Everyone Needs Feedback

Patty and I blog a lot about the importance of creating continuous improvement feedback loops so that the change team knows how well the change is taking hold, and to ensure that the front line employees have a clear line of communication to escalate issues and suggest ways to implement the change better. One topic we have not yet discussed is the topic of this McKinsey Quarterly article: executive sponsors need feedback too!

 …many executives find that as they become more senior, they receive less coaching and become more confused about their performance and developmental needs. They may also become increasingly isolated from constructive criticism—subordinates do not want to offend the boss and may believe that constructive suggestions are unwelcome and unwise. Many senior executives also unwittingly send off a “vibe” that while they claim to encourage constructive criticism, they really don’t want to hear it. At this stage of their careers, they may not have focused sufficiently on developing mutually trusting subordinate relationships that would make getting feedback and advice a lot easier.

I think the article’s suggestions are excellent tools for sponsors, in particular, to ensure they are cultivating the relationships needed to make the change successful, and visibly advocating on behalf of the change:

  1. Cultivate a network of junior coaches. ..ask only one question: “What advice would you offer to help me improve my effectiveness? Please give me one or two specific and actionable suggestions.”
  2. Push feedback further. …create a task force of six senior and midlevel up-and-coming executives and challenge them to look at the business with a clean sheet of paper, asking: “If you had to start this enterprise from scratch today, are these the markets we would serve? Are these the products we would offer? Are these the people we would hire? Is this the way we would organize, pay, and promote our people? What changes do we need to make, given our distinctive competencies and strategic aspirations?” …<Give> them six weeks to complete the assignment and impress upon them that there should be no “sacred cows” and that they should not worry about being “politically correct” in their findings.

What I like most about the second recommendation is that it really engages the sponsor’s peers and operational owners in looking at the company’s position with a fresh set of eyes. By doing the ‘clean sheet of paper’ exercise toward the beginning of a change effort, and demonstrating a willingness to listen to all ideas, it will establish credibility on behalf of the entire change team (as well as the sponsor) by showing that the goal is an improved organization, not personal glory.

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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