Poor Feedback for Leaders is an Ignored Organizational Ailment
Here’s a critical and often ignored organizational ailment I heard this morning: “How am I supposed to be confident when my boss keeps telling me how terrible things are? ‘The economy is fragile, jobs keep moving overseas, if we don’t perform better, we might be out of work.’ I know all that stuff, but I need somebody to tell me what I can do differently that’s going to help. I don’t think he knows.”
I asked this person whether he has talked to his boss about this and he said no. “The last thing he wants is for someone to tell him he’s not helping. And I’d really like to keep my job.”
This lack of feedback contributes to an overarching problem that I see quite often. When leaders create an environment of fear, workers either keep their heads down and try to stay invisible, or they try to figure out what to do on their own. Without a clear understanding of what the organization is trying to accomplish, they often waste resources in their well-intentioned efforts to help. Sometimes their efforts to communicate are clumsy and they earn reputations as malcontents or mavericks.
The solution to this complex problem is multifaceted and it starts with senior leadership. Creating and articulating a clear vision of where the organization is headed is a prerequisite for any communication. Whether you do that through strategic planning, organizational alignment, or some other process suited to your culture, the vision should be clear, easy to understand, and logical based on the characteristics of your competitive situation.
It should include evidence that you’ve accurately assessed your situation–customer needs; competitor positions; supply chain effectiveness; financial standing; infrastructure, workforce and leadership capacity; potential for growth, etc. This work will create many opportunities to specify actions that need to be implemented and the resources required to do so.
Many companies don’t do formal strategic planning anymore. They say the environment is too fluid, that as soon as they decide on a strategy, the world has changed again and their plans are obsolete. Consequently, they tend to operate in short-term bursts, aimed at satisfying quarterly goals. This attitude guarantees loss. So, too, does the notion that a three-day offsite with top executives is the way to nail down a (static) strategic plan. Better to create a forum for structured, ongoing discussion, complete with documentation of critical issues, decisions made, new information obtained, and changes in the environment that affect your choices.
A disciplined means of collecting and assessing information will go a long way toward helping senior leaders feel confident about the organization’s position and possibilities. This confidence will look and sound much different than the conversation at the start of this writing. Bottom line: if leaders convey fear or uncertainty, the enterprise is at risk.