For my annual Roundtable Review, the people who reported directly to me wrote their critiques and submitted them to HR, who merged and purged the comments and presented them to me anonymously.
Solicited brutally frank feedback must be accepted with grace. Early on, I often heard comments like, “You say you’re open to us giving you feedback, but you should see your facial contortions when we do; it’s a kill-the-messenger look.” They were right. My spoken gratitude was belied by body language that said I’d rather be walking barefoot over hot coals. I had to train myself to listen reflectively, rather than defensively. Your organization will be unhealthy unless your people can speak their minds (respectfully) without fear of reprisal.
Confidential feedback has to be acted upon—quickly—lest your people quit bothering to drop comments into the pipeline. I basically had three responses: “That’s valid and I’ll try to do better,” “I hear what you’re saying, but this is why I do it like that,” and “I totally disagree, and here’s why.”
■ You’re very careful of your own time, but not always with others’ time. Valid. I am recommitting myself to be timelier and to better respect your time and schedules.
■ In quizzing deeply for problems, you come up with small, insignificant things that waste people’s time on follow-up. Some nitpicking probably occurs. I’ll try to be better at backing off if there really isn’t a problem. But I know that real problems tend to stay hidden from leaders and surface only after deep probing. It’s a lesser of two evils thing, and the way I’m going about it is better than not finding the bigger problems. Therefore, I will continue to actively seek out challenges facing our team.
■ You try to come across as caring, but you’re not always genuine. With the number of employees and spouses we have, I’m not able to remember every name. I have asked and will continue to ask, somebody’s name when I don’t know it. I will, however, make sure no one else hears me doing so. I would hope, though, that if someone does overhear me they would think, “What’s wrong with asking someone’s name?”
It’s better than avoiding somebody or not caring that I don’t know their name. (In hindsight, I think I was a bit too prickly here. I see how people might find it insincere to ask someone’s name from a third party and then approach that person like an old friend. I’m a bit more straightforward today and willing to tell someone that I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember his or her name.)
Occasionally I was hurt and frequently humbled by the criticisms. But I tried hard to take them to heart and change what needed changing in order to become a better person and a better businessman. Burying my head in the sand was not an option.