Who Moved My Sacred Cow?
How to Deal with Negative Feedback about Your Reference Program
Monday, March 07, 2005
While lunching with a colleague last month, I dispensed some "free," albeit uninvited, advice about his company’s reference program based on feedback TPG received directly from several of his program’s stakeholders and sales account managers. He looked at me for a minute then said, "We’ve never had problems with that before." In sharing feedback, I’ve heard several other similar responses that stop the wheels of change from turning: "We already do that." "I already knew that." "I’ll keep that in mind" with a subtle roll of the eyes. Maybe you’ve responded to feedback about your program from stakeholders and windsocks in similar ways. Perhaps you received unsolicited input about the way your reference program communicates with sales on an irregular basis, or about that list of 200+ customers on the Web site. But you hold those things sacred–they’re non–negotiable and not open to change–so you tune out the feedback and continue with business as usual. If you know what I’m talking about–if you hold any aspect of your program sacred–then here’s more unsolicited advice. But this time, it’s not about your program, but about how to deal with negative feedback. Law of Business #2,453,587: If you hold it sacred, you’ll lose it First of all, know this: the more sacred your program, the more difficult it is to change. The more difficult your program is to change, the harder you’ll find it to get support. And without support, your success will be limited. Holding anything sacred in business is a dangerous approach. It restricts change. It ill–equips you to accept new ideas and to bond with stakeholders. If you’re in denial, if you don’t listen, your critique–giver will tell someone else... who will tell someone else... who will tell someone else... and before you know it, everyone will know what you’re not doing well. One small issue can easily grow into a major challenge from an external perspective. And if it does, you might lose everything–including that which is sacred to you. Law of Business #2,453,588: If you’re willing to change it, you’ll not only keep it, but grow it To evolve beyond the sacred cow, first invest in listening, in a non–defensive listening strategy. When you hear negative feedback, be positive about it. Ask the person to put it in a constructive way. Say, "That’s good... what would you recommend I do?" Or, "How do you suggest we make it better?" By accepting criticism openly and willingly, you demonstrate across the company that you want your program to be well–perceived and that you’re willing to make investments in change. It also encourages fountains of feedback to come back and give you more. Second, establish windsocks; people who are not immediate stakeholders but who are well–respected and who talk a lot. Others listen and talk to windsocks often, so you should, too. Engage them in informal dialogs about your program, and do so even more frequently than you do with your stakeholders. Ask them what they’ve heard about your program. Ask them what they think you can do better. To Manipulate a Cliche: If You’re Convinced that Something in Your Program Must Stay, Set it Free and See What Happens Some believe that the safest bet is to keep things sacred. This maybe true in the short run. If you don’t manage feedback well, the best case scenario is that your program exists exactly as it does now. But in the long–run, your safest bet is to manage feedback as it comes in; to create a positive environment for constructive criticism. When you do, you’ll demonstrate that your program’s not sacred, that you’re interested in partnering with people, and that you’re open to change. Try it. I bet people, especially in sales, will start treating you differently. Promise Phelon, Partner email@example.com