DR. CUMMINGS: You asked for it!

December 15, 2013 

Did you ever ask for feedback and get surprised? You know, you ask your husband how you look in your new outfit and he says: “I don’t like it.” Or you ask your wife for advice on an article you’re so proud of and she says: “I wouldn’t print that if I were you.” Or you ask one of your employees how she likes the new compensation plan you unveiled yesterday and she says: “I hate it.” Not exactly what you had in mind when you asked the question. But you asked for it.

When we ask for feedback, we have to be prepared to get an unanticipated answer; otherwise we’re not asking for feedback. We’re asking for support. If we just want support and confirmation and agreement, we need to make that clear that we want them to come to attention and salute like good soldiers.

Feedback is honest opinion. It’s transparency. I have consulted in plenty of companies where honest feedback might be the goal, but it’s not the reality -- where the open-door policy is really half-shut and where transparency is talked about but never practiced. The culture in those companies makes it hard to breathe.

On the other hand, I’m working in a Middle Georgia company right now where the president insists on openness and he gets it. It’s where no one in the top management group hesitates to point out errors and mistakes, and it’s where laughter and ribbing accompanies the feedback even if the object of it is the president.

Have you heard about the 360? All the successful companies use this strategy. An outside consultant surveys an executive with a barrage of about 30 behavioral questions. Next, the same survey is given to his boss, his peer group and his direct reports, and they are asked to evaluate that executive anonymously. The consultant tabulates, summarizes and collates all the responses and then provides the feedback to the executive in a private meeting. The result is sometimes surprising, but every executive I have ever worked with (except one) has received it gratefully and moved to improve himself.

All of us won’t get a 360, but all of us need feedback, no matter where we work or what we do. Ken Blanchard, the fabulous author of “One Minute Manager,” calls feedback the “Breakfast of Champions.” If you want to eat with the best of them, here are a few tips:

• Know what to ask for. Be specific in your request. You’re not looking for an “atta boy.”

• Don’t be defensive. If they hit a “hot button,” smile and suck it up.

• Make it as painless as possible for the other person. Don’t forget: You asked for it.

• Remember, this is somebody’s perception about you. You may not think it’s true, but their perception is their truth.

• Ask questions to make sure you understand, not to have them change their perception.

• Focus on the future. What do they think you could do differently?

When your feedback session is over, thank the person and let him know you really appreciate his insights, and then spend some private, quality time going over each item. Chances are you’re going to find some real gems in there. Maybe your listening skills need honing. Maybe you have a habit of interrupting. Maybe you’re a micro-manager or just the opposite -- you don’t hold anybody accountable. Whatever the feedback, accept it in good faith.

And remember, you asked for it.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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