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Creating a feedback culture

Kouzes and Posner in their international study over 20 years, (Kouzes & Posner: The Leadership Challenge) found honesty was the quality most respected by staff in practically all cultures across the world. If we are into honesty we are onto a winner. To get honesty about bad news scenarios, as managers we need to reward the reputation of those who fess up about a situation, remove blame and work on solutions together.

Sadly we are all probably aware that the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded after launch in January 1986 killing all crew. The cause was the failure of two O-ring seals in the right hand rocket booster. Later investigations uncovered that feedback from engineers highlighting this as a strong likelihood was ignored by management.

The purpose of feedback is, of course, to get at the truth. Only when we know the truth can we design solutions. For example, if a client is unhappy and we don’t know why, we can run around in circles trying to fix it. Taking honest feedback from the client can help focus us on the truth, no matter how difficult it is to face, then we can solve the issue.

Of course the truth is often obscured by politics. Politics is simply the practice of trying to reserve reputation, sometimes at the expense of the truth. Organisations that develop great feedback cultures have a stronger focus on the truth rather than on preserving reputation. In fact reputation is enhanced by being open about the truth. This is a huge cultural step for many organisations.

People will generally defer to preservation of their personal reputation rather than to truth telling. This is part of the human condition but that’s fine, if we know that, then we can deal with it. The way to deal with it is to reward personal reputation through truth-telling. Even bad news is welcomed and people are praised for bringing the bad news to discussion.

Kouzes and Posner in their international study over 20 years, (Kouzes & Posner: The Leadership Challenge) found honesty was the quality most respected by staff in practically all cultures across the world. If we are into honesty we are onto a winner. To get honesty about bad news scenarios, as managers we need to reward the reputation of those who fess up about a situation, remove blame and work on solutions together.

Those who bring tough data which we don’t really want to face need rewarding for doing so, and we build a reputation for them as an honest solution focused can-do individual. Applied across a culture we then lift the lid on feedback.

NASA commissioned a complete culture overhaul following the Challenger disaster. Never again did they want an accident to arise from lack of feedback. If NASA can do it, any of us can. The key I think is to value the truth about situations and reward our staff for bringing the truth to light.

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    21 April 2024

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