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It never harms to praise your staff, or does it...?

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

When Rob Gill was asked by Nokia to move from his cosy office in NZ to work in the UK and Ireland team, and in a large new open-plan corporate office, there were some hard lessons to be learnt. This is Part 2 of a 3-part series about managing in open plan offices, such as those found in Hastings HIVE. Do read Part 1, "Managers lost in space...!", which sets the scene for Part 2.

Once I found my "sign-post" to let staff know when I was able to be interrupted, my normal personal leadership skills and instincts resumed. I was back to developing staff, challenging and encouraging them in equal measure. Smooth sailing, or so I thought.

But "a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor" (Franklin D. Roosevelt) and there were still one or two rollers heading my way. One of my leadership strengths has always been an ability to provide honest and open feedback that followers find helpful and motivating. And it’s leadership 1.0.1 to “praise in public, reprimand in private.” Well, maybe not…!

Surrounded by the team of professionals I was privileged to manage, I took to waving down passing staff members and praising good behaviours and new skills displayed, recognising initiative and especially wins, big or small. But never one to shy away from pointing out poor performance or miss a chance (if necessary) to reprimand and re-direct, I would wave the passing team member over and together we would go and find a quiet room for a "quick chat". With the coaching or re-direction message communicated, we would be back to work in no time, no worries, or so I thought.

You see, managers brave enough to provide direct negative feedback (preferably accurate and useful) are not as common as one might think. Later I learnt that it was common knowledge that if you were “heading to the quiet room” with Rob, expect some pretty direct feedback. One time, I was making for a meeting room and the adjacent area broke into a spontaneous low murmur…Oooohhh! Closely followed by a ripple of laughter and a red-faced follower. The problem became so immediately apparent that I could have kicked myself - I should have been the red-faced one. Unlike when I had my own office where no one (except the participants) knew if someone was being praised or reprimanded, there in the open plan area everyone knew what was happening.

The solution itself was simple - head to a quiet area or quiet room for praising and reprimands, every time, this way the discussion and intent are private. Sure it means more effort, but it builds leader and follower trust and importantly saves the follower from embarrassment.

So at Hastings HIVE we have been careful to include plenty of meeting rooms, six in total, and two major break-out areas, the lively cafe space and the quieter, more intimate lounge area.

Private phone and video conference booths (six in total when stage two is finished) complete your choices. Between a one and five minute catch-up is about the optimal time for delivering (and receiving) performance feedback, even better when it includes a great coffee!

In summary, in open plan spaces like Hastings HIVE, we suggest you always praise AND reprimand (then re-direct) individuals in private. Does that mean no more praising in public then? Absolutely not, but perhaps leave this for team meetings where the team or a team member is being recognised.

In part 3 of 3 in this blog series, we consider the issues around "leading by example" in open plan offices.

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