Kids These Days

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I don’t think I learned about it in Junior High, and if I ever did, I don’t remember. Helping us to write a letter to the editor this weekend, my youngest daughter pulled out a little philosophy to teach her parents about making a persuasive argument. Her words from Aristotle clearly define the properties of influential communication that all leaders need to follow. Ethos, Pathos, Logos.

Ethos in modern terms is the leader’s credibility. Credibility is based on three factors: Competence, good intention and empathy. Ethos is usually described as being achieved during the presentation through verbal and non-verbal gestures. This might apply if the speaker is a total stranger (writer, guest speaker or actor). However, for a leader, the audience is bringing in lots of information about you already. Therefore, credibility is achieved (or lost) before you start speaking. You will not overcome that judgement by dressing up or suddenly choosing sympathetic words in this one moment. Persuasion begins long before you need it.  

In the case of pathos, the leader must know and be sensitive to the value and belief systems of the team. What is important to them? What is their emotional state about the situation? What does this change, for example, threaten?  We often refer to this as empathy–the ability to relate to someone else’s situation. Importantly, feelings affect judgement. Which means that pathos comes before logic—emotion before logic. Too often we start with the logical argument and have not prepared the mind to receive it.

The logical argument is the last and least important aspect. Given a belief in your competence and intention, and your careful attention to my emotional state, I am ready to follow you. Your logical statements need only tell me how and where to get started.

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….To Love and to Cherish, Till Negative Feedback Do Us Part

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Negative feedback may not work like we think it does. Neuroscience has already us shown that our brain perceives social threats in the same way as it does physical threats. Being social animals, our brain’s response to physical threat and social threat is fight or flight.

A recent study at Harvard Business School used a real company to follow 300 employees who received the normal peer-feedback that we all receive at work. Their observations were that the response to negative feedback was, whenever possible, to go work with someone else who would confirm their own positive view of themselves, their ideas or performance. This is not surprising. The normal human response is to surround ourselves with people whom we feel less threatened—no matter how subtle the threat.

The idea behind performance reviews, and feedback in general, is that to grow and improve, we must hear about those negative aspects we may or may not know about ourselves. The working hypothesis is that brutal honesty motivates us to improve. When in fact, given the choice, there are multiple outcomes of receiving negative feedback—like choosing to work with someone else. If we can’t run, we likely fight, or, we are learning, the inability to escape is a source of stress that can lead to anxiety and depression.

It’s not to say there’s no value to negative feedback, but negative feedback must be offered in the right context. Some practices might suggest balancing positive and negative feedback; the old sandwich method of positive-negative-positive, or even the 10 to 1 ratio of positive to negative due to the weight with which we perceive negative feedback. It’s not about balance or keeping tally.  

Rather, we need to know our value to the organization, the team, to the person giving the feedback in order to use negative feedback as a motivator. Managers, and all of us, need to regularly express the value that others bring to our work, life and the relationship whatever the form. Then when you give me feedback, I am less likely to run or fight.

This is the general idea of personal commitments. In the context of a healthy marriage, for example, negative feedback is taken in the way it was offered—as an opportunity to improve. Not only is there trust in the relationship, there is a relatively positive and affirming relationship in which the feedback is given. When I am told to pick up my socks, I don’t go looking for another partner.

A neat part of this study was to allow people to write for 10 minutes about the values that were most important to them. When this was done prior to receiving negative feedback, the shopping around effect of negative feedback almost completely disappeared. Affirmation of ourselves is always genuine (in our mind). Which shows that our affirmation of others must be also be genuine for the threat of negative feedback to be reduced.

The compounding problem of running away from negative feedback toward those who will not criticize is that we will never receive the necessary feedback needed to improve. We know that when everyone in the group thinks the same, there is never improvement—which is one form of change.

It’s a paradox. For negative feedback to work, an employee needs to feel both valuable, and a need to improve.

For more on affirmation and appreciation, see “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman and Paul White.

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Own or Lease

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A recent survey by the American Management Academy indicates that one-fourth of all employees do not take “ownership” of their job. Much is written about how managers can help increase that number. I’d like to turn that statistic around and say that three-quarters of employees take ownership in their job—and write a little about too much ownership.

What is ownership? The idea of ownership of your job is ownership in a psychological sense, not in the sense of employee-owned. When an employee owns their role it is because they have a sense of belonging in that role. It fits them like a glove either because the role has evolved to fit their needs and style, or the employee has adapted to fit the role. They feel natural. In a similar sense of feeling natural, ownership is increased when the work done in that role feels aligned with a larger purpose of the team or of the organization. If a role doesn’t fit, we don’t really want to accept or admit that it is ours. Ownership comes after some time in a role, when there is sense of confidence, a sense of control. Collectively, this is autonomy. When an employee is free to decide what, how and when to do various tasks in their role (as it fits the larger purpose, of course) they have a sense of ownership.

The benefits of ownership are that employees will give more thought, take more care, be more motivated, take more initiative and take responsibility when they own their role. There is an internal sense that “I have to do this right”. These employees are proud of the work they do. Employees with ownership will take accountability for making sure the work gets done right, because they are also willing to accept the accountability when it doesn’t. We want that.

The downside of ownership however, is that it’s hard to give up something that gives all of these great feelings. Eventually, owners can become too independent from other team members, and personally too dependent on their role. If someone has too much ownership, this person is less willing to hear anyone else’s suggestions for modification of how they do their job. When it comes to organizational change, the “loss of ownership” is an often-heard reason for resistance, even if those words are not used. The words used are “I don’t know where I belong.” “I don’t know how my work fits in anymore.” “I don’t have any control.” It is often those who have been in a role for the longest time that have the most difficulty with the organizational disruption—or giving up their role. “I own this role—who are you to take it away?”

Striking a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of ownership is not simple. The best metaphor I can think of is that employees should see it as leasing the role. While the car lease is not the ideal metaphor, it guides the start of a conversation.  In a lease, the role and its responsibilities in all senses belongs to the employee for the length of the contract, but there is a time limit to the contract. On the upside if they take good care of it, the employee can trade it in for a newer and better model.

Do those who lease feel less “ownership” than owners?  Would you feel less responsible and accountable in your role if you knew you would have to give it up in 3, 5 or 10 years and do something else? Would this be healthier for organizations?

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Junk-Food Junkies

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Meetings are the fuel of an organization. The quantity and quality of meetings is directly related to the health of the organization. Food is fuel to the body, and the quantity and quality of food is directly related to the health of the body.

We are not underfed, but we are undernourished. Rarely, is the complaint too few meetings. The complaint is too many meetings. With meeting fatigue, it’s a tough conversation to talk about making better meetings—or to even talk about meetings at all. Like junk-food, without purposeful effort, the solution to poor meetings becomes more poor meetings. If the quality of the meetings was better, there would be fewer complaints about the number of meetings –and ironically, there would be fewer meetings.

Updates are the empty calories of meetings. Tactical/short term operational items are like potato chips—you can’t eat just one. These items are easy to tackle, and fulfilling to check off, giving the feeling that we’ve really accomplished something–that is, until we get to the bottom of the bag and realize it wasn’t all that useful. Did we really do anything to help the health of the organization?

Operational issues should be delegated to subcommittees as much as possible. If there is no need for other team members or for you to hear about the details of an operation, then the uninvolved should not be present. If there is another way to communicate updates, then that form of communication should be used–a slide deck, a video or an emailed report achieve the same end. If needed, meetings should be set aside especially for such updates—and they should be short, like eating a snack, not a meal. Full-on-hours-long update meetings should be as rare as the office Christmas party in which you eat too much junk food and swear to never do that again.

The agenda is your shopping list. The best way to avoid eating junk food is to not buy junk food. Fill your shopping list with just good stuff and don’t buy anything that’s not on that list. The best way to avoid operational topics is to not put them on the agenda and don’t discuss anything that’s not on the agenda.

Strategy is like a well-stocked pantry.  Snowstorms will happen. The electricity will go out. If the equivalent happens at work, we spend all of our time in meetings talking about that problem and what do about it. Instead, meetings should be spent discussing future strategy. How much of your last meeting was about problems that could have been reduced or avoided had more time been spent thinking it through ahead of time?

The produce is the first part of the grocery store for a reason.  Most meetings start with reminders/short-term decisions/updates. By the time we get to the forward-looking, strategic decisions at the end of the meeting, our shopping cart is already full. There is no room for more (no time, no mental space), and these are the items that truly make our organization healthy. Once we have tempted our mental sweet-tooth with the junk food of meetings, we aren’t good at switching the way we think from short term to long term—from shallow thought to deep thought. Chips and soda are the last items in the grocery store, and maybe if there’s no room in the cart, we won’t buy them at all. Would it be all that bad?

Start with whole fruits and vegetables. Use the time in your meetings to explore recipes, to process them. Like the time it takes to wash, peel and slice vegetables, use similar time and effort to get to know your strategies. This hands-on time will increase the creativity and innovation during meetings. We are not supposed to work through strategies at the same speed as we do operational topics. Use a fire, not a microwave. While you are at it, pick up a few food items you’ve never tried before to expand the repertoire. Rutabaga anyone?

Take care of your body with good food (and sleep) and take care of your organization with good meetings.

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In 140 Characters or Less

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In 140 characters or less, Elon Musk hit 3 of the most important lessons of communication for leaders. These three points are valuable for communicating one-to-many as here, and one-to-one as is the case for most of us.

  • Say thank you. Appreciation in the workplace is too often overlooked. Isn’t a paycheck enough? Nope. To get the extra and discretionary effort, sincere gratitude is a key motivator for maximizing employee productivity, creativity and positive attitude.
  • Be specific. What effort or action did you appreciate? Being able to name the effort makes the appreciation feel more sincere to the recipient. In addition, if you want someone to repeat a specific behavior, tell them what that behavior is, don’t make them guess what they did right.
  • Ask how to help them do more of the same. “I like what you are doing, how can I help you do more of the same?” “What can I do better to help you?” Helping people to do their job better is the job a people leader. Don’t guess what they need to be better–ask them.

Now Mr. Musk didn’t get these perfect, but he’s out there communicating. He was willing to be vulnerable (Ouch, I looked at the comments.) which leads to the fourth lesson

 

  • Respond to their answers. To respond does not mean to react. If we give up the compulsion to give an immediate response (react) to feedback, we are actually more capable of hearing and listening to what is being said. We have time to think and ponder; perhaps get over hurt feelings to see the truth in what was said. Only after contemplation should we respond.

 

And we should respond regardless of our follow-up action. I heard what you said, and at this time, it’s just not possible for me to do that”, for example, is an appropriate response. Or even if you did take action in regard to their feedback, make sure they know it was a result of their feedback. If you respond, people will continue to give you answers. If you choose to react or if they feel you’ve ignored them, they will not put in the effort it takes to give you useful feedback.  

To those who on Twitter complained much about not having received their Tesla on time, you should realize Mr. Musk asked them how to improve. My guess is that he will look at the responses and respond accordingly.

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A Caretaker for the Brain

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In a recent seminar on personal resilience, the characteristics of a resilient person were outlined as self-awareness, flexibility, self-assurance, organized and being pro-active. This list is accurate. However, I find these mental health characteristics of resilience are best achieved when built on a foundation of physical health that include: good nutrition, physical work and sleep. All of these physical aspects of taking care of our body are also taking care of our very large and active brain. Of these three, sleep seems to be the most neglected. Let’s look at what sleep experts recommend:

Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. This is simple and well-documented. Since the recommended range is a full hour and you could require more (not less), find out what you need and get that much sleep. That’s a great start.

Use your internal clock to determine bedtime. The tendency to be earlier to bed or later to bed, lark or owl, is genetically determined. These two variants are not extremely different—meaning the owl doesn’t stay up until 2 am–maybe 11 pm instead of 10 pm for the lark. Sleep between 10 pm and 2 am is our deepest and best sleep, regardless of the start time. If we start too late, we miss the highest quality sleep period. Importantly, given the requirement for a constant amount of sleep each day, owls should also sleep in a bit compared to larks. The required sleeping period is merely shifted. Follow your biological clock, not the “gotta-watch-this-last-episode-clock”.

Of note, our highest mental energy is approximately 2-3 hours after waking and our peak physical energy is in the mid-afternoon. These are valuable energy dynamics that can also be used to increase daily effectiveness.

Wake at the same time every day. On average, we are getting one hour too little sleep per night. The tendency is to overcome the accumulated sleep deficit by sleeping in, and this is actually detrimental. Our internal clock is triggered by the blue light of the sunrise. When we miss that early morning light by sleeping in on Saturday morning, our whole cycle is shifted, and we have trouble going to sleep at the correct time that night. We then sleep in longer on Sunday and have trouble sleeping that night. But Monday morning does not give us the luxury of sleeping in—and we start the week feeling out of sorts because our cycle is completely shifted relative to the natural and work schedules. Rather we should go to bed early on the weekends and wake up at the same time in order to start the week fresh.

Have a good bedtime routine. Blue light from the sunrise stimulates us to wake. The same trigger is caused by video screens and bright lights. We should ease ourselves into bed by doing less physical work at night. Keep lights low, read or meditate before sleeping. Other end-of-the-day routines include eating an early and lower protein dinner with limited alcohol.

Be honest. Sleep management starts with getting to know our body and being honest about what it needs. Feel when it is tired and respond accordingly. Try some new sleep practices around going to bed and waking up. See what works for you. Our social norms and our cultural beliefs about sleep tend to guide our sleeping habits rather than listening to our body. Our body is a biological system evolved over millions of years. It’s hard to overcome that with a cup of coffee.

For more inspiration, check out this article featuring Ariana Huffington, author of “The Sleep Revolution”.

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Reflection

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http://survivethejob.com/reflection-science-tips/

Reflection is the most powerful part of the Plan-Do-Reflect model, and it is the least used tool for making powerful progress. Looking back is a powerful way to mirror a desired future. I was thrilled to receive and share these powerful reflective questions adapted from my friends at CoachingTools. These questions provide a creative way to look back on your year and prepare for the future. Challenge yourself to answer at least 2 of these questions. When you meet a friend this week, ask them one of these questions to start a different conversation than about the weather.

Name Your 5 Proudest Achievements this Year

This could be something big, small or anywhere in between. What are you most proud of?

  1. _______________________
  2. _______________________
  3. _______________________
  4. _______________________
  5. _______________________

List 5 Challenges You Overcame this Year

What was hard? What are you proud of overcoming, dealing or getting to grips with?

  1. _______________________
  2. _______________________
  3. _______________________
  4. _______________________
  5. _______________________

What Did You Learn about Yourself This Year?

These could include (but are not limited to!) your strengths, weaknesses, talents, positive or limiting beliefs, desires, values, hopes, fears, etc.

  1. _______________________
  2. _______________________
  3. _______________________
  4. _______________________
  5. _______________________

What New or Existing Relationships Did You Develop?

Who did you grow your relationship with? This could be personal or in business.

  1. _______________________
  2. _______________________
  3. _______________________
  4. _______________________
  5. _______________________

What Did You Create or Bring into the World this Year that Did Not Exist the Year Before?

Think broadly – it could be anything at all that has your unique stamp on it!

  1. _______________________
  2. _______________________
  3. _______________________
  4. _______________________
  5. _______________________

How Specifically Did You Make a Difference in Someone’s Life this Year?

Big or small, how did you help others/your community/the world? It could be in your family, wider community, friends, colleagues, people you do not know.

  1. _______________________
  2. _______________________
  3. _______________________
  4. _______________________
  5. _______________________

Where Did You Have the Most Fun?

What did you enjoy most this year? Take a moment to really feel into this question.

  1. _______________________
  2. _______________________
  3. _______________________
  4. _______________________
  5. _______________________

Write a Newspaper Headline that Summarizes Your Year.

  1. _______________________

What do these questions tell you about your coming year?

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Why is Networking So Hard?

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“Why is networking so hard?, I was asked. Without much thought, I said, “Networking is like change. Change can be hard”. Where did that come from? Let’s take a look at my thinking and extended response.

By now, we’re all familiar with the “change curve”. This concept originated with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to describe the five stages of grief as it relates to death, a divorce or trauma. These stages were adopted to be generally used in corporate sales training and development, and it has grown from there. A most useful variation of the change curve language is from William Bridges. Combining the two we can get a curve that looks something like this:

For the purpose of this conversation, change is the end of one thing and therefore the beginning of something new. The stages of change are denial, resistance, exploration and commitment.

Sales and networking are cousins, so if we have moved from grief to sales, the application to networking is not a hard one. Unlike grief, in sales and networking two parties are going through change. Therefore, it’s about aligning the stages of each party to bring along a customer while you too are going through the discomfort. When experienced, change for the salesperson (networker) is not so difficult, and they are better able to guide the customer (networkee) through their change (buying this product and having less money in their wallet).

The question I received was from an inexperienced networker. It was the networker who is having a tough time with the change. We’ll also try to address the difficulty of the networkee.

What is ending? Comfort. My personal worldview. Confidence (false-confidence). Faced with this we deny the need to meet new people, to ask for help, to gather new ideas, or to ask people to challenge our world-view. Even when we are in a room full of professionals or have loads of friends, we resist the opportunity to put ourselves out there. How long can this last? Unfortunately, too long. The great idea has passed. The opportunity slips away. Only, maybe as a last resort, at the last moment, we reach out, but only to the closest relationships.

How do we start a new beginning? Small talk. Finding something in common with the other person. A question. With all change, success with small explorations leads to more exploration. Which ultimately leads to commitment to the new beginning—that is, a new conversation, a new relationship, or knowledge.

We know the value of networking, and most have already worked through the denial and resistance to find ourselves sitting in the “valley of chaos”. The key to getting out of this place is making small explorations. Some people have a disdain for small talk—the weather, sports, kids. This is why the “elevator speech” is commonly suggested so that you have something to say to start the conversation. Perhaps, an even easier and a more flexible approach is to ask the other person a question. “What do you do?” “Where do you work?” “Have you ever thought about…?” “What do you think about…?” “Where did you get that tie?”

A question, rather than a statement, gives the other person an easy opportunity to engage in this relationship too. Starting your conversation with a question is a way to get the other person through their change curve too. The question guides them out of their comfort zone, and the response is their version of exploration. (Unless you have something outstanding to say, listening is not really an exploration that easily leads to commitment.) If their response goes successfully, then they are more likely to commit to continuing the conversation. Therefore, you should show interest in their answer and even ask a follow up question to further promote commitment. In this way, you are the experienced one who guides the other person to buy your product (you) and give you their insight.

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It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

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Maybe the only thing harder than giving negative feedback is receiving negative feedback. Let’s explore a few thoughts on responding to such feedback.

  1. Say thank you. Thank you is an excellent closer and transition. As much as we may want to, getting feedback does not require us to have immediate response. We do not have to be defensive, explain ourselves, or explore further in that moment. A delay is especially useful if we are emotional—and everyone is emotional about negative feedback—including the person giving it. A simple thank you recognizes that it was heard and signals moving on. And thank you shows gratitude—which I hope matches the intention of the feedback.
  2. Write a list. After a performance review, which likely has a mixture of positive and negative feedback, we have a tendency to begin focusing on the negative comments. Right? Over time these negative comments tend to become bigger and crowd out the positive comments. And sometimes we start to exaggerate the negative words that were spoken. Writing side-by-side lists of positive and negative comments from the feedback session will keep our mind from honestly over-inflating the negative comments. This step makes the feedback physical, tangible, so our mind cannot morph the feedback session into a big hairy beast that continues to impact our reflections of that session.
  3. Ask for more information. With time to honestly reflect on the feedback, you are probably in a better mindset to respond. From your list, choose one, maybe two, items to explore. Don’t do all of them. Go back to your supervisor, and ask to explore that one item. This might sound like, “I want to be sure I understand.” “Could you tell me more about….?” “Can you share an example of what that might look like, even if it’s not a real one….?” “What would it look like to do it right or better?” “Can I add some context around why I made that choice to understand where my thinking went wrong?” This is not a defense session. This is an opportunity to do better. Ask questions to clarify, not defend.
  4. Work together to create an action plan. In that moment, or after another thank you, work with the supervisor to create an action plan that specifically addresses the negative feedback. We should do most of the thinking work and bring specific questions to the supervisor, ask for input, and approval. This partnership shows you want to do better and creates accountability.
  5. Work the plan and ask for feedback right away. Don’t just go about trying the same activity, and only at the end find out you’ve failed again. Rather, with the plan in hand, move forward a bit and check-in with your supervisor or someone else to get feedback as to whether it appears you are moving in a better direction. Ask for the feedback before anyone gives it.

These thoughts do not only apply to negative feedback.

  1. Thank you is usually the best and easiest response to a compliment
  2. Writing a list of how awesome you are alongside a list of places for improvement keeps us humble.
  3. Learning why someone finds what you did useful keeps you repeating the right parts of the activity.
  4. Working on our strengths is as important as working on our weaknesses.
  5. If you ever find yourself wishing someone had given you feedback, it’s likely because you didn’t ask for it.

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What’s Your Plan?

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The end of the calendar year brings about performance reviews. Receiving feedback information in any form at any time is an opportunity for reflection, improvement, growth and expansion. When feedback is received, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of a report, debate how true shared comments may be, or immediately begin making excuses. Instead you might begin by dispassionately dividing comments into potential weaknesses and potential strengths. With the items in these two lists, there are a number of ways to move forward to create your own improvement plan for the next year.

Most would rather not focus on weaknesses, so let’s start with the strengths. If you are seen as “meeting expectations” for a skill that could take you to a new level, consider an Enhancement Plan for that skill by focusing your selection of future projects that require using that skill.

If you are rated “above average” on other skills, consider creating a Good to Great Plan by asking to work with someone considered an expert (even better than you) in that skill, take on new responsibilities that test the skill–or be an expert to others. As with all plans, build and share your plans with people who can help you—family, mentors, supervisors, peers, reports.

If you find a weakness that has stopped or may stop your progress, there are many ways to improve these skills. The traditional Individual Development Plan is not intended to move a weakness to a strength—only to reduce the harm done by the weakness. To develop any skill (strong or weak)

      • Set a goal (where do you want to be?)
      • Measure yourself against that goal (the feedback)
      • Know your motivation (a reason to change)
      • Seek out experiences that demand or test that skill (yes, use the skill to strengthen it)

A more sophisticated way to handle a weakness is a Work Around Plan in which you employ the strengths of colleagues to help you get the job done (Be sure to ask them). In contrast, the Substitution Plan employs your other strengths to compensate for weaknesses. (For example, writing memos rather than giving oral presentations.) The purpose is to get the job done effectively. These two plans should be short term and complemented with an Individual Development Plan to bring a career-limiting weakness up to par.  

When performance reviews are overall poor, you might consider a Redeployment Plan to help you apply your skills elsewhere. Or, if you want to keep trying in your current role, consider a full Rerailment Plan. For these plans, you should work closely with your HR representative and your supervisor.

The outcomes of performance reviews are often not clear cut. For example, you may learn that your perceived number one asset is actually seen by others as a detractor. In this case, you may be overusing this strength and should consider a Redirection Plan in which you learn to manage your superior skill in this area to make it easier for others to handle your strength. If you find that others are not aware of your self-perceived number one asset, perhaps you need a Marketing Plan that gives you the opportunity to prove your ability and close the perception gap. Similarly, if your skill set does not appear to match your role, a Skills Transfer Plan may be required to show your value in another area.

Perhaps from the feedback, you are surprised that others think so highly of you. In this case, a Confidence Building Plan requires assistance from mentors, supervisors or peers. For really confusing cases, you may need a Diagnostic Plan in which the plan is to collect more data.

There are many ways to respond to feedback, and many plans can apply to the same data set. Reviews provide professional and personal growth opportunities. Ignoring the feedback is a Capitulation Plan—in which you can plan to stay where you are.

Whatever you do, plan to do something with this opportunity.  

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