Problem and opportunity check boxesYou’ve probably heard the news about an interim report issued by Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin on the systemic problems in the Veteran’s Affairs agency.   The report intensified scrutiny and resulted in expansion of the number of VA facilities to be reviewed. 

If you’re a leader, consider allowing this situation to stimulate a deeper, broader look inward at your own organization.  Ask questions like:

  • In what ways might I be inadvertently setting up a similar scenario or set of risks?
  • At all levels, do I make performance expectations explicit and measurable?  Do I encourage stretch and improvement?  Do I provide timely, honest, balanced performance feedback?
  • Do I engage in the difficult, uncomfortable conversations about productivity and accountability – for individuals and teams?  Or do I let some people and groups slide?
  • Am I actively addressing the big, hairy cultural issues that threaten our growth, long-term viability, customer satisfaction and employee engagement?

Timely, honest feedback is critical to addressing problems before they explode into crisis.  Giving it is hard, but receiving it can be even harder.  Have you ever received feedback and wondered, “Where on earth did that come from?”  It seems so not like you, hard to believe, downright wrong.  Of course, sometimes, feedback is based on misperception.  Other times, it may be a precious gift you don’t want to accept.

To pull back on your defensive reaction, understand that feedback that sounds foreign – unlike anything you’ve heard before – may be exactly what you need to hear.  Whether you like the messenger, or count them as friend or enemy, breathe deeply, listen closely, say, “Thank you for sharing.  I have to think this over.”

The person may be telling you something no one else has been willing to say.  Take it in.  Coach yourself to consider what you’ve heard without reacting.  Even though the information seems off target, be curious.  Ask yourself, “In what ways might this be true?”  Entertaining the possibility that the input could contain a kernel of truth is an act of courage and can result in important new insights.

If you find yourself on the giving end of feedback that could be perceived as harsh and unexpected, take into account how it might be received before you dole it out.  As part of the conversation, offer them the opportunity to think it over and tie it to the good that will come out of the change for the person and the company.

The VA is not alone when it comes to the need for leadership to step up and take bold action in service to long-term organizational health and vitality.  An objective assessment of culture and business practices, as well as a healthy approach to feedback could prove beneficial for your business, too.

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