Episode 278: How Honest Feedback Can Change the Workplace and Your Life

Episode Summary

Feedback is a big word in the office. It generally has a bad reputation and it’s associated with negative experiences and emotions. But it’s time to start changing this trend because frequent, action-oriented, specific, and timely feedback can do wonders for an organization’s culture. Growing this muscle will help everyone communicate and work together better. 


Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger – and we have a terrific guest with us today. She’s an influencer, speaker, strategy coach that is passionate about shifting the workplace to be more people-focused. She is the founder and Chief Change Officer of Assemble HR Consulting, a human resources firm that focuses on culture, communication, and conflict in the workplace. Jill brings candid insights, brave questions, humor, and empathy to her advisory practice. She’s a seasoned human capital expert, facilitator, and executive coach with more than 20 years of success in the fashion retail, digital technology, media, and banking industries. So, we’re going to talk about what she does in a second, but welcome Jill Katz.

Jill Katz: Thank you, Steve. I’m so excited to be here with you today.

Steve Shallenberger: Us as well. So, now before we get started, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Jill. We’ve had a delightful visit already this morning and you’re going to love her and especially the content is invaluable, really. So, Jill has held senior HR/Talent leadership roles at USA Networks/IAC, Ann Taylor, Calvin Klein Inc./PVH, Elie Tahari, and Macy’s. In leading the human resources functions, Jill has worked closely with senior executive teams to build leadership capability to drive performance strategies and focus on employee culture and experiences. She has large-scale organizational design project experience and her perspective on this subject is really unparalleled. So, she is certified in assessments, she has a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and Communication from the University of Michigan, and most important of all, she is a very proud mom, a devoted wife, and a Broadway fanatic. Want to hear about that? You’ve been held down Jill.

Jill Katz: Well, I am more than happy to talk about any of the above especially the Broadway fanatic part. Especially over the past year because I haven’t had a chance to enjoy Broadway during this terrible pandemic.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, hopefully, things are on the uptick and they’re changing and we’ll be able to get back to whatever that new normal looks like but enjoying Broadway and many other aspects of our lives.

Jill Katz: We sure hope so. 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah. Okay. Well, Jill, to kick off today, we would love to hear about your background, and especially including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you and how did you get to where you are today.

Jill Katz: Oh, thank you, Steve. It’s so great to be here and I appreciate you asking. I like to tell people that I am a recovering chief people officer or a recovering head of HR. And it’s funny to think about it that way and I say that because once you’ve had a career in human resources or talent, I think you kind of have that bug and you never get over it. For me, people’s careers is something that I fell in love with more than 22 years ago and it’s something that I will always love and never be able to focus on anything else. I graduated from the University of Michigan as you shared and I took my very first job in New York City and I actually worked in sales. That was my first job and about two years after that, I landed in my very first human resources job and at that time – now I’m going to date myself – Human Resources was still called Personnel. So, I guess I’m part of the old school crowd, I was before Human Resources was even Human Resources. And now that term human resources is already no longer used by everybody. And so, I like to tell people that I had a portfolio career in human resources before a portfolio career was even considered cool. In fact, it was considered pretty uncool when I started my career. When I took my first job in the ‘90s, I remember my first boss telling me that the right thing to do was to stay with a company for 20 years and to stay with that same company and grow there and be promoted there and never leave. And I was incredibly ambitious and curious and interested in people and their careers and their trajectories and how they wanted to grow and I wanted to learn about every single business. And so, by the time I was in my young 30s, I had worked in I believe eight companies, I had worked in internet, I had worked in consumer packaged goods, banking, retail fashion. I loved so many businesses, I loved learning about all different kinds of people and what made them tick and what they did and this was considered very unpopular, Steve.

Steve Shallenberger: Wow, what experience! That is a huge breadth of experience.

Jill Katz: It was pretty incredible. I had the great fortune of learning from so many people in so many businesses. And so, after about 20 years, I was really proud of the fact that I had led large teams of people in Human Resources in huge public companies. I had now been in startup organizations, I had been in owner-founder-led organizations, vertical wholesale, all kinds of businesses, and after 22 years, I realized I had kind of done it all. And I also got to a place where I was really watching myself become a corporate person, I was working more hours a week than exist in a week. I was a New York City commuter, I was out of my home more than I wanted to be. I was not the mother I wanted to be and I had become incredibly unhealthy, both physically and mentally and I was not a happy person. And so, money was not a hardship, I was making a ton of money and I was going to be able to pay for college with my eyes closed. But I was going to pay the price in terms of my health and in terms of not seeing my children. And I was watching their entire childhood through the lens of my nanny sending me pictures on her phone. And that was pretty depressing for me, Steve. And so, I decided three years ago, that I didn’t want to be that person. I was tired of reading about those people and listening to those people on podcasts like yours, and not being one myself. And so, I walked to the edge of the cliff and I said, “I’m going to do this.”, and I started my own company.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Wow, that’s a great background. I mean, there’s so much we can learn from you today, we’re going to pay attention. Yeah. And your company is Assemble HR Consulting, is that the name of it? 

Jill Katz: It is Assemble HR. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Well, let’s just jump right into this. And I think that that background that you provided is invaluable for all of us, not only for what we’re going to discuss today, but that’s at the very heart of what we teach at Becoming Your Best. It’s balanced, it’s having happiness and joy in life. And so, what you’ve done – and congratulations to you – is built upon the experience and the things that you’ve learned, your strengths of saying, “Well, how can I serve other people with this and find balance in my life? How do I find this happiness and satisfaction that I’m doing the very best I can and it fits with my vision?” So, great going, Jill.

Jill Katz: Steve, thank you so much. What I’m really excited about is that my true deepest passion in my heart was to change the way that people work. And I realized that I needed to first do it myself in order to help other people do it. And in the three years that I’ve been doing it myself, I have built a really powerful business. We have touched thousands of people and I have personally lost 77 pounds.

Steve Shallenberger: Wow. That feels great, doesn’t it?

Jill Katz: It sure does. Thank you.

Steve Shallenberger: And it’s not just the fact that you’ve lost that much weight, which is amazing, it’s hard to do, but that also has an impact in just virtually every other area of your life, doesn’t it?

Jill Katz: Every area of my life.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, great going. Alright, well, let’s just talk about one of the things that Jill is known about in her work is the Candor, Courage, and Care model. And I’d like to have you just talk about what that is. What are the components of it? How is it used and why can it be useful for us?

Jill Katz: Candor, Courage, and Care is our trademark feedback model. And it’s a model that I developed as we built our business over time based on my 20 plus years of Human Resources and leadership experience. And I’m so lucky that I had the opportunity to be a Human Resources leader in so many companies across the breadth of my career. And one of the things that I learned is that regardless of the industry that I was in, people are people. And the Candor, Courage, and Care feedback model is a model that helps us understand what it is that holds us back from delivering completely honest feedback in the work environment, and why we want to just be told the truth as adults, and how if we deliver very direct, very honest, caring, timely empathic feedback and insights to other people, we can all be at our best all the time in a much more accelerated way.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good background. Let’s talk about candor and courage and perhaps you could go through this a little more deeply, and perhaps even give some examples. One of the things that I’ve observed and really, even in my own life it’s not easy to bring up, especially depending on the type of personality that you have things that are hard to bring up. You might disagree with another person, you might see it differently, maybe you have a culture that slams feedback. But being able to communicate, doesn’t it start with this candor and courage and how do you do it, Jill? What would you advise us to do because this is a big one?

Jill Katz: It’s a really big one. And we give talks on this topic, and we have many programs on Candor, Courage, and Care as well. And so, the best way to describe the model is that we teach people both how to deliver feedback, we have a model called Fast Car, and the model includes giving feedback that is frequent, action-oriented, specific, and timely and then giving people context, action, and result. And the whole point here is that feedback has gotten a really bad rep over time, Steve, that when we hear the word feedback so many of us have a knee-jerk reaction. We think “Oh oh, this is going to be bad news.” We get a stomach ache, we get tight muscles. But really, we all grew up with feedback, we learned not to put our fingers on the stove because someone said to us, “No, no, don’t do that. When you put your hand on the stove, you could get burned.” And we took our hand away, and we’ve moved away and we moved on, and we were fine. And that was feedback. And when we learned to sit up as a child, someone looked at us and said, “Steve, you sat up and that’s great.”, and that made us feel good. And that was feedback. And we’re also people that go on social media all day long and we put things out there and we ask people if they like them or don’t like them, and that’s feedback. And so, when you think about it, we are actually animals that are seeking and soliciting and sharing feedback all the time. But in a work environment, somehow we’re scared. 

Jill Katz: And so, the first thing is to think about what it is that’s holding us back, and in our model, we call these valid excuses. And we spend a lot of time talking about valid excuses. And first, validating them and recognizing that a lot of it is about the fears. The fears of damaging relationships at work, the fear of getting fired, the fear of not having the time to have the conversation, or maybe not even having the right skills or possible ramifications, or not enough documentation or all of the common things that we hear. And then, we help people understand that if we had the right model, if we knew how to be direct, if we could do it quickly, and if we always knew that feedback was coming from the right place, really just from a good-hearted, best-of-intention place, that these are actually just excuses. That we would always give feedback and we would always want someone to tell us if we knew there weren’t any risks. And that’s what the candor and the courage piece is about. And then when you layer on the care, when you think about empathy, when you think about the fact that the people you work with are just people, and if we care as human beings about the other people we work with, and we want to see them succeed and be at their best, that’s what care is about. And if that component is always there with the people that you work with the same as anyone else in your life, and if we let go of this very old-fashioned concept that your work relationships are different from others – because they’re not, they’re just people – then we can, in fact, change the way that we view feedback at work.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good. Now, let’s say that a person does have something that’s been burning on them or that they feel like they should say, but there might be some valid excuses for them not to say it. Are there some words that they can use to get it out? What do you recommend, is there a way to make this easy so that it is more collaborative than it is a conflict?

Jill Katz: Sure. Well, the first part of our model is that holding things in is never a good idea. And so, we think that feedback should be fast and the “F” in fast is frequent. The more you share and the more often you share, the easier it gets. It’s honestly like exercise, right? The first time you get on an exercise bike, it’s hard and your muscles are sore, it doesn’t feel so good. And the next day, if you get back on the bike, your muscles are probably still sore, and the next day still sore, but if you do it over and over slowly it becomes a lot easier and there’s a lot less soreness. And so, the answer, Steve, to your question in honesty is if there’s something you’ve been holding in for a while, it will probably be hard to share it. It gets much easier if you become someone that shares all the time. So, the first time you share, it’s usually best to be very honest and to say, “Steve, I have to be honest, that there’s something I haven’t shared and I probably should have said this to you a while ago. And I’m sorry, I haven’t.”. And so, if you set the stage and you take accountability for the fact that you’ve been holding it in, that’s an honest way to start the conversation.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay. And how about any other language that doesn’t put people on the defensive, so you can give the feedback and put it out there, but now we can work together on it, you’re not blaming them? What have you learned in that area?

Jill Katz: The best way to share the feedback is to very directly give a person, the context, the action, and the result. And so, nothing should ever be general, it should be really specific. Share the context of something that you experienced or observed. So, Steve, when we got on the phone today at three o’clock, and you said to me, “I can’t see you.”, it made me feel very uncomfortable. In the future, I would prefer that you send me an email in advance to make sure I know that my video should be on. And so, it’s not something general, it’s not about my communication style, it’s not about this or that. It’s very specific. You tell me when and what happened very specifically, and then a person can respond to it or answer it.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, nice. Do you worry about people kind of blowing up and attacking you?

Jill Katz: I don’t. If people are really, really specific about the action and what happened and what they’d like to see in the future, adults generally want to know what they can do better. And the other thing that’s so important to remember about feedback is that we’d like to hope we include the positives just as often. And so, for example, Steve, when you and I first got on the phone today, we started with the video on and you and I had a wonderful chat, which I thought was a fantastic way for us to get to know each other. It made me feel warm and welcomed to your podcast and I thought it was such a cool way for us to get to know each other. So, that’s a great example of our model. I just gave you what we call a fast car and that was a real one. It was simple, it was straightforward, and it was actually positive feedback.

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, felt good.

Jill Katz: Well, it was true. By the way, the first one was fake, but the second one was true. And that’s something that you should know as a podcast host. And it was quick, and it was easy for me to share and it was very targeted, so you know exactly what it was that you did that I liked. So, if you choose to repeat it with another podcast guest, you know exactly what worked well for me.

Steve Shallenberger: Good. Okay, that’s a good example. And then how about somebody that would like to receive feedback? So, if I would like to get feedback, what have you found Jill is the best way to invite feedback from others?

Jill Katz: Well, Steve, here’s something that’s really cool to know. We all want to receive feedback. So, part of our program for the organizations we work with is we work through talking about this topic. There are very few adults that don’t want to know what they’re doing well, that they should repeat, and there are very few adults that don’t want to know what they can tweak to do better. So, the first thing is, we should all be walking out around there knowing that almost all of us want feedback, that’s the first thing. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, alright, good.

Jill Katz: It’s wonderful to ask for feedback and it’s best to ask for it specifically. And so, saying things like, “What did I do well, that you liked?” is actually too general, or “What am I doing that’s working?” is too general, not everyone can answer that. But you might want to ask something really specific, like, “What was your favorite thing on my desk today?” or “Which answer did I give during the podcast that you thought was the smartest?”

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good stuff. All right. What is hard or different about feedback at work?

Jill Katz: This is one of our favorite questions. And that’s a great question for us to ask all of the people that hopefully will have a chance to listen to this podcast. These are the things that we call valid excuses. And for people, these are the feelings that we perceive. And so, it’s that we worry, we worry that sharing feedback honestly at work could impact relationships at work. 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, right.

Jill Katz: It could be misperceived or received in the wrong way. We worry that we don’t have enough time, we worry that we don’t have the skills, we worry that it’s not our place to share feedback with one person or another. There’s a long list and I’ve actually written an article about why feedback at work is perceived as harder, but I do believe that with the right skills, it’s not harder, it’s just something that we need to practice doing.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay. And with practice, you get better, right? Practice makes perfect.

Jill Katz: Practice at anything makes perfect.

Steve Shallenberger: Right. I had a podcast guest a few weeks ago, Dre Baldwin, who is a professional basketball player and he was talking about the experience he had as gaining his skills and being a professional and the role that discipline played and that discipline leads to confidence. And so, maybe that applies here, too. I mean, that’s what you were saying, Jill, is be fast and do it a lot, don’t wait and start building this muscle up. And perhaps what has been your experience, you start gaining confidence and being able to be a better communicator, giving and receiving feedback.

Jill Katz: It’s interesting that you say that because we actually do at Assemble HR, a great amount of work with executive coaching and we train on confidence. And one of the things that we teach people, Steve, is that confidence is a skill that can be learned through practice. And so, I love what Dre shared with you, which is that in teaching confidence we actually teach executives that practicing things as small as speaking up in a meeting, that every time you speak up or share your opinion or in this case, every time you practice sharing feedback or receiving feedback you are in fact building that muscle and building your confidence, so that’s exactly on point.

Steve Shallenberger: Okay. All right, great. What obstacles Jill has remote work posed in professional communication?

Jill Katz: Remote work has really impacted our lives on so many levels, but it has made communication something that we need to be far more specific and intentional about. And so, where many of us used to work in offices together or in workplaces, where we were able to walk up to someone whether you worked in a grocery store with another person and you could walk right into the aisle with them and have a conversation, or you worked in an office together and you could pop into another person’s office, now that we are remote, in order to have a conversation, there is far more effort and intentionality that needs to take place in order for people to connect. And that is a whole new world. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, indeed. And what are some of the tips that you would give to our listeners to improve communication remotely? Just things that you would say “You’ve got to be doing this for sure.”

Jill Katz: Well, the first thing is, I know that Zoom fatigue is a real thing. It is a real thing, Steve. But I like to tell people that we were never able to shut down our faces in person, right? 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah.

Jill Katz: You were never able to say to someone, “I’m going to turn my face off today.” when you worked in a retail store or in a warehouse. And face-to-face contact is so important. And so, even if it’s not every day, I do think it is critically important to have multiple face-to-face opportunities with the people you work with every week. And I think that they should be planned because now the haphazard stop bys are not possible. And so, I think number one is to have scheduled face-to-face conversations with people at least two to three times a week. Number two is to ensure that there is at least 5 to 10 minutes of check-in time with people during all conversations. And check-ins always start with open-ended questions where you’re asking people about themselves as people. Do not jump straight to business. Anyone who’s jumping straight to business right now is missing the opportunity to understand what’s actually happening in people’s lives and what’s happening in our lives has everything to do with what is happening in our business. And if we don’t understand that at this point, we’re missing the boat. And then the third thing is to give people the opportunity to be flexible around the way that they want to communicate. And the best way to do that is to actually ask people. How do you like to communicate? Do you prefer email? Do you prefer Slack? Do you prefer Skype? Do you want to text? Do you want to have a phone call? Because as we are learning with our clients, every person actually has his or her own preference.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, good stuff. Well, I am always blown away by how fast time goes and our interview is up. Can you believe that?

Jill Katz: It goes. That went so fast, but that’s because you are so much fun. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, same with you, Jill. So Jill, how can people find out about what you’re doing?

Jill Katz: Oh, thanks, Steve, for asking. Well, we are Assemble HR and we can be found at I can be found on LinkedIn, @JillKatz, we’re on Instagram. I’m terribly findable.

Steve Shallenberger: Great. Well, good. Well, thank you, Jill, for being part of this show. It has been dynamite.

Jill Katz: I feel the same way. Thank you for all of your time. This was so much fun.

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, okay. Same here. And to all of our listeners, we are so grateful for you and we wish you the very best. As you apply these things, you carry the spirit of Becoming Your Best. That is such an inspiration. So, we are wishing you a great day. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day.

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.

Jill Katz

Owner, Assemble HR Consulting

Expert in fashion, media, and banking industries.

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