I sat opposite a member of my team, one of my direct reports. I forced a smile. It was all I could do not to shift and fidget in my chair. The source of my discomfort? She was telling me about something I regularly did that drove her crazy.
She didn’t volunteer this information or drop it on me unexpectedly. I had invited it. Why would I do this to myself?
When I talk with our BusinessAccelerator® clients about my regular candor meetings, they always want to know more. First, they want to know why I do them. Then, once they hear the reason, they usually want to know how to conduct meetings like this with their own teams.
One Way to Lift the Ceiling
As a business owner, you are always the ceiling on your business. The only way you can grow is to become aware of what’s not working so you can fix it. But there’s a problem.
As your company grows and becomes more successful, you’ll be more insulated from candid feedback. You won’t have as many natural feedback channels. There will be more people in the mix. And, depending on the personalities around you, you may have some people reluctant to level with you.
You have to seek out feedback. And one way to solicit the kind of critical feedback you need is with intentional candor meetings. I want to share five actions you can take to conduct meetings like this in your business.
Action 1: Choose your candor questions.
If you’re looking for certain answers, you need to ask the right questions. Ask any trial attorney, and they’ll tell you the same thing. When I conduct candor meetings, I use a list of questions taken from, or inspired by, Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor:
- How can I serve you better as a leader?
- What is one thing you need from me that you haven’t been getting?
- In what ways do you feel set up to win or set up to lose in your position?
- If we could resolve one issue to improve your role, what would it be?
- What opportunities for improvement do you see in our business?
- What could I do to better lead our team as a whole?
- What’s one thing I do that makes you crazy?
- What’s one thing you’d like me to keep doing?
- What’s one disconnect you see between me and the rest of the team?
- How can I better communicate with you?
- What are our top three suggestions to help me be a better leader in our business?
These questions are designed to elicit the kind of responses I need but can’t assume I’ll get without soliciting them. I need to know how to serve my team better. I need to know what drives them crazy. I need to know how to communicate better.
Getting the feedback I need starts with picking the right questions and proactively seeking answers from my team.
Action 2: Schedule meetings with direct reports.
After you’ve selected the right questions to ask, you need to create a context to ask them. I schedule two meetings with my direct reports, one for the first half of the year and one for the second. I split the eleven questions above between the two meetings.
I prefer doing this in a one-on-one setting, but you can do it in a group context. The main thing is to get it on the calendar.
As you schedule these, explain the rationale behind the meetings. You’ll need to do more than give them permission to offer candid feedback; you’ll need to actively solicit it and assure them they’re free to speak their mind.
Action 3: Send questions in advance.
As your team gets used to candor meetings, they’ll get comfortable with the process. Don’t count on that upfront. In fact, you can probably count on at least some of your direct reports being reluctant to fully answer questions.
People will feel unsettled by the prospect of offering candid feedback. If you want high-quality feedback, you need to encourage honesty and give people the opportunity to prepare. Otherwise, they might just pull their punches, and you don’t want that.
Sending questions in advance gives your people a chance to think through their answers, so you get their strongest responses.
Action 4: Conduct the meeting.
Alright. You’ve chosen your questions, scheduled your meeting, and sent your questions in advance. Now for the fun—or the awkward, depending on what you hear.
The important thing is to actively listen. Don’t do too much talking. Instead, adopt a posture of curiosity. You’ll have to be conscious of body language, voice, facial expressions, and so on. You’ve invited feedback; you don’t want to shut it down with a scowl or a grimace.
Don’t argue or debate the feedback. You’re not required to accept it, implement it, or do anything. This is not an opportunity to protect your image. Just be a respectful listener. You’re after their perspective.
I find asking clarifying questions along the way really helps. You’d be surprised how much more you can get with a prompt like, “Say more about that.”
Action 5: Follow up as necessary.
This final action is essential. You’re not required to act on the feedback you receive, but you do need to honor the feedback by acknowledging it. At the end of the meeting, say something like, “Thanks. I’ll think about this feedback and get back to you.”
And do those two things: reflect on what you heard and update them. If their feedback resonates and seems actionable, take the necessary actions to address it. If their feedback doesn’t resonate, you can let them know you see things differently. The worst thing that can happen is that they take a risk and you do nothing at all. At minimum, make sure to follow up in a message or during your next one-on-one.
The key thing to keep in mind is that your team knows things you don’t, both things about your business and things about you. If you want access to that information, you need to create contexts where sharing that information is positive—even when the news is negative. Maybe especially when it’s negative.
Accessing that information will help you improve your performance, lead your team more effectively, and ultimately experience better results across your organization.
Last modified on June 13th, 2022 at 12:35 pm
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