The team around me is used to my objective, non biased, unemotional drive for constant improvement, but I was reminded today that not everyone can handle that kind of feedback.
We have to untrain people as they join us. Here you don’t get criticised. Here, we all just strive for better.
I say what I mean.
When I say “the outcome was poor”, I mean exactly that. It means we can improve, do something better, and that we have learned a lesson. Nothing else.
I remember the days when I worked in a different team, and a comment like that was an attack on the team or the individual. It is so easy to forget that most people still work in that type of environment. (I remember how exhausting it was.)
It isn’t feedback.
I take time to give feedback. I think, digest, review, challenge and form constructive feedback aimed at increasing confidence while improving performance (or perception, but that’s for another day. Remind me I should talk about that too.). I don’t lash out on emotional detours in the middle of a working day. But of course, today, that’s how my comment was perceived, and I need to fix that. I certainly cannot put the responsibility of knowing me and understanding how I communicate on the recipient. That would be hugely unfair.
It isn’t personal.
Just a little bit…in the GOOD way. I consider my team members partners, and we work together, side by side. In my view, we have the same goal, and we work equally hard to get there. I am much more focused on the end goal, and I have no time for internal competition. So when I push for better output, it is me objectively pushing for improvement. from ALL of us, including me.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of connecting with world class professional athlete Louise Walden, and convinced her to write about her approach to learning, a key aspect that we both view as central to success. Here is her story.
“My View Of Learning…
My view on learning now differs dramatically to what I once thought it was as a child. As an active, easily distracted child, who was once described by a teacher as ‘no better than average’, learning for me was obligatory hours spent at school. I probably would have told you that learning was boring, inconvenient and dull. As I reflect now, I question whether my view was the innocence of youth or in actual fact something that I had learnt in itself.
Now as former British Champion, Team GB member, World Class professional athlete and International Gold Medallist, who has built her career on constantly exceeding expectations, I can deduce a completely different perspective to that of my younger self. Learning for me is a fundamental aspect of life. The knowledge that we gain from learning and the way in which we use it, is how we allow ourselves to evolve, develop and be our own success.
As a child I associated learning with education and without choice, which back then I suppose it was to some extent, but my perception was also that anything outside of academia or anything a little bit creative, was merely playtime. Where that view point came from I am unsure of, but that highlights to me that as teachers, parents and role models, we have a responsibility to be aware of how we inadvertently influence those around us.
I now find learning is exciting, necessary and valuable.
It is a privilege, it is precious and an investment in ones future. Without learning we cannot grow, progress or succeed and it is imperative for limitless self improvement. How you choose to learn, who you choose to learn from, the knowledge you gain from those experiences and then how you use it, is what makes us all unique.
My adult self now appreciates that learning does not need to be attributed to education, teachers or text books.
I am constantly learning from every person that I meet and every experience that I find myself in. I believe that without learning from both negative and positive experiences, failings and victories, pessimists and optimists, we may never reach our full potential.
I expect I will always be selective with who I allow to demonstrate leadership and inspire me. The ability to lead and to teach I’m my opinion, is giving the gift of knowledge to others and something I feel very protective of, as knowledge in the wrong hands may not always be productive. Leaders and motivators therefore have a responsibility to allow people to be themselves, to encourage freedom of expression and interpretation of knowledge, so that a person may create their own path.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learnt as a child did in fact originate from my school days and from that very teacher who thought I wouldn’t amount to much.
I learnt from him I needed to strive to overachieve in every aspect of my life.
I have lived in fear of that word ‘average’ and made sure that everything I do is to the best of my ability.
I live by the belief that the sky is the limit and that if you dream, believe, work and focus relentlessly on what you want to achieve, you can and you will achieve it.”
I am sitting on the side of the room, watching my team. That’s what I do most of….I watch.
Usually I watch as someone else talks (watching while talking is not the same thing) and I learn so much. Who is comfortable, who is passionate, who is concerned. For me to keep an eye on words, tone, body language and side conversations, I know exactly when to lean back, when to step in, when to steer and when to keep silent.
I was asked this morning what my secret leadership skill is. Perhaps it is this: my geeky interest in communication, skills and strengths.
I wonder how much more I get out of my team, because I can immediately do what I just did: sent a little WhatsApp to my PM, as I watched him spending longer than expected on his iPhone 🙂
Most of the time I watch a finely tuned machine — based on respect for individual people and their strengths, interests and experience. The way the group collaborates and communicates, often broken up by joking and laughter!
Here is how we got to that and what you could do:
Be clear on roles and responsibilities, and make sure everyone is appreciated for their personal skills
Balance the agenda to make sure you build in parts of personal development and growth
Self insight: not everyone is a great people leader: if you’re not, don’t beat yourself up. Find someone who is, and concentrate on what YOU are good at.
“Let me know how you will find your next skills, and how you can continue to grow , inside or outside the company?”
I lean back to let her think, before I speak again.
I am having a development meeting with someone in my staff, and my question makes her frown involuntarily. That warms my heart, and I have to stop myself from grinning. I like when people want to stay!
I can see I need to remind her what it means to work in this generous and people focused environment, built on striving for excellence and constant improvement; I spend a lot of effort on making sure I get the communication right; encouraging people to learn from outside doesn’t always mean I want people to leave!
We are not your average company
I get that it is not common to be encouraged to look both inside and outside for your next learning and challenge. I know it is certainly not what you usually get from a manager who thinks you’re a top performer, in a company you’ve been told you are highly appreciated. But we are not your average company, and we certainly don’t aim for average growth and development for our staff. I am an Improver, in its truest form, and that is highly visible in my relentless push for finding talent and then making it better, brighter, faster.
We are a fairly young company, and as such, each and every employee is tremendously impactful on our small and tight knit team. We are growing fast, which means there are ample opportunities to grow both in role, as well as move to a new position. We have more chances of providing new responsibilities internally than most other companies – we are lucky that way. However, in 2017, that means very little. Let me explain.
Don’t get laid off!!
It used to be great to keep a job your whole life. The goal was to never get laid off, to learn on the job and to be as experienced as possible – that was the best way to increase your salary. But all that has changed: technology and innovation drives faster much quicker than ever before, and the most effective way to raise your salary is often to switch companies every two years. It is no Ionger suspicious to having have more than 3 employers in a lifetime, and certainly the pure REASONS for working has changed with different generations. We are no longer satisfied with doing something we are capable of, we also want to do something we love. And that is exactly it:
I hire smart people. I hire people who are clever, hungry, eager and driven. And then I give them a carefully balanced mix of support and opportunity, tailored to the individuals personality. So then, the inevitable happens: they grown. And learn. And they love it.
Which is maybe why they want to stay, and don’t get me wrong, that’s awesome. But it may not be what is best, neither for them, nor for the company. Continued and accelerated growth is better, and we get that from people bringing in new thoughts and ideas, new viewpoints, new skills and experiences. If we can keep a great balance between harnessing the talent we have, combined with the new intelligence we get in, while continuing to support the learning we see, we will be a hot, magical melting pot of brilliance, where the love of growth, learning and progress brings out the very best in all of us.
In my companies staff retention policy has changed to staff returning policy. Give it a go. You might learn something new!
Let’s say I hired the wrong person. Is it his fault, or mine? Did I have a thorough enough process, was I good enough in deciphering the codes that make up a new personality?
Or did he fake it? Without me seeing through the charade? Should I have been able to spot the liar?
As a leader, it would be very easy to blame someone else for the lack of success of employees, but I can’t push it aside. I don’t want to. The responsibility of our success is mine – my job is to match, lead, guide, coach and steer, so that we all work together like a well-oiled machine. Nobody is great at everything, so it is a leaders role to put the pieces together in the best possible way.
The professor in the back of the room is leaning back in her chair, arms crossed. She is tilting her head, eyes narrowing. I know I am in for a challenge, I can see it. The tension in the room is palpable.
I am 26 years old, and have been in the job for a couple of months. I represent a medical device company, and my customers and doctors, highly educated, are experts in their field. Decisions are made on facts, statistics and clinical data.
The professor asks me if I think the product I am talking about has better clinical trial results that the leading product on the market. 6 months ago I had never read a clinical trial. She is the lead author for over 250 publications in major journal across the world. There is only one thing to do: openly say that I don’t know.
This is a frequent occasion in my business, and rightly so. Medical device reps is on high turnover, often young, inexperienced, polished and smart, in for the career opportunities. In the good cases, there to make a difference, in the bad cases they are there to make a quick sale and move on.
Two things are imperative to do a good job in one of my companies;
Technical skills, and a humble approach to the knowledge of our customers. There is no way we can catch up with the 8 years of medical school. But we CAN be experts on one thing: our product.
I tell my team 2 things: don’t EVER try to diagnose and treat a patient. You will be asked to, and sometimes even pushed to. Stay away, and do not be flattered and dragged in, no matter how good your relationship with the doctor is. You are NOT trained and equipped to make such judgement.
Know everything there is to know about the product. Features, benefits, technical specs, clinical data, user experience, manufacturing process, origin, improvement history. Watch it being used. Listen, learn. Ask questions of the users. My favourite one: Ask the user why she/he is using it. They will tell you better reasons than your marketing department can, with a lot more credibility. Know how it is used, in what applications. For us, anatomy is key, and I send my team on the same anatomy trainings that doctors attend. They need ton be extremely knowledgeable, so they can add value to the customer.
After all, it boils down to this: you need to earn the trust of your customer, and they will appreciate your dedicated. Few things can replace passion and dedication, no matter what field you’re in. And trust me…you can’t fake that.
And of my professor? I asked her to mentor me. We spent a couple of years with me tagging along every chance I got. Her patience and support benefits me yet to this day, and I thank her by paying it forward.
So I have now submitted two rounds of the same applications for funding from Horizon 2020 to prove how surgical confidence has an impact on outcome.
Both got rejected.
And interestingly enough, the SECOND application was deemed WORSE than the first one!!
The rating was much worse specifically in the area of proving the market potential for the final product despite me adding further detail and markets. I believe (from the notes in the feedback) that they simply thought the numbers are too good, versus what I was asking for. And that, exactly that, is an entrepreneurs weakness. You see, we are consistently asking for less money than others, if my theory is true.
Entrepreneurs ask for less money because we are used to doing more with less.