Be immediate. Feedback should be given as soon as possible. Criticism that is given long after an incident has occurred may not be received well by the person employee. They may honestly not remember what happened. It’s best to provide the criticism immediately after the offense.
Asa part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janelle Woods.
Janelle Woods is a multipreneur and currently owns and operates JW Document Services, J’s Cakes and IAM Holdings, LLC. In addition to her entrepreneurial ventures she is an Author of The 60 Day Startup, and a community leader and founder of a local business support group, The Sanford Cash Mob.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for having me! Well, my story began about 16 years ago in 2004 when I was a single mother trying to make ends meet like everyone else. I had just finished college and was working as a paralegal for a guardianship attorney. I quickly realized that the demands of a traditional 9–5 did not quite fit into the reality of a mother of two young children. Their school start and end times did not match up with my work schedule and I knew I needed something with more flexibility. That’s when I learned about the field of document preparation. In my state, it is a very lucrative business and as the owner, I now have complete freedom over my schedule. I was able to use what I had learned from school in a business of my own!
Once I had the right systems in place to effectively scale and grow JW Documents, I had the time to start my second business, J’s Cakes, in 2014. Now, this was a business that sort of fell on my lap! It started out as a challenge to myself to create all the treats for my daughter’s Grinch themed birthday party the and turned into a full-time cake decorating career. Since starting the business working from my home kitchen, we have now grown it to a full storefront bakery located in a major retail shopping mall and a mobile dessert food truck.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe what makes JW Documents stand out from other similar companies is our personalized service. We are able to assist clients based on their needs and their specific timeline. For instance, we offer a bankruptcy preparation service and I remember a client who came to us the day before her house was scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction. Because our service is fulfilled by people and not an online computer software, we were able to prepare what she needed, have it filed before the courthouse closed and canceled the sale of her house.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Since starting my career, I find it surprisingly odd that the busier I get, the more I am able to get done. It’s like the saying that goes, “If you want something done, give it to someone who’s busy.” It would seem that the more tasks added to your schedule, the less you would be able to accomplish due to possible burnout. But no, I am actually more productive now than I was before when I only had my 9 to 5.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh yes! I have several. When I first started JW Documents, I did not have an office or any formal meeting place. I would meet with clients at a restaurant or their home. I was so eager to get started on my new business with my new client, I hurriedly set an appointment to meet the client at a local fast food restaurant and had not even received my notary stamp yet! I had to ask my grandmother to accompany me on my appointment. So there I was, sitting in McDonald’s with my grandmother and the client all because I was unprepared.
With J’s Cakes, when I first hired employees, I made the mistake of not having set policies and procedures in place. At one point we had about 7 employees working different schedules, however, I did not efficiently schedule their hours or provide a structured work environment with guidelines and built in consequences. From that situation I learned to always look ahead and anticipate, as much as possible, what I needed to get the job done and to present a professional image to both clients and employees.
What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would say to always look for opportunities to show employees that you value them and what they contribute to the company. Also, be sure to give them a schedule that allows for personal time off. When an employee feels appreciated they will thrive and want to go above and beyond their job description. When they have sufficient personal time and opportunities to take time off without being seen as a slacker they will not feel burned out.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the ability to guide others towards an intended purpose by teaching them how to get there. A good leader does not simply tell others what to do and expect them to follow blindly without an understanding of why they are doing something. A good leader teaches what they know to others.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I incorporate meditation and visualization into my everyday morning routine. In doing this, I am exercising my mind on how to think, the way I want it to think, and not just allow my thoughts to run rampant in my head. So to prepare for a stressful event, I will visualize in my mind everything going well. I literally see in my imagination everything working out exactly as I would want it to. I also try to feel the feelings that will be associated with that successful outcome. So, when it comes time to make the decision or have the meeting, my mindset is already “in the future” and I believe that directly influences my performance in that moment.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?
In my role as operator of J’s Cakes, I had to manage a team of about 6 employees. They all had varied backgrounds and levels of expertise in working in a retail bakery establishment. As a result, I had to handle each employee differently and put different expectations on them. If the need arose for me to correct undesired behaviors, I did so in a way that came across as suggestive in nature and somewhat indirect. For instance, I had an issue with an employee who did not use their downtime wisely. If there were no customers to wait on, or no immediate tasks assigned, they would simply sit down and scroll through their phone. Instead of lashing out at the employee and making her feel bad, I created a poster with suggested tasks to do during the day. I then gave similar direct examples to each employee (including the offending employee) on what they could specifically do. In this way, the employee didn’t feel singled out and it had the appearance of being an announcement. Now I took this approach with the first offense. Repeated undesired behaviors may need a different more direct approach.
This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?
As I said before, being an effective leader is all about teaching and guiding. The only way to do that is to help someone be better in an area where they are weak. So by providing honest and direct feedback, you are teaching desired behaviors. They may not like it because let’s be honest, no one likes to hear that they aren’t up to par, but it benefits them in the long run.
One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.
1. Be immediate. Feedback should be given as soon as possible. Criticism that is given long after an incident has occurred may not be received well by the person employee. They may honestly not remember what happened. It’s best to provide the criticism immediately after the offense.
2. Be specific. Try not to use generalized statements like “I need you to do better” or “I need you to work harder”. Be specific and let the employee know what exactly you need them to do better at or work harder on. Statements like “I need you to post content that has our contact info every time” is more effective.
3. Offer solutions. Once you’ve expressed to the employee what they did that was not up to your company’s standards, be sure to tell them exactly what you require. Don’t leave it open for their interpretation. People learn from repetition so it doesn’t matter if they “should already know” it from a training from when they were hired. For instance, if you want an employee to use downtime to clean up, tell them exactly what to clean and in what order.
4. For remote employees, try to have the conversation in person or by phone. Written communication lacks tone and depending on what message you are sending, it can come off as harsh if only text is used. If at all possible, try to have the conversation with them in person or by phone. That way they can hear the upbeat tone of your voice.
5. Always end on a positive note. After you’ve provided your feedback, always let the employee know some things that you noticed they have done right. “Oh, by the way, I heard you booked a huge wedding cake order last week! Great job!” This way the conversation did not end on a negative vibe.
Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.
How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
That’s a great question. As stated in my earlier response, written communication lacks tone and voice inflection. To overcome this, you can structure the email in a more friendly tone. Some suggestions would be to avoid using all caps, use exclamation marks (conservatively), rephrase statements as questions so it doesn’t come off as too assertive.
In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe it should be immediately after an incident.
How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?
Being a great boss means being available to guide and delegate properly without being overbearing or a micro-manager. It’s a delicate balance that you have to maintain. You want to have taught them well enough so that they will perform in the manner in which you desire, and show them that you trust them enough to do the work without your input or your presence. At the bakery, for instance, there are times when an employee will call me for guidance on how to handle a customer complaint. My first question is what do you think I would do in that situation. They tell me and I tell them well that’s what you do. I told them however they choose to handle it,do that and then let me know the outcome. I am basically allowing them leeway to either step up or mess up.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well I believe I have already done that! I have actually created a group of locals in our city, who meet specifically to stimulate and support local small businesses. The group is called the Sanford cash mob. We meet once a month at a different business each month, and commit to spending $20 with that business. This has given a major boost to small mom-and-pop businesses in our city as well as bring awareness to the importance of shopping small.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Well I have lots of Life Lesson quotes, but the one that comes to mind that I love is “Your beliefs shape your reality”. It means that whatever an individual believes to be true, will be true for that individual. They will experience things that line up with that belief system. And this applies to good beliefs and bad beliefs. In my own life I used to believe that I could only achieve something if someone else gave me the opportunity to do so. Now I have removed that belief because it does not serve me. I now believe that my success and failure hinges only on me. As a result I don’t blame anyone for anything that goes wrong. I always look for the opportunity to assume ownership and responsibility for failures to learn from them.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow me on FB at J’s Cakes Sanford or Janelle Woods Document Services
Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.