Climate Assessment Through Feedback

Climate Assessment - The Avalon Institute
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions!”
Ken Blanchard

Sadly, the following is a true story: I had been tasked to provide a briefing to a leader whose reputation had preceded him by a wide margin.  This particular leader was extremely powerful in his area of performance, and was widely known for a brash personality.  When my colleague and I had been appointed to share our briefing with this leader, the enmity he was rumored to feel towards our branch of the organization was at an all time high.  Contrary to what you might expect I looked forward to this brief like no other.

On the day of the appointed brief, my colleague and I eagerly gathered our materials and made the drive to “the castle” where this leader’s minions of staff labored 24-hours a day, swarming on projects and staff-work in seemingly ceaseless levels of energy to please him.  Upon arrival, we encountered numerous staff-officers practicing their briefs with mumbled words and glazed-over faces as they wore troughs in the floor with their pacing.  My colleague and I took some seats and relaxed against the wall marveling at the madness, calmly awaiting our turn in the blast furnace.

You may not realize it, but your emotions—your very personality—are absorbed, magnified and reflected by your team…to each other, to your peers and to your customers.

20-minutes prior to our appointed time, a haggard individual approached us holding a printed copy of our pre-read briefing we had sent over the night prior and dryly explained that she needed us to answer some questions.  Over the course of the next few minutes, the questions were delivered with an emotionless, yet exasperated, style as she probed for the nuances behind our slides and bullet-points.  It became clear to us that something was amiss and my colleague was the first to ask the obvious question.  “Wait,” he said, “Are you briefing this to the leader or are we?”  She explained to us that her job was to receive the briefing from us and then she, in turn, would go behind closed doors and brief the leader.  We were to wait here in the holding chamber until she returned.  If the leader had questions she couldn’t answer, she’d retrieve us to come in and join her—otherwise, we’d be released.  My partner and I looked at each other in amazement.  In essence, we (the people with whom he already had an axe to grind) would only be called on the carpet if he was confused (and correspondingly more frustrated)—otherwise, he’d never hear directly from us at all.

The punch line to this story is far less interesting than the buildup. To the shock and horror of the other nervous people pacing about in the room, we cheerily waved and yelled “Good-Luck” to the briefer as we took our seats to await our come-uppance.  She nervously departed to enter the chamber of horrors only to return 10-minutes later relieved to tell us the leader had no questions.  That was that…we were released…no feedback, no alibis, and no satisfaction.  We couldn’t depart without asking the single question which had baffled us since we figured out how this game was played, “Is this your only job—to go in there and brief other people’s briefings?”  Her expressionless face turned to one of anguish as she sadly relayed the answer we expected…”Yep.” Exactly the level of job satisfaction you would expect at the hands of an ego-driven tyrant.  My colleague and I couldn’t wait to depart that clown-colony and return to the high-performing team we had worked so hard to build back on our side of the world.

Without proper feedback mechanisms in place, you may never know how you are coming across—and leaving your team to guess for you is a recipe for disaster.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Which brings us to our Sesame-Street moment: the word of the day is “Feedback.” You may not realize it, but your emotions—your very personality—are absorbed, magnified and reflected by your team…to each other, to your peers and to your customers.  If, like the senior-leader in my earlier story, schadenfreude (the act of taking pleasure in other peoples discomfort) is part of your genetic makeup, then you most likely neither care what others think, nor would you be participating in this discussion with the intent of improving your leadership style.  On the other hand, without proper feedback mechanisms in place, you may never know how you are coming across—and leaving your team to guess for you is a recipe for disaster.  How are you taking the pulse of your organization to determine your temperature?  Are you huffing and puffing unconsciously, or are you intentional in your actions?  Emotional intelligence experts would agree that social competence relies upon your understanding of your environment, as much as your understanding of yourself.  The transaction you are making with your team requires your understanding of expected outcomes…for yourself and those around you.

The importance of measuring the climate you create cannot be understated. I submit that you, as the leader, have the responsibility to take your organization’s temperature on a regular basis so that you can validate whether or not it meets with your intentional objectives, or if a course correction is required.  Without regular and consistent updates, you may never truly understand the environment you are creating for your team.

Measure often, evaluate consistently, and have the skin-thickness required to accept hearing where you may be drifting from your intended goals.

Measure often, evaluate consistently, and have the skin-thickness required to accept hearing where you may be drifting from your intended goals.  Construct your climate surveys adequately enough to be impervious to your own bias—building a feedback system of bricks for those moments when your reaction to bad-news might cause you to want to blow the house down.  In the end, you’ll be capable of fostering an environment where feedback matters, your teammates feel heard, and you can bring intentionality to your actions and emotions.

How are you successfully implementing feedback on your team?  Let’s chat about it  together in the comments below or on Twitter, hashtag #feedback

**This post was originally published via our good friends at
SwitchandShift.com on 28 May 2014**

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