Criticism, Feedback, Input, Engagement

My son is three and a half years old; my daughter just turned two.  So I have this conversation many times, every day:

Me: “Son, do you want this thing that you love, that you always want?”

Son: “NO!”

Me: “Well, I won’t give it you then.”

Son: “I WANT THAT THING!!!”

Me: “Okay, here you go.”

Son: “Thank you, Daddy.”

This is a pretty frustrating conversation , especially if you’re not expecting it.  But it’s a great lesson, because this is human nature.  We all want to make our own work and life decisions–even if we arrive at someone else’s answer, and especially if we don’t.

My wife and I both had recent examples at work.

I had an interview with a candidate to join my team.  Our group manages national initiatives that change our organization and the behavior of people within it.  Complicated, very human, work.

The candidate asked, “Do you ever get push-back when you’re implementing initiatives?”

My answer: “Yes!  We always get pushback.  But we call it ‘input‘ and ‘engagement‘, we change what we’re doing because of it, and we know that’s the only way we’ll ever really be successful.

My wife had a similar experience.  Her team felt like their workflow wasn’t effective.  So they sat down together and figured out together what the process really should be, from scratch.  Two hours later they arrived where they started, at their current process, but with much more buy-in and satisfaction than they’d had before.

So, if it’s better and creates happier, more effective teams, why would anyone do anything differently?

I think there are three reasons.

  • First, as a leader, it’s hard to hear that you’re wrong.  Most of us care deeply about what we’re doing, and work to provide the best of what we can to our teams, families, and loved ones.  It’s tough to hear that we we’re not connected to what the people around us, who we care about, need most.
  • Second, we might have to change to a worse process.  As leaders, we generally have a broader view of the problem and the solution.  If we can’t successfully sell our teams on our plan, we worry that we’ll end up with worse solution.  And we forget that if our team isn’t on board, we have nothing.
  • Third, we forget how we’re being measured.  As leaders, our supervisors generally judge us on our results.  But our teams judge us first on how well we take care of them, and second on the results we get.  As the saying goes:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

So how can we do better?  Here’s what I’m trying in my work.

  • Be transparent.  I often take the time to decide on the right course of action; then, once I’ve decided, start charging ahead.  Instead, I should take more time to explain my intent and connect it to our planned actions for my team.
  • Build in space for feedback and input.  In every action, I plan to ask for input an feedback.  When I find a way to act on the input I’ve received, I jump at it, because I know that will increase buy-in for the outcome.
  • Follow up on what you hear.  When I don’t act on input, I work to follow up and explain why.  This is often individual conversations and emails: it takes time, and I’m delivering frustration to team members, one by one–which isn’t fun.  So I’m always I’m tempted to avoid it.  But – in the longer term, it shows that I care about my team and I’m working to support them.
  • When I’m wrong, change.  So easy to say, so tough to do.  Always more chances for it than I expect.
  • Share when I’m wrong, and I changed.  Even tougher than the last one.  But, comes with the opportunity to tell a compelling story and build trust.

So, when you’re facing a lack of buy-in during your next project, take the time to listen to criticism engagement you’re hearing, give those around you time and space to buy-in, and–if you’re wrong–change.

And stay encouraged along the way!

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