We can’t get better, if we don’t even know what’s wrong. Collecting feedback is critical for those determined to improve and excel. No matter how seasoned we are in our careers, receiving results is an emotional experience. Just opening a results report can transport us right back to grade school and an essay marked up with red ink.
If we know “confronting the brutal facts” can take individuals and organizations from Good to Great, why are the facts so hard to confront (Collins, 2001)? Researchers from Harvard Business School have learned that results, especially negative feedback from others, threatens our sense of self. Getting over this primitive inclination to avoid or even deny the data is a process, but it is possible.
Practice Makes Better
The red ink on the essay was intended to help us improve, but it sure didn’t feel that way. The rational side of our brain was completely dwarfed by the pen marks and the shock to our system. What we turned in, what represented our capabilities, was not acceptable. As we matured, something interesting likely happened. We got better at our essays and better at processing the red ink as helpful and not meant to harm.
This same growth happens when we receive results as adults. Data help us know how we are doing, in the scope of what we are trying to accomplish. Whether through survey reports, dashboard data, or one-on-one conversations, developing an awareness of our emotional reactions to these results helps us tap into our rational side earlier in the improvement process. Then, we challenge our emotions on a whole other level by transparently sharing the results with others.
Real transformation occurs when we use results to drive action. This means we have to be willing to share the results with others. Rolling out results in an open forum allows us to leverage the perceptions of our team to gain clarity about the results and action plan to improve. The practice of collaboratively using our results to action plan builds trust, connects the team to larger goals, and makes us better at receiving results.
Do I have to?
Sharing results is most emotional when the results are negative. Allowing others to see our less than desirable data is one of the most mature stances we can take as leaders. It models a willingness to use data for improvement and to first look in the mirror to find solutions. When you get what may seem like the worst report ever and you begin to wonder, “Do I really have to share this one?” Yes. You should share that one. Set the example for your team.
Receiving Results in 3 Steps
Read It. Put It Down.
Review the results, put them down, and come back to them. I wish someone would have told me this in grade school. This step seems reasonable, but it’s a step the unreasonable, emotional side of our brain will fight each time we get a set of results. We like to fixate on data that isn’t aligned to our sense of self. “That’s preposterous! How can it be?” Stepping back from the results helps us put the information into perspective and move into the improvement stance.
Recognize Emotional Reactions
Notice your reactions as you review and share results. Are you denying the data? Do you find yourself becoming defensive? When we practice identifying our emotional reactions, we are able to quickly shift to positive responses that foster productivity.
Every time you get results that impact or have been impacted by the team, share them. It is no secret that many organizations struggle with perceptions of ineffective communication. Most of the time, this does not mean people want more communication. It means they want communication that matters. If your team contributes to the results, they should know where they stand. Sharing results includes scheduling time with the team, modeling the improvement posture, and asking for additional thoughts on how to use the information to guide action. This step is especially important when receiving survey results. Asking the team or stakeholder group what it would look like to achieve the highest rating is one of the best ways to gain perspective that improves the way we receive results.