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Hi everyone, and welcome to another incredible episode of ThoughtLeadership.biz.
I’m Chris Machut and today we’ll be talking about the dangers of ‘fake news’. Now, let’s get one thing straight before we kick-off: I’m not talking about adopting channeling your inner-Trump. I’m talking about making sure you know how to listen to your employees and critically reflect on your own practice. Because if you’re at the top and you don’t know how to get candid feedback from colleagues who report to you, you’re already in deep doggy doo. . .
And, as well all know, that’s a very unpleasant place to be.
But before we go there, I need to remind you to check out all my latest articles, podcasts and more at ThoughtLeadership.biz. You can also catch me in person on YouTube or listen via Spotify and Anchor.fm. I’m on Apple and Google Podcasts, too, as well as Twitter and LinkedIn, where you can subscribe for notifications. . .
Alrighty then, where were we?
Ah, yes. . . the unconscious art of crapping on your own doorstep.
Because that’s what you’re doing if you don’t understand why and how to get the feedback you need to improve your own performance and by doing so improve the performance of your whole organization.
But it’s amazing how many leaders get it wrong. My advice is: Don’t be one of ‘em. . .
The most important rule to remember is that the higher you climb in your organization, the less likely you are to get constructive and honest feedback from your subordinates. Why? Because nobody wants to piss off their boss, right? I guess you can call it instinct – or just common sense.
Either way, without getting honest and meaningful feedback from your employees you’ll quickly find yourself isolated and out-of-touch, possibly even delusional.
So, how can you make sure you get the real story instead of the fake news? Well, first you have to understand the psychology, then develop a strategy.
We’ve all heard of the ‘fight or flight’ instinct and it’s there for a very good reason: To ensure self-preservation in the face of imminent danger. Fear is the most powerful human instinct of all.
Believe it not, some of your employees fear you. You might be surprised by that as you think of yourself as a nice guy, and maybe you are. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are the pack leader. You’re the one responsible for helping them put food on the table. And you can just as easily take it away.
The more senior you are, the more you can trigger The Fear Factor as you have the potential to wreck the employee’s life in some pretty major ways. Negative appraisal, demotion or being fired due to a disagreement are all potential disasters waiting to strike, should the humble employee offend the Power(s) That Be by giving any negative feedback. At least, that’s what many think. . .
Unless you change their mind.
There are various ways to do that. Here are five of the best:
- Empathize & Relate
The most important thing to do is show you understand your employees’ fears by explaining publicly that we all make mistakes – you included – and that mistakes are fine, as long as we learn from them. And the only way to do that is to help each other by giving feedback.
By being humble enough to admit your own shortcomings, you’ll reduce the ‘power-distance’ between ‘you’ and ‘them’, and if what you say and do are consistent you’ll encourage your employees to come forward freely with the type of feedback you don’t want to hear but need to listen to.
Company culture doesn’t change overnight, so don’t expect people to flock to your door the next day and open up to you about all the things you’ve been doing wrong. They’re not suicidal.
If our really want to know what they really think, you need to go incognito.
Now, I don’t mean you need to dress up in disguise, pretend to be Juan, the new janitor, and go snooping around surreptitiously getting all the latest gossip. But what I do mean is you need to provide a simple low-risk feedback mechanism that ensures you get the information you need while the employees get the protection they need.
In other words, you need to allow the team to give their feedback anonymously. And there are plenty of ways to do it (SurveyMonkey is a good one). But, again, getting feedback means nothing if you don’t then actually do something with it – and be seen to do so.
3.Find a Friend
If you’ve tried steps 1 and 2 but to no avail, then don’t panic. There are other ways to get the feedback you need.
One of them is to find a friend, or at least someone you can trust to tell you the truth. They might be a team member, a coach or any other colleague who has access to the people whose opinions you need and their finger pressed firmly on the pulse of any potential problems, so they can let you know what’s going on before disaster strikes.
4.Creating a Healthy Habit
To effectively build a company culture that embraces open communication and the giving of meaningful feedback, it has to be an ongoing thing; it has to be entwined within the DNA of what you do every single day. Review time is a great time to ask for it, but it should not be the only time.
Giving feedback should be a habit.
But just like developing any good habit, it takes time. So be patient, lead by example and the rest will follow. Asking for specific examples (and providing them when you give feedback) also helps to add purpose and clarity to any feedback ‘session’.
5. Practice What You Preach
Lastly, practice what you preach. It’s pretty obvious.
If you say you welcome feedback then welcome it. After all, accepting feedback and welcoming it are two different things. Those who truly welcome constructive feedback also act on it whenever they can. They also publicly celebrate those who have provided some great feedback, especially if it was hard to hear.
So, if someone has been brave enough to step up to the plate and tell you something important, something they know you didn’t want to hear, then recognize and reward them.
Let everyone see how that feedback has helped you to make a change that has helped to drive things forward.
Okay, so let’s wrap up with a few quick reminders, a few do’s and don’ts for the record:
- Open up an honest conversation about the importance of feedback and how you want things to work
- Encourage regular feedback (‘incognito’, if necessary, at the early stages)
- Thank people for their feedback, however hard it is to hear
- Take action on the feedback whenever you can
- Assume that people will come knocking on your door to give feedback face-to-face just because of your initial pep-talk
- Wait for specific points in the year for feedback to be given as part of a formal process; instead, encourage regular 1-1 with your employees
- Forget to be consistent and build into your organization’s ‘DNA’ the practice of constructively giving and receiving feedback
- Underestimate the importance of doing all the things I’ve just said!
As a manager and leader, there are definitely times when you need to take out the trash. It’s a dirty business and no-one likes to do it but it has to be done for the good of the company. All good leaders have to be benevolent dictators at some point. . .
However, if you manage to install a clear and authentic feedback system that you lead by example, you’ll still undoubtedly have to have some tough conversations, but you’ll find that most are avoided because the potential problems have been identified, shared and solved.
Creating and maintaining a positive feedback loop in your organization is both an exact science and an art form. The most important thing is caring enough to give it a try and being honest enough with yourself to see if you are fit for the challenge.
If you’re not, you’re in the wrong business. Literally.
This is Chris Machut.
See you next time – and stay safe out there!