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So far we've discussed many aspects of delivering feedback, including dealing with negative reactions. However, it's also worth mentioning that you'll encounter a few special challenges as you work to create a culture of feedback. The first deals with the leadership team. If they're serious about increasing the capacity to use feedback, they have to model the way. Nothing will stop your team from taking you serious faster than seeing your boss and his or her boss say one thing and then do another.
If top leadership has started some new initiative to shift culture towards higher performance and begun espousing all kinds of needed new behaviors, but they themselves are not walking the talk, all bets are off. In that situation, here's what you need to do. Bring the group together, and tell them you're aware that not everyone is getting on the bus the way they should. But that's not an excuse for them to ignore what they need to do. Tell them you believe in feedback as a part of improving the team. You expect to hear lots of positive candor, and that there will be consequences if they don't move in the right direction.
Wrap up by telling them that you can't control what others do. But that inside this group you have clear expectations of them, that will be met. In addition, you can consider the option of providing upward feedback to one or more members of the leadership team, making them aware of the perception that not all of them are practicing what they preach. If your boss is the problem and you have a great relationship with him or her and your performance is clearly exceptional, then maybe upward feedback is worth your time.
Otherwise the risks are serious, so be careful and pick your battles wisely. Another leadership challenge is how to deal with the past. Since an initiative for improvement has been announced, and feedback and candor are a big part of the focus, this implies that in the past we've not been good at these things. Most of the time, when leaders are in this type of position, they only talk about the future. This is a classic mistake. If you want to move forward, you have to confront the past, because it's the very thing you're trying to move beyond.
To kick off real cultural change, the top brass should openly talk about the mistakes of the past. Why they existed, why they're no longer acceptable, and why we're moving forward. If you want people to break from the past, they need to hear you acknowledge the past. One final challenge we all face in regard to feedback is the challenge of confidentiality. To build a good capacity for feedback, there needs to be a sense of confidentiality. There are many times you will want confidentiality. There will be many times you'll ask for it.
There will be many times you think you have it. However, it's not uncommon to have lots of loose lips at work. One great rule to remember is that there are no secrets at work. Managers talk to other managers, employees talk to other employees, and it's simply the case that most conversations don't remain private. It does not however, have to be that way. And one of the fastest ways for you to build trust, respect, and a good reputation is to keep things in confidence.
The more your team trusts you, the faster you'll build a capacity for effective feedback. It's pretty easy to espouse some new goal, such as getting better at using feedback. It's another thing altogether to do what it takes to make it happen. In the case of feedback, you have to have the top leadership team modeling the way. You have to address the past to move beyond it. And you have to use serious confidentiality so your team will trust you enough to engage strong feedback.
When you do, feedback becomes more than a tool for delivering information, it becomes a real catalyst for improved performance.
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