Seeing with new eyes

I was addressing a group of graduates recently in a client organisation that were in their second week. They were very excited and tired because of the amount of information they had to take in over the previous 10 days. They came from 15 different countries and I was invited to talk to them about cultural agility. They were working for a multinational and part of their roles involved engaging with people from different parts of the world, so I was talking to them about some of the things that they needed to be aware of.

One of the things that I spoke to them about was the fact that they were entering the organisation with very fresh eyes. In other words, they were coming in and they would be able to see things that were already part and parcel of the organisation. I was challenging them and provoking their thinking in getting them to appreciate the high value that comes from looking at something with fresh eyes.

However, something I was speaking with them about was, how do we raise the issue with existing teams? You know, being curious, you can ask, ‘why do we do this in a certain way,’ or ‘why is that process in place?’ Rather than being judgmental and saying, ‘well, that process doesn’t work,’ because then people become defensive. We talked quite a bit about how to raise a topic with a current team or challenge an existing process if they saw it.

As leaders, I think it’s really important that we listen to these perspectives rather than fire hose them down. It’s very easy when someone comes up with an idea or a suggestion for us to go, ‘Oh yes, yes, yes. We tried that five years ago and it didn’t work,’ or, ‘we tried that 10 years ago and no, it was a waste of time.’ We want to encourage people to bring up ideas.

How do we listen and then perhaps guide new employees or maybe make some suggestions on how they could delve deeper into the ideas, rather than just fire hosing it down? I think it’s important for leaders to ask – what are your observations? What are you seeing? What do you think is different? How could we do it better? Coming at it with a sense of curiosity.

I think in the first two weeks when a person joins an organisation, there are so many things that they notice without even noticing that they’re noticing, but they notice. They come into the culture of the organisation and they will see things that we do and that we take as granted that they may be able to highlight for us. I think that check-in phase at 14 days is important. The other check-in phase I suggest is 90 days, three months. As again, that gives people enough time to settle in and have that level of curiosity from you as a leader asking the viewpoints.

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