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StrategyMay 08, 2012

Why Feedback – Hard Conversations – Are Key to Change

Emily Schulhoff

Those who know me well know that conflict (i.e., anything that even risks rocking the boat) is not in my comfort zone.  I often would rather not address issues in an effort to ensure everyone stays happy as a lark (or ignorant of the problem)…but that leads to stagnation and dullness.  A Proverb counsels with different advice, however, saying, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

With my roles on change management projects, I’ve seen constructive, hard feedback at work with the client on several occasions.  For instance, Credera team leads regularly meet with executive sponsors on change management projects.  The meetings can be uncomfortable at times; however, the project sponsors respect the honest feedback.  As a result, we are able to deliver projects unlike others in their organizations, realizing benefits more quickly.

I recently read Daryl Conner’s Leading at the Edge of Chaos, and the book outlines a 10-step model that leaders will cycle through before becoming masters of creating change in their organizations.  Step 8 is Antabuse—a word I had never heard before.  After a quick Google search, I discovered it’s essentially “feedback” for those who struggle with alcoholism—if you take Antabuse, you’ll get sick if you drink.  This definition / analogy seems overly harsh at first, but the point is that effective feedback isn’t always fun to receive at first.  However, it does build strength, and it’s important to accept feedback (i.e., hear and act on it, not just listen) in order to become a master of change management.

All organizational change consultants should provide effective and frequent feedback for their client – even if involves having a hard conversation with your client or your project team.  What I find unique about Credera is that we take our own medicine.  It’s not always an easy pill to swallow!  Mr. Conner says that the current challenge for those who have mastered the leadership role of change is to “never let your confidence outweigh your humility”.

I had a chance to taste the medicine this summer after organizing a training project that received great response during the pilot launch.  My boss made recommendations during the initial rollout of what could be done to make it better based on many years of experience.  My immediate reaction was twofold: he was right, and how did I miss that myself?  If he would not have given feedback, my “iron” would not have gotten sharper, and I would have missed an opportunity to improve our delivery.

Whether you’re becoming an expert in leading change management or growing in another area, feedback will provide opportunities to improve.  This sharpening process will help refine the iron.