Talk Less, Ask More

“When you’re the CEO of a large organization – or even a small one – your greatest responsibility is to recognize whether it requires a major change in direction. Indeed, no bold new course of action can be launched without your say-so. Yet your power and privilege leave you insulated – perhaps more than anyone else in the company – from information that might challenge your assumptions and allow you to perceive a looming threat or opportunity. Ironically, to do what your exalted position demands, you must in some way escape your exalted position.” – excerpt from Bursting the CEO Bubble, Hal Gregersen. Harvard Business Review, March – April 2017.

This passage stuck a chord with me and I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. The majority of feedback given in organisations tends to flow in a downward direction; people in higher levels of an organisation are giving feedback to people in lower levels. People may be asked to provide feedback in the opposite direction – back to their superiors – but it is rarely given freely and without careful consideration.

I believe many people don’t give feedback to their superiors out of an instinct of fear. That is not to say they are scared of their managers, but more that there is a sense of uncertainly around how their feedback will be taken and any resulting consequences. The safer option tends to be to bite one’s tongue and keep quiet. The impact of this behaviour is that people (or groups of people) can feel stressed or excluded, and ultimately become disengaged.

I also believe that many managers / CEOs don’t ask for feedback from lower levels of their organisation because their information “feeds” are so broad in our modern era. CEOs have so many sources of information to consult and deal with that they are spending more and more of their time in a scanning mode rather than a deep analysis mode. Consequently, as their decision-making time is continually reduced they have to use their bias to make quicker decisions.

Important decisions in any organisation deserve careful consideration. Bias tends to work as an opposing force to this process. As the excerpt above suggests, and that I strongly agree with, our CEOs (and managers) must expand on their process of discovery. They must create more opportunity to be open with the levels of the organisation below them and consistently request feedback, particularly on their own performance. Not only will staff feel listened to and more engaged, but also this process will invite alternative perspectives – alternative ideas, alternative ways of thinking, and alternative cultural outlooks.

It is this diversity of thought – the diversity of their entire organisation – that should be informing our CEOs decision making process.

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