post # 132 — July 13, 2006 — a Managing post
In a prior blogpost about getting feedback , Steve Farber (www.stevefarber.com ) pointed out that the willingness to seek out feedback on yourself takes a lot of guts. He then asked me if I thought you could teach “guts.”
By coincidence, on the same day, I received the following email from Jay Bertram, President of the Toronto office of TBWA, the global advertising agency. This is what Jay had to say:
I know you don’t remember me. I was at a seminar you put on last year. Like many, I was thoroughly moved by your passionate plea for senior management accountability. The difference is I actually did what you challenged all of us to do.
Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian and we do what we are told to do, but I took your challenge to heart and acted the first day I came back to my office.
I want to thank you for encouraging me to be a better manager. It is because of you that I am making a real difference for my employees. I have never been happier and more productive.
What Jay had done was to go back to his office and immediately ask all his people to evaluate their overall job satisfaction, their feelings about the office and (most critically) their overall rating of him as a leader. As I had recommended, he announced to all of his staff that, if he did not improve significantly in their rating of him as a leader, he would resign.
I telephoned Jay to thank him for his kind words, and to ask what it was that had given him the impetus to act. This is what he said:
It wasn’t that I learned anything new, but because of your bluntness and forcefulness, you made me act on what I realized I believed was the right thing to do – not what you believed was right, but what I believed was right. You helped me contemplate whether I really was acting in accordance with my own philosophies.
You challenged me to be prepared to be accountable. It struck home when you said that many people kept on lying -to others and to themselves – when they publicly proclaimed their commitment to standards of excellence or missions for their organization.
Mostly, you gave me the reassurance that living up to my standards, and being prepared to be accountable for them, was the right thing to do.
You’ll all gather that when I do seminars and presentations, I ask the organizers for permission to “not hold back.” I like being allowed to tell the truth as I see it, and invite the listener to face up to the “elephant in the room” (the truth that everyone knows but no-one has the courage to talk about.)
For better or for worse, this can be very provocative, confrontative and disruptive. (Not all of my clieents give me permission to take this approach.) But, as in Jay’s case, once in a while you get through to people by being dramatic, forceful and impassioned.
As I wrote about in Are You Abusive, Cynical or Exciting? and in Strategy and The Fat Smoker I understand those who are trying for self-improvement, and I understand those who choose not to try. What I don’t understand (and don’t think works) is to PRETEND to be trying for something without being willing to be held accountable for how well you are doing. I call it lying.
In my consulting and speaking over the years, I have tried various approaches to getting people to get on the self-improvement path by accepting this accountability (including feedback.)
Among the approaches I have used:
- Making them feel dissatisfied with their current situation
- Trying to paint a picture of the glamour of the future situation they could find themselves in
- Helping people see that significant improvement in their lot is actually possible, if only they are prepared to try a little and then keep it up
- Revealing the hypocrisy of the difference between their words and actions
- Giving people hope that, yes, it is real-world to operate in different ways
As Jay reports, the most effective way to get people to change, and to accept feedback, has proven to be to cause them (force them if necessary) to articulate what THEY really believe and then to get them to ponder, in the dark midnight of their soul, whether they are truly living up to their OWN standards.