Strategy

2nd February 2017

What a gift

I had an amazingly insightful and privileged experience recently. An organisation, of which I am a part, hired an external consultant to survey the members of the organisation in order to be able to communicate the thoughts and feelings of the members back to the organisation.

The methodology involved a number of surveys, as you might expect, and also, untypically perhaps, 22 hours of telephone interviews during which skilled and trained interviewers questioned and probed the members. The methodology is not important except to say that it appeared to be robust and diligent and unbiased.

I was privileged to take part in the survey and also to be able to listen in to the feedback. It was brutally honest and unfiltered, save to preserve the identity of the people speaking.

It was a fascinating and valuable experience. I often use a video that you can find on You Tube of Erich Schmidt, the CEO of Google talking about the biggest lesson he ever learned. That lesson is to hire a coach. In the video he says ‘One thing we are all bad at is seeing ourselves as others see us’, he goes on to assure you that a coach will help with that.

This is not about coaching.

I suspect I often (mis)quote the words of Robert Burns when he said, “what a gift thee gie to gie us, to see ourselves as others see us”.

I am not totally convinced that it is a gift to see ourselves as others see us. It may be more of a curse than a gift.  It is definitely uncomfortable; it is probably embarrassing. It is unquestionably risky; But it is certainly important.

Whatever it is that we are aiming to achieve, the only sensible way we have to understand if we are close or a million miles away is through feedback. If you were in a shooting competition, you would usually be allowed a couple of sighting shots which would allow you to judge the accuracy of the sights, the strength of the cross winds and any of the other variables that might result in your aim being adrift of the original target. Without the benefit of feedback your first two shots that hit an inch left of target would result in the next twenty also being an inch left of target, unless the inevitable inconsistency accidentally meant that your shots drifted back.

What this organisation allowed was feedback of the most brutal and honest kind. How rare is that? How commendable is that? I wonder how many organisations would dare to ask their customers what they really thought of the product. I wonder how many organisations would then dare to wash that linen publically, in full sight and sound of the customer base. How many would be prepared to hear that voice; to listen to it without interruption, without excuse, without denial, without blaming the customer, without retribution and defensiveness?

It is brave, yes and it is also both sensible and necessary. Because if we think we are delivering X and our clients, our team, our stakeholders believe, feel and experience that we are delivering Y, even if we are doing well, we are living in a world of delusion, of hypocrisy, and of deception. Perception is, after all, reality.

I was coaching a team last week about leading and lagging indicators. The most reliable predictor of your future sales will be your current customers’ feelings about the value you provide them with. The most reliable indicator of your future team stability will be your current team’s feelings about how valued and important they feel they are to you. Not knowing is, at best naïve, and at worst deliberate denial.

Have you ever noticed why it is that those really good hotels, those that you really enjoy, those you would and do recommend, are always asking for, and make it easy for you to give, your opinion? And have you ever noticed how those who are a bit shoddy; who fall short of the mark and who never quite hit the spot never have an easy and honest feedback mechanism? Coincidence? I think not.

Here is a thought for today. How accurate are your feedback mechanisms? How honestly to they elicit the true information and how much do you act on that information? How brave are you?

Like lots of things necessary to play at your best in business, this only takes two ingredients, an open mind and great courage. What a gift it is to have both.