In looking back over the last year, the amount of progress that has been made in a profession where things generally are very slow to change has been tremendous for the AEC professions.

I had the pleasure of participating in a Professional HR Roundtable last week and during the conversation, someone mentioned Sir Winston Churchill’s statement “never let a good crisis go to waste!”  and I thought how appropriate. In looking back over the last year, the amount of progress that has been made in a profession where things generally are very slow to change has been tremendous for the AEC professions–specifically:

  • More flexible work schedules
  • No long hours spent commuting
  • More quality time spent with loved ones
  • A time to assess what is really important in one’s life
  • The opportunity to create more diverse teams in more diverse geographic locations
  • A fast track to embracing technology that allows teams to work together virtually
  • A break for the environment in not having to deal with all the pollution byproducts caused by millions of commuters

There is also a downside to some of the above-mentioned positives. Three major downsides are: a) more stress and mental health issues brought on by the added pressures of working from home; b) not being able to have a quick conversation while on your way to lunch or a job site; and c) being “Zoomed out” and feeling like you need to be ‘on’ all the time.  There is no longer a clear separation between work and play.

An Appeal for More Effective Feedback

One more change I would like to see during this crisis that would also address the feelings of isolation, pressure, and lack of connection that a lot of people are feeling right now, is the replacement of the “Performance Review” with the adoption of ongoing, clear, timely, feedback between everyone—no matter what title you currently have.

I would like to see firms place the stewardship of every employee’s career in their own hands, where it belongs.  It is, after all, their career; so who has more of a vested interest in shepherding it along?

The firm’s responsibility could then shift to providing the education and support needed to help each employee more easily communicate what they need when they need it.

No more top-down annual review meetings facilitated by professionals who would really rather be doing the work than being in conversations conducting 360 reviews with people that would benefit more from being asked “what do you need from leadership right now to be able to succeed in your career?”

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to what people need from their firm, and it will take a concentrated effort to connect and ask each individual what they really need right now. The answer will be different for just about everyone.

My hope for not letting this crisis go to waste is that firms spend the time developing their people in the art of providing clear ongoing feedback—both positive and the not-so-positive. The results would be:

  • Developing whole teams to be good listeners and to be able to observe themselves when the impact they are having on others is not matched up with their intention.
  • Being able to adjust at the moment and stay in the conversation even if it is uncomfortable.
  • Giving very specific positive feedback along with observations as to how a team member could have done something differently for a better outcome, as soon as possible after the event.

Having conversations like this builds trust, and soon you will find that these conversations can actually be the best professional development activity you can engage in.  These conversations build emotional courage and prepare people for having the other difficult conversations that will occur throughout their career.

These conversations may never be totally easy, but they will definitely become easier and what you learn about yourself and your team will be invaluable in building stronger more trusting teams and, hopefully, your people will feel seen, heard, and supported; and not feel the need to move on once this crisis is over.

 

Liz Halton is a principal consultant at Cameron MacAllister Group. She helps clients learn how to listen and communicate more effectively, increasing their self-awareness so they can become better leaders. By carefully and actively listening to her clients, Liz develops individualized programs that help them see their role in situations and learn how to approach those situations more mindfully. If you are interested in learning how Liz can help your firm, please contact her directly.

 

Resources:

  • Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen
  • Thanks for the Feedback – The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
  • Abolishing Performance Appraisals by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins