The Importance of Specific, Positive, and Timely Feedback

Laine Joelson CohenSeason 3Episode 9


Laine Joelson Cohen talks about her experience as the Head of Learning for HR at Citi and the ways she’s seen feedback to be effective and helpful.


Laine Joelson Cohen

Laine Joelson Cohen

Head of Learning for HR

For over 25 years, Laine has worked at Citi and its predecessors leading teams across a variety of businesses and functions. As Head of Learning for HR, Laine is a catalyst for Citi’s global Human Resources team, cultivating a culture where all colleagues are encouraged to be curious, engaged, and innovative. By developing HR capabilities, HR colleagues step into their role as change agents for the broader organization and together, create a best-in-class HR Function.
Previously, Laine was the North America Lead for Leadership and Performance Solutions (LEAPS) where she was responsible for driving development and delivery of Citi’s leadership development programs. Prior to her role in Citi Learning, Laine was the Director of Global Equity Compensation where she was responsible for the strategy, design, implementation, and administration of Citi’s global stock award and stock option programs.
Laine is also an Executive Coach and was named to Marshall Goldsmith “100 Coaches”. She speaks both at Citi and externally about leadership, coaching, and thriving in large complex organizations.
Laine holds an M.B.A. in Human Resources Management from the Zicklin School of Business – Baruch College and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Connecticut.


Troy Blaser (00:05):
Hello, welcome to today's episode of Simply Feedback brought to you by LearningBridge. I'm your host, Troy Blaser. I'm excited to introduce our guest today. She is Laine Joelson Cohen, who is the head of HR learning at Citi, where she has spent 30 years working across a variety of roles in both business and human resources. Laine found her passion for learning and leadership development about 10 years ago, and enjoys working with leaders and teams to maximize their performance and increase the effectiveness of their communication. She's also an executive coach and was selected to be part of Marshall Goldsmith's 100 coaches back in 2017. Laine lives in New Jersey and New York City with her husband and has two college-age daughters. She has been auditioning hobbies, and most recently has been enjoying her newest hobby, gardening Laine. Welcome to Simply Feedback it's so great to have you with us today.
Laine Joelson Cohen (00:59):
Hi Troy. Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Troy Blaser (01:03):
It's wonderful. I'm looking forward to our conversation. I'm intrigued by the idea of auditioning hobbies. That makes it sound like maybe there were some that didn't make the cut. Is that right?
Laine Joelson Cohen (01:12):
That is exactly right. And I'm still auditioning. So gardening is the one I'm focusing on now, but I'm excited to try my hand at some new things as well.
Troy Blaser (01:22):
We're coming into fall. Hopefully you've got a great harvest on tap.
Laine Joelson Cohen (01:27):
Yes. And, and as it gets colder, I will need to pivot to my new hobbies to audition.
Troy Blaser (01:33):
That's true. That's true. That's really cool. I love it. Well, Laine kind of one of our favorite questions, kind of what we often start with here at Simply Feedback is to just ask you to tell us a story and I wonder, would you tell us about a time maybe that somebody gave you feedback that had an impact on you maybe on your career, on your personal life, whatever it might be, but marked a turning point for you?
Laine Joelson Cohen (01:56):
Yeah. This was, actually the story I have is about the first time I got professional feedback. And it still resonates for me. And I talk about it quite often when I'm talking to leaders and teaching leadership development courses. So I spent probably the first four or five years of my career getting sort of what I call pat on the back feedback, right. You're doing a great job if I have, you know, if there's something else you need to do, we'll tell you, keep doing what you're doing. And while that feels good, in a sense, because, okay, I'm doing great. You don't actually grow from that feedback. And I suspect, or now I would say, I know that usually the person's avoiding a conversation. So I moved into human resources about five or so years into my career.
Laine Joelson Cohen (02:52):
And I had my first performance appraisal with my manager and assistant manager. So it was two of them. And they gave me this performance appraisal, which anecdotally in their minds was excellent. So, you know, I was rated highly, they were really excited to have me on board, but they had feedback, you know, they had constructive feedback for me as well. And when I heard it, when they said it to me, I recognized it, it made sense. You know, I could see what they were saying. And I cried. Like actually teared up and cried. And I will tell you, the two of them were so upset and they were looking at me going wait, like, wait, what is going on here? And all I could think of was, oh my gosh, I know I've been doing this for so long. You know, for these past five years, if somebody had just taken the time to point this out to me earlier, I could have worked on this already and sort of been past it. So that just really struck me and it started or really solidified my belief that feedback is a gift. I know that's a cliche, but it, I really believe it. And from that point on, I always vowed that when I was in the position of leading others, that I would be giving feedback regularly.
Troy Blaser (04:14):
If you have something to say, don't keep it in your pocket. Find a way to share it constructively. That's amazing. And like you say, that resonates, even today, after so many years of working in your career, you still, that's something that you can come back to and is prominent in your mind. It's funny, the kinds of feedback that you were getting for those first five years. I, you mentioned that means maybe they're avoiding a conversation or sometimes I think, well, when I get feedback like that, I can't trust it because they probably don't really know what I'm doing when I get that sort of generic pat on the back feedback, you know?
Laine Joelson Cohen (04:52):
Yeah. I think that that's actually a good point because feedback, whether it is affirming or constructive is only as good as the details that you provide. Right?
Troy Blaser (05:06):
Yeah. And it's also largely based on the relationship that you have with the person giving that feedback. If it's a superficial relationship, you're gonna tend to think it's superficial feedback, but as that trust develops, then you start to trust the feedback. Just, just like you trust other aspects of that relationship.
Laine Joelson Cohen (05:23):
Troy Blaser (05:25):
Well, that's really cool. And yeah, you probably threw off those, those managers with some tears and they're like, oh no, what happened? Where, you're like, no, you're being more helpful than you understand.
Laine Joelson Cohen (05:39):
Right. I'm crying with you. Not because of you.
Troy Blaser (05:42):
Yes, exactly. As you've worked in the different areas within Citi, can you talk a little bit about ways that you've incorporated feedback into the work that you do, feedback for the employees or feedback within HR? What are some of those ways that you've used feedback?
Laine Joelson Cohen (06:01):
Yeah. Well, I'll talk about feedback sort of from a process standpoint and then I'll talk about it, you know, just from how I lead and think about feedback myself with my teams. So we do have a formal feedback process. So we, you know, solicit 360 feedback formally a couple of times a year from people that we work with. But the thing that I love is that we also have a, the opportunity to do feedback at the end of a project or feedback, you know, after an interaction. So, employees at Citi now have the opportunity to solicit feedback systematically, um, you know, at whatever point they choose and they're encouraged to do so at the time that something happens. So we just wrapped up, you know, this podcast and I reach out to you and I say, Hey, Troy, you know,
Laine Joelson Cohen (06:57):
Tell me how that went and you know, what I could do better and so forth. So, getting that at a certain time, you know, or just in time is really helpful. And then, you know, I think that the other thing that I would say is feedback, we tend to think of feedback as constructive, right? So one of the things I'm very passionate about is providing just-in-time and specific, positive feedback to people, because a lot of times, you know, that pat on the back and that, oh, that was great meeting. You did a great job in that meeting. What did I do? You know, what does that look like? Cause I'd really, you're so excited. I'd really love to replicate it. So we really, you know, I certainly encourage people to, you know, have timely feedback, to make it really specific so that people can see what they're doing. And again, you know, it feels really good when people tell you what you're doing well. So the more, you know, and I'll say one more thing is that it's a great way for leaders to build their muscle in providing feedback, by practicing on the positive feedback.
Troy Blaser (08:07):
Yeah. That's definitely a safe place to practice. Right. If you're offering positive feedback, you're unlikely to offend the person receiving the feedback. Hopefully not, but yeah. I like that idea of practicing giving feedback, by focusing on the positive, I was gonna ask you about the just-in-time feedback or, you know, at the end of a project or whatever, is that anonymous feedback or is it targeted? And like you said, at the end of the podcast, you might ask me for feedback. You probably know who's gonna give that.
Laine Joelson Cohen (08:39):
Yeah. It can be both, so you can choose which way to do it. You can make it anonymous or you can leave it open. That's really up to the actual employee to decide which way to go.
Troy Blaser (08:51):
Are there things that you've done at Citi that you've tried out that maybe haven't worked so well, or, you know, a caution that you would give to someone who's listening to say, hey, we tried this and we would do it differently next time or something like that.
Laine Joelson Cohen (09:05):
Not with respect to performance or feedback that I can think of off hand. But you know what I will say, because I do talk to people in many organizations as well. I think, you know, that performance management is sort of different, you know, depending on where you go. And I was just having a conversation with a professional friend who was sharing with me that there's no form, you know, one process where in the organization that she sits in. And as a result, you know, some groups are required to provide feedback. Other groups are not required to provide feedback. And I'm talking about performance, you know, year end type stuff. And what she's finding is that that lack of consistency is creating a very sort of, dysfunctional culture, you know, because, you know, people are getting more and more afraid to share feedback with each other. So, you know, it's not my tale to tell, but, you know. I thought it was an interesting point that she had.
Troy Blaser (10:21):
Yeah, the consistency can be very helpful. Just keeping everybody kind of on the same page and same expectations I wanted to talk for just a minute. Another part of your professional life is being part of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 coaches. Can you tell us a little bit about what that experience was like for you to be selected and kind of the part, the role that it's played in your career?
Laine Joelson Cohen (10:45):
Sure. So I was selected to be part of the hundred coaches back in, I think it was 2017. So, for those of you who don't know, Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach. He's an author he's, you know, pretty well known in this space. And he decided that he wanted to leave his legacy and the way that he was going to do that is that he was going to teach 15 people, everything that he knew for free. And all they had to do is in, in return is when they got, you know, quote old like him, his words, not mine, that they would do the same for 15 other people. And so he made a video, he put it on LinkedIn thinking he would maybe get a hundred people or so, and he ended up, I think at last count it was something like 18,000 applications.
Laine Joelson Cohen (11:40):
And so he, he was quite surprised, although probably other people who know of him would not be as surprised as he was. And he decided to expand it to a hundred coaches. So he selected his first 25 and was really kind of an open agenda. He was gonna do these, you know, bring people together and teach them. And I was, as I mentioned lucky to be selected into the second group of 25, and what's now come from that is just a really beautiful community of people who are like-minded in that they want to pay it forward and they want to make the world a better place and they want to help leaders, you know, be better leaders. So it's been really incredible for me, especially being an internal practitioner. I've got this beautiful external network of people from whom I learned so much. So I'm, you know, continuously learning and challenging my own thinking and just elevating my own coaching. So it's wonderful.
Troy Blaser (12:52):
Sometimes it's, you know, we've, I'm sure we've all had that experience where, you know, somebody gives you a piece of advice or tells you something and it doesn't really sink in, in part because of who it's coming from. But if you have that external network, like you were saying, then someone outside might say almost the same thing and it hits you in a different way or you appreciate it in a different way. And it becomes a more valuable piece of advice or feedback for you. So that external network is fantastic. Do you have a chance then to do one-on-one coaching in your position right now? Or is it more, you know, leadership development on a wider scale?
Laine Joelson Cohen (13:33):
Yeah, so I do some one-on-one coaching, within Citi sort of on a, I'd call like an ad hoc basis. And then I, you know, have a small external practice where I do one-on-one coaching as well and some leadership work.
Troy Blaser (13:51):
That's cool. Can you tell us maybe about a time maybe when you've been coaching or had a chance to help someone receive feedback that was particularly interesting or, you know, when you've seen some feedback or coaching experience cause a point of inflection in someone's career maybe for good or for bad? I don't know.
Laine Joelson Cohen (14:14):
Yeah. Oh gosh. There are so many of those.
Troy Blaser (14:17):
That's why we do it. Right. That's, those individual situations can be some of the most interesting.
Laine Joelson Cohen (14:23):
Yeah. So I was coaching somebody not too long ago. And this person is just a superstar. Really well thought of in the organization, incredibly effective, and was really taking on too much. Working a hundred hours a week, delivering multiple projects simultaneously and really to the detriment of her own, you know, life and work and family and all of that and just really heading towards a major burnout. And what was really interesting. We did a 360 on her. So I reached out to ask a list of people that she provided me the questions, you know, what could she, you know, what are her towering strengths? What could she do to be more effective? And if she could change one thing, one behavior, what would, that would make her more effective? What would that be? And every single person talked about the fact that they were concerned that she was working too much, that they value her so much.
Laine Joelson Cohen (15:34):
They don't want to see her burnout, that they want her to prioritize. They want to her to, you know, help them prioritize. And they basically were handing her the license to do what she was afraid to do, because she didn't want to seem like she wasn't delivering. And that feedback was so eyeopening for her because she thought that she had to say yes to everything. She thought that she had to deliver all of these things, you know, concurrently. And in fact, what she really, as I mentioned, received, was permission by way of feedback to change the way that she was operating. And so that was really impactful. And, you know, we check in to say, okay, how many hours have we gotten down to now?
Troy Blaser (16:23):
That's the metric that you work on. That's the goal. And so I that's what I was gonna ask. Was she able to make a change from that?
Laine Joelson Cohen (16:31):
Yeah. She's actively continuing to work on that and it really led to some great conversations where she was able to go back to the people who gave her the feedback and say, you know, thank you so much for this feedback. It was really helpful to me. And what I'm gonna ask is for your help, moving forward to prioritize. To, you know, because, you know, and these are the people who are asking her to, you know, to do the work. So now she's got them on board and every time something new comes up, instead of just taking it on as a pile on, she says, okay, you know, where does this go? In the order of things, here's the timeline that I think I can do it. And she has their, you know, their partnership in making those decisions.
Troy Blaser (17:18):
That's one of my favorite questions when I'm working on projects or, you know, you have a request come in and it's like, I love that idea. It's a great idea. Tell me, is it more or less important than these other five things, right. Or whatever it might be. And that's a valuable question to ask and to keep in mind. And it just doesn't automatically go to the top of the list, regardless of what else is maybe on your plate, but there's a, let's take a step back and look at the broader picture for a minute and see, is it the right thing right now? Or does it need to be prioritized differently like you say.
Laine Joelson Cohen (17:52):
And I'm sure if we had the ability to pull all of our listeners here, many people struggle with this, right? It's really hard to ask those questions. We're much, much more common is it for people to just say yes and to take more on without taking anything off. So the fact that you ask that question on a regular basis is really powerful.
Troy Blaser (18:14):
Yeah. I, well, I've seen the value because it frees me from that burden, right. And from feeling that burden and that, it doesn't always work. We're not always perfect, but it's a useful question to ask. You mentioned when I asked you about, you know, a story of a time when someone had received feedback, you said there's so many to choose from. I just give you a chance if you've got another one on the tip of your tongue or another story that you wanted to share, is there any other story you'd share about a time when you've seen someone receive feedback that was meaningful?
Laine Joelson Cohen (18:49):
Oh yeah. Gosh, let me think. I have, so, like, which one should I,
Troy Blaser (18:55):
Take your time.
Laine Joelson Cohen (18:56):
Which one should I choose? You know, I thinking of another person that I was coaching, I'm going to this sort of the coaching side of things and the 360, side where, I had a leader again, who was just incredible and so successful and what she, you know, she was very task oriented. And so she, you know, she always went, led with task. She was a driver. And as a result, she got so much done. And when we did her 360 feedback, what her team was telling us and what her peers were telling us was that they don't know her as a person and she doesn't connect. So everything feels like a transaction. And, you know, she was really taken aback when she got that feedback because she fancies herself a very friendly and collegial type person. But when we communicate so often by email, some of that gets lost. And so for her, you know, we ended up doing some experiments where she spent the first line of an email or the first, you know, 30 seconds or minute of a call just on connecting. And smiling. And that feedback was really pivotal for her because she really didn't know that people were feeling that way. And what she experienced as a result was that she was getting things done through others more quickly, people were saying yes to her more than they had, because they felt more of a connection. And obviously that didn't happen overnight. That took some time for her to build that. But she had no idea that she was perceived in that way,
Troy Blaser (20:53):
How refreshing it must have been for her coworkers to start to see this change in the interaction. It's like, oh my goodness. We're, things are changing and we're establishing a new connection. Just because of that 30 seconds or two minutes or whatever it was to start to incorporate that, moments of connection into the back and forth.
Laine Joelson Cohen (21:15):
Yeah. And I think taking my story that I told you and these examples, I can tell you just in the work I've done in leadership development and the work that I do as a coach in general, I've rarely seen somebody get feedback and be mad about it. Meaning they might struggle, you know, if they're getting constructive feedback, they may, you know, sort of have to digest it and get upset. But, I think there's this fear sometimes, you know, that people have about providing that feedback because they're afraid of a reaction. And that goes from, you know, leaders, giving feedback to their teams. It goes for peers giving feedback to their colleagues. But just in terms of level setting that, most people feel really glad to have the feedback on the surface rather than have people go around thinking something about them or making inferences about why they're doing something.
Troy Blaser (22:12):
Yeah. There can be, like you say, there can be sort of that moment of, when you receive the feedback and there's kind of this fight or flight moment where I'm deciding, how am I gonna react to this and okay. If I take a minute and count to 20 and control my breathing and okay, now I can take this feedback and it turns out it's very useful to me, something that I didn't know. And I'm certainly glad that it was shared with me. I agree with you that people in general appreciate knowing those kinds of things, receiving that feedback, even if it's can be difficult at first to digest.
Laine Joelson Cohen (22:47):
Yeah. Can I go to the bright side for one second before we move to the next question?
Troy Blaser (22:50):
Absolutely. Yes. I love it.
Laine Joelson Cohen (22:51):
So I just had an experience the other day that I'll just share. I was doing a presentation on a town hall and one of the women on the team for which I was doing the town hall was tasked with moving the slides. So I was speaking, she was moving my slides. And it was amazing. She really listened to me. She listened to my cues. It was like having, my own Vanna White, you know, she really liked, she knew where I was going. She was in my head and the presentation was one of the best I did. It was so seamless because I didn't have to keep saying like, next slide please. Next slide please. And afterwards I wrote to her and copied in everybody, you know, her boss and everyone who's working on this, just, and really specifically articulated why that was so, so appreciated and what the impact was on me. And just to encourage her that, you know, that this role, while it may seem unimportant is actually so critical and you made the experience better for the participants and you made the experience better for me as the presenter, and the amount of positive response that I got to that from her team, from her leader, from her, really reinforced that that specific, positive, timely feedback is so, she was so happy to hear it. And she now knows that that's something important to keep going and keep doing.
Troy Blaser (24:28):
Yeah. And that's something too that can, you can generalize that a little bit more to think about how am I doing as I pay attention to the people that I'm working with. Am I in sync with them in general? Or, you know, am I paying, am I listening carefully to make sure that I'm staying on the same page with people, with my team, you know, that is the bright side. That's a great little story to share.
Laine Joelson Cohen (24:54):
And you know what I love about what you just said is that, you know, we're talking about feedback when it's verbal and it's deliberate, right? But feedback is all around us, right. You can look in somebody's eyes, you can watch their body language. You know, if you're paying attention, there's so many ways to get feedback. I love that.
Troy Blaser (25:15):
I agree. I was gonna ask you, is there some specific advice that you would give to our listeners? You mentioned that a little bit, you talked about the idea of don't hold back on giving the feedback. People want to hear that, but is there, is there any other kind of specific advice or something that you've learned that you would pass on to someone in a position similar to yours?
Laine Joelson Cohen (25:39):
Yeah. Gosh, I would say, first of all, you know, we talked about timely feedback. We talked about being really specific. The other thing I would say is check your inferences and go in with curiosity, right. Because sometimes when we are assessing a situation, both in our personal lives, as well as in our professional lives, you know, we see a behavior, we see somebody's action and then naturally our brains start to go. Why, why, why, why, why? And we make up the stories about why, and that sometimes can cloud our own thinking in the way that we address a situation with somebody. And so I, you know, my piece of advice is to go in with curiosity rather than, you know, with your conclusions drawn about the why.
Troy Blaser (26:35):
About the motives or the purpose behind it.
Laine Joelson Cohen (26:37):
Yeah. So maybe a, you know, a cousin of that, or a sister of that is assuming positive intent.
Troy Blaser (26:44):
That's what I was just thinking about. Yeah. It is, like you say, it's natural for us to go to sort of the negative intent or, you know, this person is devious and they're trying to accomplish this goal, you know, in some negative way. And it turns out no, it's a completely benign reason why they're doing it and, or they think they're trying to be helpful or, you know, something like that. So I appreciate that. I think it's a good reminder. I also wanted to ask you about, you know, in, in your work with 360s as you're coaching individuals and working with 360s, I'm curious to know if you focus more on sort of the data, the quantitative kinds of, you know, five-point rating scale kinds of parts of a 360, or do you tend to focus more on the open-ended questions, the written comments that are sometimes received in a 360? Do you have a preference one or the other?
Laine Joelson Cohen (27:38):
I'm much more, so just to level set when I'm coaching, I don't use numbers, but we do use numbers in our processes. But not for 360 feedback, actually, it's all quantitative and, or sorry, all qualitative. But what I will say is that I do think that the qualitative comments are more important. Because there's more clarity there for me. The numbers, you know, I can interpret a number one way and you can interpret, you know, a number another way. So there, there was a program that I was a part of that used 360s that had both, and, you know, we looked for patterns. Right. So if your manager was always rating you, was always sort of leaning on the three on the one to five scale. And then, you know, don't worry that it's a three, look for the places where it's a two or a four you know, because those are sort of the places where you want to focus, where there's an outlier to the common rating.
Laine Joelson Cohen (28:40):
So there are ways to do that, but I do, you know, to answer your specific question, I think the comments are really important. And again, sometimes in comments, if they're anonymous, they're not that specific. So digesting them, you know, if it's not clear, you can make yourself a little bit crazy. So I always encourage people to just start dialogues and ask questions. And again, go back with curiosity. Hey, you know, I don't know where this feedback is from, but I did get some feedback and I'm really curious about it. I want to kind of see how this plays out. Have you ever seen this with me? Is there anything that you can point to that might help me address this feedback?
Troy Blaser (29:18):
I like that. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And to your point about the quantitative side of things to really look for the outliers. In a lot of ways, I think for 360 feedback, it's more about the relative differences than it is about an actual, you know, 3.5 or whatever the number might be, but it's well, okay. My manager came in this way, but my direct reports were different. Why is that? Right? And the number itself is less important than the fact that there's a difference.
Laine Joelson Cohen (29:49):
Yeah and who has better line of sight, right. So, you know, if you have two managers, which in big, large corporations, people often do, right. And they come out totally different. You could make the decision to go with the person who rates you better and go, yeah, I really like that guy. I'm gonna go with that one. Or you can say like, wow, I, you know, why is there a difference? That's really interesting. And maybe, wow. You know, now that I think about it, I'm really communicating a lot more with my, you know, boss that I'm co-located with and the one who's sitting across the pond, I need to communicate better with that person because they're not with me all the time, so all this data's great. Right. It's just about being curious and trying to figure out. And by the way, sometimes you take feedback and you look at it and you validate it and you ask questions and you decide that you're not gonna prioritize it. That's okay too.
Troy Blaser (30:43):
Right. Yeah. Thank you for that, it justifies the path I'm on. I'm gonna keep doing it. Or whatever it might be. Yeah. Well, Laine, this has been a fantastic conversation. I've loved to hear the stories that you've shared. And your experience at Citi is very valuable. Useful information, useful advice and ideas. Thank you so much for joining us today. I was gonna ask you though, if our listeners want to continue the conversation with you, if maybe you've sparked a question or an idea in them, is that something you would be open to, for them to connect with you?
Laine Joelson Cohen (31:20):
Sure. I'm present on LinkedIn and I try to be pretty active and they can feel free to connect with me there.
Troy Blaser (31:27):
Awesome. I love it. LinkedIn is fantastic for that. Well, again, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure to chat with you.
Laine Joelson Cohen (31:36):
Oh, you too. Troy. This has been a lot of fun and thanks for the great conversation.