Vision quest

Q. What are the keys to getting honest feedback?

When you come in or when you are running a business already and whether it’s starting a business or being there already, the key is just to inspect the business. It goes back to creating a vision. As you inspect, you likely are going to find information, whether it’s looking though the numbers or business intelligence. (That) is something that our customers at Microsoft are asking us for and that’s what we use a lot. Show me the numbers, show me the scorecard, show me the things that are going on, and then, in turn, what that should show you is it should show you some trend data that says, ‘OK, I see some trends that I need to go and investigate more,’ and maybe that leads to the communication … and then test that with the people you know that you can trust. They’re the honesty, they’re the historian-type folks that have been there for a long time.

They are going to give it to you straight and then you test that in a small group. Then after you are able to get close to confirming that your suspicions or your assumptions were correct in certain areas, then what I do is I go out and ask for feedback. But you have to ask for something specific, and you have to give them a safety place to go with their feedback.

For instance, you could, as a leader, say, ‘Do you think we need to be better at selling?’ And, of course, everyone would probably say, ‘Oh yeah.’ But they wouldn’t give you much to go on. But if you were to say, ‘Do you think we need to be selling to customers that we’ve had as customers for a long time that maybe have plateaued or they look like they’ve plateaued with us, and do you have any examples where you’ve seen that work or not work?’

Because then that is a safety net. You’ve given them enough where they know whatever they tell you, it’s going to be in line with what you are thinking about. Then based on the way that you react to their feedback, they’ll give you more is what I’ve found. You have to be open to feedback and to ideas and to sharing that out again. When I have those conversations and I get good feedback, I’m very quick to pull them in and show them how I took the notes or send that back out or give them access to where I’m storing all my thinking and data and try to be transparent with it.