the best action items in response to feedback come from the receiver, the person who will be taking the action.
The steps outlined above are very general and implementation of a validation and constructive feedback culture and system in your organization will require careful planning, collaboration, and buy-in. Contact Human Systems to talk about how you could integrate this kind of culture and system into your organization.