Sometimes you need to let go

Last week I was thinking about a conversation at work that had really got my goat. It was one of those conversations that happens without warning, that you participate in and then when you walk away you stop and think, “how on earth did that happen?” And the more you think about it, the angrier you get and the more unfair the situation becomes.

That conversation happened over ten years ago.

I can remember it clearly, the room, the time of day, the individual involved. I can remember coming away and tasting mustard in my mouth – a sure sign that I felt distressed by the experience. And to this day I hold a feeling of unjustness about the circumstances.

I’m quite clear that I need to let go.

I should probably listen to the advice that I give to my kids when they tell me about someone saying something unfair – you have a choice, you can say something and challenge the person about what they’ve said, or you can move on and let it go. There’s nothing in-between that will  help you.

I often see people at work who are still hung up on a conversation or situation that happened in their work history. They hold onto it but fail to do anything positive about it, instead it becomes a limiting reminder of how the universe is unfair. It becomes an anchor, unhelpfully holding them to a specific moment of time.

Being able to let go and move on is critical to remaining open-minded, to learning and growing, to progressing and developing. It is key to our mental wellbeing. So if there’s something that is holding you back, talk about it, get it off your chest, put it in the ground and then tramp the earth down. You’ll be better for it, believe me.

 

If it walks like a duck

The connection between self belief and outcomes can be one of the most powerful drivers of performance. When an individual or team truly believe in something, they can often deliver results greater than the sum of the parts. That’s why we often seen teams deliver incredible, unexpected outcomes – “against the odds”.

At the same time, the connection can also be one of the biggest inhibitors when we fail to see or listen to the feedback that surrounds us. Not all of our efforts will bear fruit and the ability to realise this, see where we are falling short or can improve and recorrect is critical.

That’s one the beautiful things about creating a team that operates as an open system. Open systems listen to the feedback in the external environment and respond and develop accordingly. They are, to some extents, the epitome of selfless, ego less organisations. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t the need for process or procedure, but that these are constantly developing in relation to the external environment in which they operate.

In the book “Black Box Thinking”, Matthew Syed gives a number of examples of open systems, but the one that struck me the most was the airline industry, where feedback and information is shared across companies and used to deliver improvements industry wide on all aspects of safety. When someone shares something they’ve learnt because of an incident or a near miss, you don’t hear anyone respond, “but that’s not how we do things here” or “we’ve always done it that way”, they listen and learn.

It begs the question, in our organisations how much do we really listen to the feedback that is around us and how willing are we to adapt and respond as a result? Too often we talk about the reasons why things are as they are, or why they’re too hard to change. But wouldn’t a more engaging, energetic and profitable way be to listen and address?

If we see the work that we do it and the way that we do it as an ongoing journey of improvement rather than a fixed deliverable, we can use the feedback that we hear and see as a positive means of continuing on that journey, rather than as a means to critique what we’ve just done. And from that, we will only ever see better results for everyone involved.

Nobody needs feedback

Of all the sickening management constructs that we’ve introduced into the workplace, the industry around feedback is perhaps the most pervasive and unhelpful. We are living in a world with a constant pressure and need to seek and give feedback but without really considering to what end.

A quick Google search for “feedback at work” shows just shy of a billion articles. A billion articles written about something that didn’t really exist until the middle of last century. And in that time, have we seen workplaces become happier? More productive? More enjoyable? Or have we seen the reverse?

The problem is, that over 90% of feedback is unhelpful. It doesn’t actually make anything better, doesn’t make anyone improve, doesn’t facilitate learning or enlightenment. If you don’t believe me, consider this:

What is the most useful piece of feedback you’ve received?

I bet you can think of one, an incisive and helpful moment. Now, place this piece of feedback in proportion to the entire amount that you’ve been given over your life. And quite frankly, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t fall into insignificance. You will have been given more pointless, unhelpful and sometimes dangerous pieces of feedback than helpful ones, probably to the power of ten.

The other issue with feedback is that it is, by nature, entirely subjective. And therefore is subject to bias. When you receive feedback you’re not getting the truth, you’re getting opinion. And that opinion is only one set of data. So on any, genuine, scientific basis it would be completely unreliable. There are no controls, there are multiple variables, it simply would not pass muster.Yet in organisations, we treat it as a means for development.

Here’s the thing. If you want feedback on something, or from someone then fine. Go and ask. But if people start telling you that you need it, or your organisation starts telling you that it wants to develop a feedback culture. Run like the wind. Or simply put your headphones on. You’ll end up wasting time, being confused, getting contradictory messages and choosing to believe only the information that supports your own confirmation bias – whether positive, or negative.

Feedback in organisations? Its something nobody needs to “see more of” and we could all do with “doing differently”. “Stop” the obsession with it, “Start” thinking more creatively, “Continue” getting on with your jobs.

We get the leaders we deserve

Many, many years ago I was sat in a room with a CEO and a number of their employees, it was a “meet the ordinary people” type affair. There was a debate about the visibility and availability of the CEO in the various parts of the business, with one of the managers saying that she would like to see them spend more time out on the floor with her team.

It’s the kind of challenge that you hear pretty regularly raised towards leaders and leadership teams. What struck me, on this occasion, was the reply of the CEO.

They went on to explain that they’d very much like to do so. That they’d love to have the opportunity to get to speak to people and interact with them. But they found it really hard to just roll up out of the blue and just start talking and people never really invited them to anything that was going on to help them overcome this challenge.

You mean, CEOs have weaknesses? Well, of course they do. We all do and just because you’ve risen to a position of power doesn’t mean you’re perfect. In the kitchens and copier rooms across the country, we’re busy identifying and outlining the weaknesses of our management teams. We’re incredibly good at diagnosing and highlighting the shortcomings, but what are we doing to help them?

That’s their problem though, you’re not paid to make them better. Right? If you work in HR, I’d thoroughly dispute this but in fact I’d dispute it wherever you work. In many ways, you get the leaders you deserve.

Think about that meeting when you struggled with the P&L for the investment proposal. How would it have felt if someone from finance had come up to you afterwards and kindly offered to take you through the numbers to make sure you were up to speed? What about the time that you were struggling to get your point across in that important meeting? What if someone had asked you questions to help you break it down?

It doesn’t matter what level you are, what seniority you are, how much experience you have, you’re going to have areas of weakness and you’re most likely going to know about them. People pointing them out is often little help, being told what you already know never is. But having people around you quietly helping you to work on them and improve? That’s altogether a different matter.

So next time you want to have a moan about the way your manager, boss or CEO behaves, also ask yourself what you could do to help them cover off that area and be better. You might be surprised by the result you get from them, and maybe also how you feel about yourself and your work.