Have you ever had to deal with an issue that you should have known about…but didn’t? Did it give you that horrible sinking feeling? As a result, did you start to doubt yourself for not having seen the warning signs?
As the leader of a team or growing business, you can’t always be on the ground ‘doing’ or ‘executing’. But with too much distance you lose touch with what’s really happening. A break of just one link in the information chain causes you to lose all the transparency and relevant information that you need to be aware of what’s happening in your business. The ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’ study (Sydney Yoshida, 1989) showed that if you sit at the top of the iceberg then you will only be aware of 4% of the frontline problems within your company. Since then, advances in business analytics may have increased this figure, but in my experience, it still sits alarmingly lower than 100%. If that doesn’t scare you at least slightly, you should consider watching a documentary on the Titanic.
Micromanagement Is Not the Answer
To counteract this problem, some leaders will develop the habit of micromanagement. While it may seem like an effective short-term solution, micromanagement is never the answer. Micromanagement creates bottlenecks that effectively quash all the innovation and speed you crave from your team, while simultaneously destroying engagement. This is the road to a slow and painful death to your team's productivity, and probably to your company as well. It’s also exhausting and unsustainable, as you’re dragged down into a tangle of weeds and small-scale problems that prevent you from doing your real job – developing the team and operating more strategically.
A Feedback Culture Is Not for Muppets
Fortunately, there is a real solution to this problem: creating a feedback culture. More specifically, an effective and healthy feedback culture. I’m not talking about the kind of feedback culture which permits ‘leaders’ to be muppets. Where ‘leaders’ can yell offensive, unfiltered, obnoxious or inconsiderate ‘feedback’ at each other. A healthy feedback culture is one where people are encouraged to openly express their views in the spirit of healthy dissent and debate. It allows for genuine feedback to be delivered in a supportive and thoughtful way, with the intent of helping both the company and individuals, to grow and flourish. This kind of culture will encourage feedback to be shared regularly rather than allowing multiple issues to be bottled up for a once-in-a-blue-moon conversation (the kind of discussion that begins with a fear-inducing “we need to talk…”). And importantly, an effective feedback culture doesn’t rely on dishing out ineffective feedback sandwiches.
Feedback Culture in Action
Undoubtedly, one of the best places to observe a feedback culture in action is in sports - something I learnt while coaching a junior soccer team. Junior soccer is awesome; it’s all about growth, development and maximising enjoyment, with a pinch of results focus as you move up the age brackets. Coaching junior sports requires you to implement new techniques, tactics, concepts and strategies, week in and week out. If I observe the team or a player consistently making the same errors and mistakes during training or a game, do I wait until the end of the season to figure out what’s going on? No, that would be silly! You’d lose a whole season worth of growth and improved performance. Instead, we’d have an in-the-moment conversation to figure out a new and better way. Likewise, I want to genuinely praise the players often to build a great environment and culture and I want them to tell me what they are seeing on the ground during games so we can work on these things together.
Okay, so a feedback culture is good? No, it’s better than good! You get better, faster decisions, greater innovation and create a place where people grow, develop and enjoy coming to work. Who doesn’t want all those things!?
Better, Faster Decisions
Issues raised promptly = fewer stupid things happening. If you have a strong feedback culture, people (especially those right in the thick of ‘doing’) will be more likely to raise issues as they occur. This increased visibility allows you to react faster, fixing things before they become real problems. You can’t fix what you don’t know.
Minimise the hesitation surrounding decision-making. A feedback culture creates a strong and continuous flow of information. A greater supply of useful, timely information means you’re fully equipped to make better decisions. Additionally, having all the relevant information on hand reduces the propensity to second-guess decisions once they’ve been made. Instead, you can move forward quickly and confidently.
Uncover more great ideas. A feedback culture gives the individual members of your team a real voice. And all of those voices are usually jam-packed full of juicy gems and embers of ideas which you can help foster.
Shape and refine ideas. Ideas typically need a great deal of refining to help them flourish. A good feedback culture promotes healthy debate surrounding new ideas. That healthy debate is where the good stuff happens. Ideas will improve, take shape and grow into something really special. The ‘Build-Measure-Learn’ feedback loop is a great example of this in action. A healthy feedback culture supports each and every step in this iterative process.
Create a Place Where People Grow, Develop and Enjoy Coming to Work
Increase autonomy and alignment. A feedback culture helps you move away from micromanaging others. It will enable you to provide your staff with aligned autonomy, and this is a darn good thing. Why? Because people love autonomy!
Engagement increases when people feel heard. In an effective feedback culture (where something actually happens with feedback, not where feedback rots away inaction) people will know their input and opinion matters, and who doesn’t like this?
Builds career development and growth. Well delivered feedback, that’s delivered as a conversation, not a statement, is a powerful tool for individual growth and development. Career development is one of the most highly desirable attributes people look for in a company and role.
A positive motivational climate. An increased frequency of high-quality positive feedback is one of the essential qualities of a positive motivational environment. This has a huge impact on building both team engagement and individual confidence.
Don’t be one of those leaders that sits at the top of the ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’, totally unaware of the issues happening below the surface in your company. Create a healthy feedback culture. If you don’t, that sinking feeling will always be just around the corner.
Do you want to develop a healthy feedback culture in your company? If so, then send me a message – I’d love to talk more with you. We have a great approach that will enable you to build a healthy feedback culture in your company, using a mix of process redesign, game-based learning and coaching.
Want to make a start right away? Take our one-hour mini-course “Master the Art of One-On-Ones” absolutely free (for a limited time, just click on the link here). Good one-on-ones are a critical part of a good coaching rhythm and healthy feedback culture.
I Can't Propose Anything: Virpi Oinonen, https://www.businessillustrator.com/cartoons/
Aligned Autonomy: Henrik Kniberg, Spotify