“Very nice. You have very good client relationship skills, Sara. I liked watching you in action. It was a difficult situation.” I received this note from a senior partner following a recovery meeting with a potential client. It probably took 20 seconds to write, and yet it made my week. What this person didn’t know is that while, yes, this prospecting meeting was in service to a meaningful business objective it also was an opportunity for me to try out new skills I had been working on.
In organization design work, the design models are often the easy part. A lot of our value at Kates Kesler is in helping leaders have difficult conversations (in some cases, conversations that have been avoided for years or even decades). As companies and strategies become more complex, leaders often need to start collaborating and integrating more to achieve the benefits of both agility and scale. For some leaders, the shift toward more vigorous forms of teamwork across boundaries is challenging and unnatural. Practicing new leadership behaviors often starts in the design process, but what matters is how leaders mature those new behaviors as they continue to make complex business decisions together.
As consultants, we also have to display self-awareness, vulnerability, and resilience if we are to help our clients take on these new and difficult conversations. It takes courage and humility for any of us to practice showing up differently. Therefore, it is important for those around us to recognize the signs of progress and acknowledge them. While every journey starts with a first step, some will find that first step harder than others.
Whether you are coaching a client or a colleague, here are some tips for giving encouraging feedback so it has an outsized impact:
- Make it timely. A quick acknowledgement at the end of a meeting, or a same day two-sentence note is infinitely more impactful than a two paragraph note on the same topic sent a week later. Intraday feedback allows that person to ride the adrenaline rush of the event a lot longer.
- Be specific. Describe the specific action that caused an inflection in the situation. “The example you gave brought an academic concept to life in a different way and sparked the right conversation – it really resonated effectively with a tough leader. Nice job!” This is more impactful than “really good discussion, nice job!” because in the former, the individual knows exactly what they did to influence the desired outcomes. It becomes easier to replicate in the future.
- Express the impact it had on you. Being acknowledged for a job well done feels great but knowing that you’ve inspired others to emulate your behaviors (especially when that person is more senior) really heightens the effects. “I liked how you did a pulse check at the end, I need to try that out in my upcoming meetings” or, “wow, you gave me an aha-moment and made me think about the problem differently.”
Everyone is working on something, even the most senior executives and the best-of-the-best. Your investment of time to give a small piece of authentic feedback just might give that recipient the confidence boost to keep experimenting with new behaviors, the extra energy to overcome a rough patch, or the motivation to start doing something differently.
Imagine the possibilities if there was an exponential return on every one of our efforts each day. I encourage you to say something the next time you see something. You just never know when that small act will have that outsized impact.