Feedback is one of the core skills taught to anyone who goes through leadership training — along with goal setting, coaching, delegating, conflict management and team development. I have trained hundreds of managers in a very specific formula for giving effective feedback. The problem with feedback is that we don’t like to give it and for many people, receiving it is not something they look forward to. It feels judgmental, critical, evaluative. That’s not to say that knowing how to improve isn’t essential– it is. It’s that feedback tends to put too much emphasis on what you’ve done in the past that needs to improve rather than on how to improve.
Last week, I was reminded of the power of Marshall Goldsmith’s feedforward process. I was with a group and we engaged in a feedforward activity that went something like this. You approach someone you don’t know in the group and describe a behavior you are trying to change or something you need to do better. You then remain quiet while your partner provides you with suggestions on improvement. Your job is to listen. After the other person finishes with his or her suggestions, you don’t evaluate, you don’t critique, you don’t assess. You simply say, “Thank you”. We were able to approach three different people with the same issue and receive three perspectives on improving and making change.
The results: I walked away with several terrific ideas about how to make the behavioral change I was interested in making. When we debriefed this activity as a group, we all had the same response to it. It was very valuable and it felt good. It felt productive. We didn’t have the feeling of being beat down. We weren’t tense going into the conversation. Why? Because we were focused on building the future rather than focusing a lot of time on the past.
Everyone needs feedback from time to time because we’re not always aware of what we are doing that needs to change or improve. But once we know, the conversation should focus on feedforward — what ideas can we generate to create the future rather than spending time focused on the past. An even better idea, rather than starting the conversation by providing your feedback, ask the other individual what he thought went well and what needed to improve in a situation. You’ll probably be quite surprised by how aware he is and then you can both focus on what’s really important — moving forward.
I’m preparing to engage with a group coaching cadre for a new client. For those of you not familiar with group coaching, it is coaching that occurs in and among a group of peers where the professional coach and the other members of the group drive discovery and learning. Our initial focus is about the importance of purpose in leadership, especially leadership in the face of adversity. As I’ve been preparing for our first coaching call, I’m reminded of the importance of asking “what is my purpose?”
This question often feels like one of those grandiose, navel-gazing questions that we don’t really have time for in our resource-constrained, time-strapped, multi-tasking world of work where we seem to face new adversity everyday. However, when you give it more thought, it actually may have some benefit in helping us deal with our resource-constrained, time-strapped, multi-tasking lives.
You see, purpose should serve as the focus for our activities. It should help us decide what’s important, what needs doing, and what doesn’t have to be done or can be done later.
Purpose is multi-faceted. We may have a singular purpose that is manifested in multiple ways. Or we may have different purposes, all of which have deep meaning for us.
As leaders, by returning to our purpose, we can prioritize and evaluate what is asked of us daily. If your purpose is to serve customers, you should ask yourself how you are leading your team to achieve that result? If your purpose is driven by the core values of competence and collaboration, how are you creating an environment where that can occur?
As leaders it’s also important to understand not just your own but also each team member’s purpose and to help create an alignment between that and what you are asking them to do.
So, take a few minutes of solitude and ask yourself ‘what’s my purpose at work?” Then go through your to do list and look at it through the lens of your answer. You may be surprise at what happens.
Fareed Zakaria of CNN has a terrific series on innovation where he interviews top innovation thinkers on how to spur creativity. We can all awaken the sleeping giant in each of our companies by spurring innovation in our own areas of influence.
To lead for creativity and innovation:
- Hire people with natural curiosity and a desire for continual learning. Innovation and creativity comes from a desire to do things differently and people who are curious, life-long learners ask questions like “why?” and “why not?”
- Hire people who execute ideas. Idea generators are the engine of innovation. Those who execute are the steering wheel. Without those who can take the ideas from just ideas to ideas that work, you’ll never get where the innovation has the potential to go.
- Engage people in interesting business issues. People get creative when there is a tough nut to crack. The next time your team has a difficult challenge facing them, rather than sitting in your office trying to find the solution, pull together a group of your best talent and ask them to solve the problem. If you’ve seen Apollo 13, think about the scene where the engineers need to find a solution to an oxygen deletion problem by making a square filter fit in a round hole. They’re given a box of materials that are on the lunar module, told their mission and told to make it happen.
- Make innovation part of the ongoing conversation. Be careful how you position innovation in the conversation. When you throw around the words ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ most people respond with something like ‘oh, I’m not very creative’ or ‘people like me don’t innovate. Those are the guys at Google.’ However, if you ask, ‘how can we make things run more smoothly’ or ‘how can we add more value to our customers’ or ‘what would really make a difference in how we work’, everyone will have an idea.
- Create space to develop the best ideas. Give each of your team members the challenge and the space to spend time thinking about their part of the business and where they could take it. Thinking often takes a back seat to doing in our culture but it is essential to innovation.
Hire the right mix. Engage them in meaty issues. Have a continual dialogue. Give the space to think and act. Awaken the sleeping giant within.
Between an earthquake and a hurricane, we heard that Steve Jobs announced he is stepping down as CEO of Apple. Jobs has been the face of Apple and its innovative environment for two decades. Naturally there is commentary on what his departure means and on what it means across media — from The New York Times to BNET to mashable.com.
The questions remains about what Apple will be like without him and only time will tell. Let’s take a look at the lessons we can learn from Jobs and the culture he built at Apple:
- The Think Different mindset. Apple has created products that we didn’t know we needed and done it Apple’s way. They are famous for doing things on their timetable and listening to Apple’s own drummer. While most other companies are looking at the best practices of others to determine what they should do, Apple created best in class. Don’t look to others to tell you how you should move forward.
- Bring in thinking from the outside in to inform, not to replicate. This is different from search for best practices. It’s about being curious and looking for good ideas. Jobs noted that being ousted as CEO back in 1985 was one of the best things that could happen to him. He built a little company called Pixar that changed movie making and animation forever. He took those experiences from a company that was not a traditional tech company and infused them in Apple upon his return.
- Build an environment where taking risks is expected. Risk taking is hard for many people and is especially hard in a really tough economy. Jobs is a natural risk taker and by infusing that into Apple’s way of working, has changed technology, our expectations of the aesthetics and design of our technology, and quite honestly, has literally changed industries (think about it, car manufacturers changed their designs to include ports for iPods). If Jobs were the only risk taker at Apple, it would not be the company it is today. He took that desire and ability to take risks and built it into the culture.
- Have a successor. Steve Job’s departure will be smooth because he has had a successor identified for 7 years. His wake-up call came when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. Because of the time and effort that has gone into grooming his successor, his resignation letter simply had to state that he recommended his successor take over. While I’m sure his resignation was a huge part of the conversations at Apple the next day, there was no doubt that a capable, though different, leader was stepping into the void.
As you approach your work, put a little Steve Jobs swagger into what you do and see what results it brings.
Beware the Shiny Objects: John Gibbons of I4cp discusses some of the glimmers of good news that have been overshadowed by the debt crisis and the importance of keeping your eye on long term strategic imperatives while you deal with more immediate business issues.
Five Great Leadership Lessons You Won’t Want to Learn the Hard Way: A quick read by Jeff Haden about the key leadership lessons he shared when asked to talk to MBA students.
Have a terrific week!
PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2011 Global CEO Survey says that money is not going to buy you love with the brightest of GenY /Millennials. According to the survey, the Millennials biggest retention drivers are training and development and the ability to work in communities of mutual interest and passion.
As a generation who grew up using the internet and social media, they want to connect with other bright people to work on challenges and business problems that are meaningful and important. They also understand they are being hired for a job, not for a lifetime. They are keen on building and refining their skills so that they are able to take advantage of opportunities inside the company, and when and if the time comes, outside the company. They have a strong desire for coaching and mentoring.
- Creating and communicating a compelling vision that will attract the best Millennial talent by connecting with what they find meaningful.
- Creating collaboration by breaking down silos and utilizing social media and collaboration technologies.
- Leveraging resources from across the organization to address significant business issues.
- Managing talent by providing them with cultures that focus on developing talent and careers, building capabilities and capacity through formal and informal development opportunities.
What’s your organization doing to attract and retain the best Millennial talent?