Microfeedback for Adjusting Behaviors

Previously I’ve talked about defining the values and behavior associated with quality culture. Once you’ve established these behaviors, a key way to make them happen is through microfeedback, a skill each quality professional, supervisor, and leader in your organization should be trained on.

We are all familiar with the traditional feedback loop: you receive feedback, reflect on it, make a plan, and then take action. This means feedback is given after a series of actions have taken place. Feedback addresses a few key observations for future improvements. In a situation when actions and sequences are quite complicated and interdependent, feedback can fail to provide useful insights to improve performance. Micro-feedback potentially can be leveraged to prevent critical mistakes and mitigate risks, which makes it a great way to build culture and drive performance.

Micro-feedback is a specific and just-in-time dose of information or insights that can reduce gaps between the desired behavioral goals and reality. Think of it as a microscope used to evaluate an individuals comprehension and behavior and prescribe micro-interventions to adjust performance and prevent mistakes.

Microfeedback, provided during the activity observed, is a fundamental aspect of the Gemba walk. These small tweaks can be adapted, and utilized to provide timely insights and easy-to-accomplish learning objectives, to drive deep clarity and stay motivated to modify their performance

Where and when the microfeedback happens is key:

1. Taskbased microfeedback focuses corrective or suggestive insights on the content of a task. To provide higher impact focus micro-feedback on the correct actions rather than incorrect performance. For example “Report this issue as an incident…”

2. Process-based micro-feedback focuses on the learning processes and works best to foster critical thinking in a complex environment. For example, “This issue can be further processed based on the decision tree strategies we talked about earlier.”

3. Self-regulation-based micro-feedback focuses on giving suggestive or directive insights helping individuals to better manage and regulate their own learning. For example, “Pause once you have completed the task and ask yourself a set of questions following the 5W2H formula.”

For microfeedback to be truly successful it needs to be in the context of a training program, where clear behavorial goals has been set. This training program should include a specific track for managers that allows them to provide microfeedback to close the gap between where the learner is and where the learner aims to be. This training will provide specific cues or reinforcement toward a well-understood task and focus on levels of task, process, or self-regulation.

During change management, provide positive micro-feedback on correct, rather than incorrect, performance. This can be very valuable as you think about sustainability of the change.

Leveraged sucessful, but well trained observers and peers, microfeedback will provide incremental and timely adjustments to drive behavior.

Impact of Virtual Communication on Creativity

A very interesting study in Nature this week on “Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation.” And while I don’t think the results will surprise many, I do think we are not close to settling the question. This is a fairly good-sized study, with a good methodology, but I think more research is needed in the area. I’m thinking we will see a few more studies around the topic.

The results suggest that there is a unique cognitive advantage to in-person collaboration, but the authors do acknowledge there are a whole lot of other factors in play.

This is the big question for many. How do we get the benefits of in-person while maintaining the flexibility and benefits folks are used to. I think, for those work environments where virtual work is possible, the answer is going to be to structure times to maximize the tangible benefits of office-based work, including:

  • Serendipitous collaboration,” a term coined by Dana Sitar in Inc. to describe informal interactions that result in innovative ideas, problem-solving, and new approaches. For me this includes plopping in a coworker’s office for a quick problem-solving session (maybe with a little healthy venting on the side). Speedy, efficient interactions that simply don’t happen in a remote environment — and that build a sense of camaraderie and teamwork.
  • More productive meetings. Even though we’re becoming more skillful at remote meetings, there are just certain meetings that benefit from in-person..
  • Connection and loyalty are difficult to promote in employees working remotely. The sense of team is not the same when team members see each other online as opposed to seeing them and speaking with them multiple times a day.
  • High-functioning teams have outstanding communication and shared experiences — both of which are difficult to manufacture long distance. Creating a relaxed, and informal environment, diffusing tension, and engaging in an extensive discussion where every team member is heard are all much easier to do in person than virtually.

Businesses operate thanks to human ideas and energy. People are the power behind every business; successful businesses find that fulfilled, happy employees drive fresh ideas, work harder to accomplish goals, and remain loyal to their employers.

The human element (and the need for and value of human connection) can’t be overstated as an ingredient for success and growth. I think we’re entering a new phase, and there are a lot of questions to be answered. What I hope is that bad decisions won’t become enshrined because of cost-cutting or just organization laziness. That approach already gave us horrible open offices.

Accountability does not go away to be Psychologically Safe

A common and distorted application of psychological safety is that it is somehow a shield from accountability. Non-performing employees tend to invoke it as an excuse for poor performance, insisting that a focus on psychological safety means valuing people and building relationships. That’s true, but stretching the premise, they claim that we should give them a pass when they don’t perform.

The flawed logic seems to be along the lines of because we may have used fear and intimidation, command and control, and manipulative and coercive tactics with people in the past, in an attempt to hold folks accountable, we must shed the artifacts that drive accountability in order to have an environment of psychological safety.

In my experience, this is especially prevalent when discussing metrics around overdue quality systems records and training. How to discuss what is late, can you even publish a list of folks with overdue training?

I want to be very clear, psychological safety is not a kind of diplomatic immunity from having to deliver results. It is not a shield from accountability.

Being held accountable can be looked at as transparency in progress. Psychological safety allows us to be vulnerable and to trust that the organization will take the problems seriously and address them.

The Team/Workgroup Charter, and When to Revisit

Teams and Work-Groups need ground rules, they should have a charter, which includes a nice vision of how the team sees itself.

Let’s be honest, we do not spend enough time building and maintaining these charters. If you are like me you tend to dive right in, and that will always cause some problems. Luckily, it is never too late to take a step back and do the work.

Start by answering these eight questions about the team and its place in the organization.

  1. Consistency with organizational objectives: The team vision should be aligned with and derive from the organization’s overall purpose and strategy. Teams are sub-elements in a wider organization structure and their success will be judged on the extent to which they make valuable contributions to the overall purpose of the organization. In some circumstances, a team may decide that it is important for its own values, purposes, and orientations to act as a minority group that aims to bring about change in organization objectives – perhaps like a red team.
  2. Receiver needs: How a team focuses on providing excellence in service to their customers, whether internal or external.
  3. Quality of work: A major emphasis within organizations is the quality of work. The relationship between quality and other functions like efficiency is important.
  4. Value to the wider organization: Understanding the importance of the team just not for the wider organization but beyond, leads to team cohesion and greater team effectiveness. Team members need a clear perception of the purposes of their work.
  5. Team-climate relationships: Team climate refers to aspects such as warmth, humor, amount of conflict, mutual support, sharing, backbiting, emphasis on status, participation, information sharing, level of criticism of each other’s work, and support for new ideas.
  6. Growth and well-being of team members: Growth, skill development and challenges are central elements of work-life, and teams can be a major source of support. Teams provide opportunities for skill sharing and support for new training. Teams need to be concerned for the well-being of their members, including things like burnout.
  7. Relationships with other teams and departments in the organization: Teams rarely operate in isolation. They interact with other team and departments within the organization. Teams must be committed to working effectively and supporting other teams. Avoid silo thinking.

From there you can then generate the 10 aspects of the charter:

  1. Team Ground Rules: What positive behaviors/values will the team seek to embrace and exemplify?
  2. Trust Damagers and Destroyers: What negative behaviors would damage/destroy trust in the team and how will the team avoid/deal with these?
  3. Conflicts of Interest: Are there any possible conflict of interest scenarios and, if so, how should they be handled?
  4. Team Boundaries: What are the boundaries of the team and the different types of team participation?
  5. Information Sharing: Where will there be transparency of information sharing and where will there be privacy and restricted sharing within the team?
  6. Issue and Conflict Resolution: How will issues and conflicts be resolved?
  7. Decision Making Practices: How will decisions be made?
  8. Meetings: Type, frequency, purpose, attendees and channels
  9. Induction, Mentoring, Buddying: How (and if) will new members be brought into the team?
  10. Communications: What tools will be used for communications and what are the agreed to “Reply-by” times

Do not short communication

How much time do you spend communicating every day? Whether this is through phone calls, IM, texts, email, written reports, face-to-face conversations, or meetings, many of us spend a large proportion of our day dealing with messages that demand our attention.

Be deliberate in how we manage these interactions so that people communicate efficiently and effectively. Outline preferred methods of communication, how to use different channels effectively, and what people want to achieve. By improving communication you can drive for effective meetings, reduce the volume of emails, ensure that exchanges are professional, and free up time for high-value tasks.

Include the following in your communication section:

  • When people need to reply to emails and when they don’t.
  • When people should “Reply All” to emails and when they should avoid it.
  • How to organize regular team meetings, who should attend, whether people will “dial in” remotely, what to include in the minutes, who will circulate them, and so on.
  • How your team communicates with customers internal and external.
  • How team members interact on internal social media (chat, slack, etc).
  • When making a video or audio call is appropriate.
  • How people engage with others face-to-face.

Signs of Team/Work-Group Misalignment

There are some behaviors to look out for, when you see them, it’s time to return to the charter, and improve.

Vague Feelings of Fear. You know what the team is supposed to deliver on, but you don’t know how exactly you’re supposed to work with anything in your power or control to “move the needle.”

Ivory Tower Syndrome. Things aren’t clear or different people have different expectations for a project or initiative. No one is really able to clarify.

Surprises. Someone committed you to a task, but you weren’t part of that decision.

Emergencies. How often are you called on to respond to something that’s absolutely needed by close of business today? How often are you expected to drop everything and take care of it? How often do you have to work nights and weekends to make sure you don’t fall behind?

Cut Off at the Pass: Someone else is doing the same work unaware to all.

Not Writing Things Down. You have to make sure everyone is literally on the same page, seeing the world in a similar enough way to know they are pursuing the same goals and objectives. If you don’t write things down, you may be at the mercy of cognitive biases later. How do you know that your goals and objectives are aligned with your overall company strategy? Can you review written minutes after key meetings? Are your team’s strategic initiatives written and agreed to by decision-makers? Do you implement project charters that all stakeholders have to sign off on before work can commence? What practices do you use to get everyone on the same page?

Three things that get in the way of good training

Culture of Delivery

Does training in your organization seem like death by PowerPoint? Is learning viewed as something an expert dumps in the lap of the learner.? However, that’s not what learning is – lectures and one-way delivery end up resulting in very little learning.

For deeper meaning to occur, invest in professionally facilitated experiences that enable staff to form mental models they remember. Get people thinking before and after the training to ensure that the mental model stays fresh in the mind.

Culture of Cutting Time

Avoid the desire for training in shorter and shorter chunks. The demands of the workplace are increasingly complex and stressful, so any time out of the office is a serious cost. The paradox is that by shortening the training, we don’t give the time for structured learning, which sabotages the investment when the training program could be substantially improved by adding the time to allow the learning to be consolidated.

Culture of Un-Fun

We know that learning takes place when people have fun, stress is low, and the environment encourages discovery. Make training cheerful and open rather than dull and quiet. Encourage lots of informal learning opportunities. Give more control to the learner to shape their experience. Have fun!