Feedback – effective, but what a difficult thing to do!

On 1st May, our daughter had an horrific accident at an indoor playground that resulted in emergency surgery on her head, only just saving her life. It took us 4 weeks to confront the responsible people and I’m glad we waited that long. Our initial reaction after the accident was anger: I wanted to sue the place and get it closed down. The fury made me sick. After 4 weeks and total recovery of our daughter, the anger had abated and (mostly) left, leaving in its place an urgent wish for “closure” (as one calls it nowadays). My husband and I drove out to the nice looking play centre with that one goal: to leave it all behind us and forgive. There were 3 hurdles though, preventing us from doing that:

  1. We had put our trust in a professional institution that avoids unnecessary risk (she was at a children’s party and we weren’t there) : how could it have happened?
  2. The responsible people at the centre hadn’t called the emergency services and our daughter was operated on only just in time (after we’d heard her strange crying on the phone and demanded they do so): why didn’t they call them immediately?
  3. No one from the centre had called to ask how our daughter was doing (having watched her leave in an ambulance): don’t they care?

There was obviously only one solution: dialogue with the people responsible based on feedback and avoiding attack (which produces counter-attack and creates a situation of war). Oh yes, because I knew if it didn’t work and I felt understood and acknowledged with each of my 3 hurdles, I would go to war. And I wanted to avoid that if at all possible (knowing how impossible it is to really win).

We arrived and had a look round – an intimate, clean and friendly place. And then I calmly asked the lady who was older than 25 if she were the manager and introduced us as the parents of the little girl who’d had the accident, asking if we could have a talk. She was alert and gracious and immediately invited us to a quiet table, somehow signalling to one of her colleagues to bring us a coffee. I asked her if we could give her feedback on what happened, because it was stopping us from getting over the situation. She agreed, was very focussed and listened. That was already 80 % goal reached, I think. I’m not sure how we managed to stick to the feedback rules of speaking from one’s own perspective, mixing positive and negative perceptions and voicing one’s wishes for how we would have liked it. I’m not sure how we managed to completely avoid judging her. I suppose it’s because we knew we wanted to shake hands at the end of the discussion, rather than “We’ll see you in court” or something equally melodramatic (my husband’s a lawyer).

After about 45 minutes we thanked her quietly and shook hands. She was truly sorry and shocked by what had happened and thanked us for opening her eyes. She invited our daughter to come and have a free play, which we’ll do one day.

It was over and we could get on with our lives in forgiveness.

I was so grateful to her for her ability to take on our feedback and even formulate clear learnings for the future, and I was grateful and proud of our ability to give feedback – rational, emotional and fair. I have practised giving and receiving feedback for 22 years – it’s part of my job. It’s not easy and I’m often hopeless at it in a private context, but this encounter proved to me above all others how effective and wonderful it is.

A few of my clients are currently working on improving feedback in their teams and everyday working situation. Why? Because it’s a safe way of moving onwards, learning, improving, dealing with mistakes and staying happy and sane! Confrontation, attack and judgement destroys people – whether in their private lives or at work. If we’re obsessed about being right, we may “win” our point, but still lose, because trust is destroyed along with the opponent’s lost face. Feedback can make everyone a winner – it allows us to see the world through a different perspective and decide for ourselves if we want to change our viewpoint.

We don’t know for sure whether the play centre has changed any of their practices to reduce the risk of other children hurting themselves, but I believe they have.  Because the feedback session with the owner enabled her to see ways of doing so that allowed her keep face and be in charge.

Meister meistern Herausforderungen

Der deutsche Industriemeister ist eine Schlüsselperson in großen Unternehmen: sie haben eine Sandwich-Position inne, in dem sie den Großteil der Belegschaft disziplinarisch und fachlich führen und für die fach- und Termin gerechte Umsetzung und Ausführung der Managemententscheidungen verantwortlich sind. Gefühlt ändert sich nichts so schnell wie der Industriemeisterberuf, und viele der Kollegen arbeiten 45 Jahre im Betrieb! Allein die Digitalisierung hat den Job revolutioniert, geschweige denn LEAN-Ansätze, Umstrukturierungen, etc. Ein Meister verbringt heutzutage die Hälfte seiner Arbeitszeit am Computer.

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Meister meistern Heraus-forderungen

Ein langjähriger und geschätzter Kunde von mir bei einem der größten deutschen Unternehmen hat diese Schlüsselposition erkannt und ich begleite ihn seit 2013 bei der Initiative “Meister meistern Herausforderungen”. Wie läuft die Initiative? Alles basiert auf den Input der Meister, die in einem ersten Schritt die derzeitige Belastungssituation analysiert haben und selbst Schwerpunkte für die Verbesserung identifiziert haben. Engagierte Manager begleiteten den Prozess und lieferten den Meistern die erforderlichen Informationen oder Unterstützungen. Auch bei der Lösungsentwicklung waren die Meister federführend dabei, mit den Managern zunächst die Optionen auf den Tisch zu legen und dann in umsetzungsfähige Konzepte zu gießen.

Die Skepsis war anfangs groß, dass diese Initiative einfach eine neue “Sau, die durch’s Dorf getrieben wird”. Dass sie ein beständiger Prozess geworden ist, verdankt sie der Kreativität und Veränderungsbereitschaft der Meister, dem Engagement der Manager und dem energischen Projektleiter, der im Laufe der gut zwei Jahre viel über sich und das Unternehmen gelernt hat und den Prozess als extrem wertvoll – für den Standort und auch für sich – sieht.

Ich genieße die Zusammenarbeit mit den Meistern. Ich habe viel gelernt und gelacht in den vielen Workshops, die ich moderierte. Ich schätze die Offenheit und Ehrlichkeit der Meister und ihren Willen, Dinge anzupacken und miteinander um die besten Lösung zu ringen. Mich hat auch beeindruckt, wie einige zugeben konnten, dass bestimmte angedachte Verbesserungen doch nicht so einfach umzusetzen seien, und diese Botschaft den Kollegen vermittelt haben. Das zeigt Größe.

Manager und Meister sollten sich viel häufiger die Zeit nehmen, auf Augenhöhe miteinander ins Gespräch zu kommen. Wir brauchen eine Diversitypolitik in den Unternehmen, die diese alte Grenze bewusst aufbricht. Gewinnen tun alle: Firma, Mensch und Prozess.

 

 

 

So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all.

My wonderful professor from University, Lucy Newlyn, directed my attention to Robert Browning’s poem about hope and there’s a “motto” in there that I identify with and mean to think about for a while. Here’s the poem:

Life in a Love

Escape me?
Never—
Beloved!
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth,
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again,—
So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all.
While, look but once from your farthest bound
At me so deep in the dust and dark,
No sooner the old hope goes to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
I shape me—
Ever
Removed!

Isn’t it a curious, beautifully understated and thoroughly modern line “So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all.”?

 

International Corner at Germany’s National IT Summit

The whole Cabinet of Angela Merkel’s government was there – it was definitely the place to show Germany’s effort in becoming a player for Industry 4.0 and other digital trends. And it was really national – almost everything in German and full of German players. Which is ok. But digitalisation is obviously an international topic and there are very few national borders in the internet world.

New markets. New partners. New solutions

New markets. New partners. New solutions – international cooperation and the digital transformation. 18.11.2015, Copyright: Thomas Koehler/photothek.net

Which is why I was proud and excited to moderate the only international corner at the IT Summit: “New partners, new markets, new solutions”, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Development Cooperation BMZ. We had a fantastic discussion and great fun too! BMZ’s just produced a summary of the event (attached). OK, so it’s in German, but hey… Zusammenfassung BMZ Panel auf Nationalem IT Gipfel 2015

SIMEI 2015 -sustainable wine must be good

2 years after the first International Congress at the world’s most important wine exhibition (SIMEI) in Milan, the 2015 International Congress brought experts and stakeholders from all over the globe to discuss sustainable wine and how sensory analysis can also be used to determine whether a sustainable wine is also good. As a wine hobbyist (yes, that also means I really enjoy drinking it!) I’m keen to support the socio-cultural, aesthetic and gustatory aspects of retaining a sustainable world for future generations.

http://www.simei.it/en/congress/sustainability

Structure!

Facilitation is about organising content.

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It’s a bit like putting together this Scottish Highland picture: it’s not just about building a wall that should be robust enough to stand the elements, but also about ensuring that the big picture – in this case the mountain – isn’t lost in the process. It’s about changing perspectives – on the one hand to deal with the details where they’re needed, and also to become more abstract. It’s about empowering a group to work out the best way to put their expertise, ideas and interests together: building a wall that will not fall down at the first stress-test. And it’s about creating a result that is pleasing – that the group can take pride in.

How does it work? What are the essentials of structuring content as a facilitator? This list is not exhaustive!

  1. Invest time and effort in establishing a joint understanding of and buy in for the goals, deliverables and agenda (structure) of the meeting. A group of people will only feel motivated and dedicated to building a wall if they’ve agreed that’s what they’ve set out to do!
  2. Ensure joint understanding – this sounds obvious, but most of my speaking in the facilitated meeting is spent on making sure what people want to say is said and heard by the others (i.e. “translating” and summarising complex or unclear messages in the most efficient way possible – active listening). People need to share an understanding of
    1. where they’re coming from (history, problem or potential),
    2. whether they have a similar or diverse position on the issue and what that position is/those positions are (consensus/disagreement),
    3. what people feel is important and relevant or irrelevant (priorities),
    4. why people feel and think the way they do (rationale),
    5. how people suggest a problem should be solved or potential achieved (propositions),
    6. where opportunities for collaboration lie (partnership),
    7. the way forward (plan) and
    8. how success will be measurable.
  3. Recording (visually) the main points of the discussion (see 2.) and how they relate to each other (this is wall-building),
  4. Interrupting or even disrupting the wall-building to make sure people are still aware of why they’re building the wall, how high it has to be (i.e. in order to frame the mountain) and which stress-tests it will need to withstand. This can involve inviting external expertise – independent – into the group to allow it to question itself,
  5. Making sure the right people are involved – the evolving and final structure depends on the input received!
  6. Separating brainstorming (opening out) and prioritising/rating/ranking (funnelling and closing). If you mix these processes, you will not only lose the structure of the content, but also most of the people involved in giving it.
  7. Ensuring 100 % participation. The results are useless if half the group lets you know at the end of the process that “it’ll never work”.This means structuring the room and time of a meeting to cope with dealing with multiple voices and, interestingly, creating an atmosphere not of power or importance, but of trust and curiosity. Only then will people listen to each other and stop merely thinking about how to say what they’ve probably said at many meetings before…