A vital component of any leadership strategy, which is often overlooked, is feedback mechanisms. Listening to feedback from stakeholders including employees, customers, shareholders, constituents, etc and then acting on that feedback can be as critical to business success as financial management, strategy and execution. While this principle of “open door” leadership is well documented, it is commonly over-complicated and not well executed. Ask yourself, when was the last time to you took the effort to read employee feedback, or arrange a group of diverse employees into a group discussion? Are these systemic though all levels of leadership within your organization, and does the outcome generate tangible results?
As leaders advance in organizations, they gradually move further from the very type of feedback that can make or break an organization. In the March-April 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, Hal Gregersen wrote that the solutions to many organizational problems are circulating within the employee population or within customer feedback, yet despite the prevalence of such feedback mechanisms, many leaders become more insulated from the realities within their own organizations. They surround themselves with leaders who take the time to craft presentations and justify actions, and minimize the feedback which isn’t rose-colored. Leaders are left in a bubble of limited information which has been spun to fit the narrative.
Recent political polarization has highlighted the bubbles which magnify division. Politicians surround themselves with staff who carefully coordinate public events which are meant to make leaders feel approachable. As these politicians move up the political ladder they get more isolated from their constituents and perpetuate the feeling of disenfranchisement from their key stakeholders. Voters are increasingly living in bubbles themselves, exaggerated by social media and migration which can result in political turmoil.
Ironically in business, as in politics, most leaders are generally comfortable with people, and can navigate feedback successfully, or they would not have reached their levels within their respective fields. However, the unnecessary hurdles put on feedback mechanisms and the cumbersome way organizations solicit feedback can severely slow down progress, and in some extreme cases even result in upheaval (think of the 2016 US Elections, Uber leadership crisis, Brexit, Kodak bankruptcy, etc). In most these situations the solution to the problem lies within key stakeholders which leaders were either too isolated from, or they acted too late.
The first key to avoiding the leadership bubble is to realize it exists. Many leaders spout off about their “open door policies” then spend months in virtual isolation just meeting with their direct teams and a few customers. Secondly, leaders need to actively combat the pull into the bubble, and develop the wherewithal to break down these barriers. Leaders control their own actions and priorities, so blocking out time to set up a focus group, or read though customer feedback, or visiting the lunch room and having an informal chat with employees needs to be a regular habit. Making feedback part of your priorities, just as important as reviewing financial statements or analyzing metrics can open possibilities which may not have existed before. Not only will this empower leaders to act on the results and discover possibilities, it will ensure the leader is not making decisions that may inadvertently create negative impact on vital stakeholders. Understanding your customer, both internal and external, is a critical leadership trait, at all levels of leadership.
At Teleperformance in the Philippines we are working to ensure our leaders are practicing a core component of our “TP DNA” – Listening. We believe that understanding the wants and needs of our teams and our customers is a business differentiator. We show true interest in understanding and are committed to building this competency into all levels of our leadership strategy.