Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Accepting Feedback… We Only Learn From People Who Disagree With Us!

At least that’s what I have come to believe.  There is a lot to this, so it might just be more than one post… sorry.

One of the worst things we can do as Leaders is surround ourselves with people who are just like us.  People who have a similar background, and people who think the same way we do.  We also have to be very careful to encourage people to bring us bad news.  Surrounding ourselves with ‘yes people’, or people who don’t trust us enough to tell us all of the bad news, will eventually mean that any great people you have working for you will leave.  And you will be left surrounded by people who have nothing to say.  You cannot innovate, or continue to grow under these circumstances, and you will wither and die.  Yes, that’s right… die.

Approach any problem or issue with a group of people.  It makes no difference how large or small the group.  If you state your interpretation of what is going on, and everyone agrees, what have you learned?  One of you states a possible solution to the problem, and you all agree… what have you learned?  You take a friend fishing, and you both agree on where on the lake to fish, what bait or lures to use… what have you learned?  You talk with someone after both reading the same book, and you have almost identical thoughts on how to put the ideas in the book into practice… what have you learned?  You and a friend need to get across town as quickly as possible, there are countless ways to get across town, and you both agree on the best way… what have you learned?  Unless you speak to, or read the thoughts (wait, you can read other people’s thoughts?) of someone with an opinion that differs from yours, you will not learn from that person.

We must surround ourselves with great people; with people who have different experiences than we do.  People who have worked in an industry other than ours would be great additions to our team.  People who have opinions that differ from ours are needed in order to innovate and stay ahead of our competition.

Yes… some of you are saying that you can learn from your own mistakes, and that’s great!  I want to say we all do that, and that’s simply not true.  How many drivers are there who have been driving for years, and yet are pretty poor drivers?  How many people have you encountered who have been doing the same job for years, and are not great at it?  I have found that there is a very small percentage of people who have very high standards for themselves, judge their performance objectively, and alter the way they do things to get better results, until they reach great.

And even for those who do learn from their own mistakes, learning from the mistakes of others speeds the process along.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel every time we need to do something… someone who works for, or with us has probably had some experience with this, what are you calling it… a ‘wheel’?

We need to not just allow dissension; we need to actually encourage it.  Yes, we need to encourage people to speak up when they disagree with each other.  No… we can’t have people who just disagree with everything… nothing would get done.  And… when we are talking about setting goals, how to approach a problem, or how to plan that project, we need to listen to our team.  We need to listen when someone states that this is a bad idea.  We will listen to what they have to say, fully understand it, weight it, chew on it, decide if it has merit, and either stop our plans, change our plans accordingly, or proceed as planned.

A couple of things will happen because of this.  Our team member will feel heard, and their trust in our Leadership, and us, will grow.  Because of this increased trust and better relationship with us, they will help indoctrinate our new hires.  In this way we will benefit from the new hire’s experience much sooner than we would otherwise.  And they will be much more likely to get fully behind whatever decision comes out of the process, because they have been heard.  The rest of the team will be more likely to feel safe speaking up when they feel they have something important to add, or when they see something going wrong.  And whatever decision we make is likely to be a better one because of the additional input.  Not only do we all win, but we also set up the process for continued success.

But Steve, no one really likes to hear about flaws, whether it’s in their great plan, or just how they do everyday tasks.  None of us really like to hear that we are not doing something in the most efficient way, that our plan won’t work in the real world, that your idea will cost way too much labor to make it doable, that what we’re doing is making work for someone else, that we are impeding progress, that our negative attitude is affecting the morale of the team… we could go on forever.  The kids don’t like to hear that I don’t like the way they load the dishwasher.  My honey doesn’t like to hear how I feel about her driving.  I don’t like to hear that I don’t call my mother often enough.

But what is criticism anyway but a feedback mechanism to help us improve our relationships, work, or performance in anything else?  How else do we get the continuous incremental improvement needed to make a high functioning team?  We’re only trying to help, right?!?

And… if we want to foster a workplace where we constantly improve, help each other achieve our personal goals, and achieve our team goals, we must foster an atmosphere where we can critique each others work, plans, and ideas.

So… How do we do that?  How do we foster an atmosphere in which people offer each other feedback without placing blame, and in which we can hear that feedback in the way in which it was intended?

Crap… 2 pages already, and my blog posts are twice as long as anyone else’s.  We’ll have to talk more about this next time.

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