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Four original ways to make sure you listen to a respond to feedback.

We all know it’s lonely at the top. When you’re that high up, it’s challenging to get accurate, honest feedback about your performance.

It’s also usual to get contrasting feedback from different groups. Take the example of a global executive I recently worked with. As part of a 360-Feedback, he got feedback from his peer group and his direct reports (amongst other stakeholder groups).

The peer group gave him five-star feedback – they said he was “visionary”, “caring”, “a good communicator” and a “great motivator”.

But the feedback from his direct reports group was negative. They said he was only interested in his personal standing and reputation, not his business unit. Also, he partnered badly on key strategic initiatives, particularly cross-functional collaboration. To be fair, this global executive accepted the feedback and took steps to develop his skills.

The perception gap
But there’s often a gap between stakeholder groups’ perceptions of your performance. The executives think their performance is significantly higher than the employees think it is.

The biggest factor is that the top team find it hard to get feedback that reflects the reality of what is going on in the business.

So how do you get totally honest feedback to the senior management team?

#1 Focus the questions on executive performance
If you want to manipulate the process, a quick-and-dirty trick is to move the focal point onto secondary issues, like customer satisfaction and employee engagement. This makes it easier to distract attention and ignore the key issues in executive performance.

Instead, formal assessment of the executive team must focus on individual and top team: strengths, strategic capability, development needs, opportunities, aspirations, tactical/operational awareness, blind spots, team development, communication and so on.

#2 Stop benchmarking across your industry
This is another distraction technique. It gives underperforming executives an easy excuse, “Well, things aren’t so good here. But I’m doing better than our competitors.”

In the long-term it leads to strategic inertia: “I don’t have to change yet, because nobody else in the industry has.”

The results can be catastrophic. From IT to retail, manufacturing to energy… how many companies have missed the boat on major shifts in their industry because their mindset was simply to “be as good as our competitors”? Usain Bolt doesn’t win gold by keeping up with his competitors.

Winners listen to the feedback because they have a mindset of “I want to be the best we can be for our customers”. This is a mindset which cross-industry benchmarking cannot measure.

#3 Make it part of your corporate culture
Get the feedback once every 12 to 18 months, and repeat the process consistently.

Act on the feedback or give the people you lead clear reasons for not taking action.

Talk about it openly and directly. If not, people will think the whole process is a political tool. And the most natural reaction to a political process… employees and middle managers start playing games too.

#4 Assess feedback and its consequences for the whole senior management team
For a company to grow and enjoy success, totally honest feedback has to be assessed by its impact on both the individual and that person as part of the senior management team.

When you consider both perspectives (individual executive and senior team) it increases the confidence of senior managers, builds a true executive team and raises trust throughout the organization.

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You have brought a direct positive impact on our sales… because people work more customer-oriented. Our efficiency levels... are continuously growing.

AL Managing Director

Leading this product launch has taught me to be effective doing what I find naturally easiest – using trust and supporting people each step of the way. It augments my chances of making sure future product launches are as successful as this one.

MN Vice Director - Medical Marketing Europe

This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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