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How To Get Better At Receiving Feedback

Jacob Shriar

Most companies are moving towards a more frequent feedback cycle, which requires a lot of effort from everyone. Most companies also spend an incredible amount of time and energy training managers on how to give feedback more effectively.

But this means nothing if the receiver of the feedback isn’t able to handle it.

It’s the feedback receiver who controls if the feedback is listened to. They need to understand what it means, and they’re responsible for making the change. Without them, none of this means anything.

Everyone knows that feedback is important to helping us grow, but many of us get defensive, angry, and insulted. It’s a natural reaction for us to fight back when we hear negative feedback.

Let’s look at why this is, and then suggest a few ways that you can get better at receiving feedback.

Do employees really want feedback?

This is a complex question with a complex answer.

The answer is yes and no. Research shows that employees crave feedback, but neuroscience shows that our brains perceive feedback as a social threat.

Yes – employees crave feedback
Research from Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy found that by roughly a 3:1 margin, people want corrective feedback more than praise, because it helps them improve their performance.

employees crave feedback

This graph highlights some of the key problems in organizations. Look at the difference between the second column and the fourth column.

Most managers don’t enjoy giving negative feedback (not very surprising), but employees love hearing it.

The secret is how the feedback is delivered. In their research, a full 92% of people agreed with the statement, “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.” Those who rated their managers as highly effective at providing them with honest, straightforward feedback tended to score significantly higher on their preference for receiving corrective feedback.

This is a good lesson for managers.

Many people suggest doing what’s called a “feedback sandwich” when giving negative feedback, but it often doesn’t work. A much smarter approach is to be honest and straightforward. Your employees will appreciate it.

No – our brains don’t like feedback
There is a lot of neuroscience and psychology that makes receiving feedback so hard.

Our brains want to protect us, and receiving feedback is perceived by the brain in the same way as a physical threat such as being chased.

Because criticism can feel like an actual threat to our survival, it makes it much harder for us to hear. The problem with criticism is that it challenges our sense of value. Criticism implies judgment and we all recoil from feeling judged.  –Tony Schwartz

In the book Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Supervisory Lessons from Brain Science, author Charles Jacobs shows that when people receive information that is in conflict with their self-image, their tendency is to change the information rather than changing themselves.

As humans we also have a tendency to focus on the negative. This is known as the negativity bias. This is important for managers to understand, because feedback will always have a greater impact on employees than praise.

Tips for receiving feedback

It’s all in your head.

Of course, all of these tips are easier said than done, but you can work on making yourself better able to take the feedback. You want to try and become a little less sensitive to the feedback, and remember that it’s meant to help you.

Executive coach David Rock has developed the SCARF model to help identify things that are likely to trigger social threats. By understanding these, you can start to lower your sense of social threat.

Status: Status is our perception to how we compare to others. Feedback often comes from someone with a higher status than you, so you might respect it more than if a colleague was giving you feedback. With the colleague, it’s unclear at the moment if they’re assuming a higher status.

Certainty: Certainty is how certain we feel about the future. In terms of feedback, it’s hard to be certain of exactly what will be said to you. It’s okay though, prepare yourself mentally.

Autonomy: Autonomy is known that you have some control in what’s happening in the future. you don’t have much autonomy with feedback, you’re likely forced to respond to the feedback.

Relatedness: Relatedness is how similar or different are we to those around us. It’s important that we feel comfortable with the person giving us feedback. The more of a connection you have, the more receptive you’ll be.

Fairness: Fairness is our assessment of if we’re being treated fairly or not. In one survey1, 55% of employees said their most recent performance review had been unfair or inaccurate.

If you can understand these things and work on your mental capacity to handle and bounce back from feedback, you’ll get better at receiving feedback every day.

Here are a few other ideas you can use.

  1. Ask for feedback often

    They say practice makes perfect.

    If you can learn how to get into a mindset of continuous improvement and actively ask for feedback to improve, you’ll naturally get better at receiving feedback.

    Some sample questions could be:

    • What do you think is the #1 thing holding me back right now?
    • If you were in my position, what would you change about the way I work?
    • Is there anyone I should be spending more time with to learn or teach?
    • What do you think are my 3 biggest strengths and 3 biggest weaknesses?
  2. Listen carefully

    It’s natural when someone starts criticizing your work to explain yourself and justify anything you’ve done.

    Slow down, really take the time to listen to what the other person is saying, and reflect on it.

    Use feedback as an opportunity to grow, and think that maybe there’s a reason this person is saying this. Even if they’re wrong and it’s an issue of perception, it’s still an issue.

  3. Embrace failure

    This is much easier said than done, but in the last few years failure has become very accepted.

    This is more of an organizational thing, but you should try to cultivate a culture of acceptance towards failure, where it’s totally accepted and employees feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things.

  4. Focus on one thing at a time

    Stanford Professor Clifford Nass says that most people can take in only one critical comment at a time2, so it might make sense to collect feedback frequently and focus on one thing at each session.

    That will make it much easier for you to digest the feedback and come up with a plan for improving.

  5. Say thank you

    Never argue with anyone when they give you feedback, even if the feedback is wrong. If you become known as someone who constantly argues and gets defensive when given feedback, everyone will be less likely to give feedback to you in the future, which is a bad thing.

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How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur.

How Much Will Digital Cannibalization Eat into Your Business?

Fawn Fitter

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that 40% of companies will crumble when they fail to complete a successful digital transformation.

These legacy companies may be trying to keep up with insurgent companies that are introducing disruptive technologies, but they’re being held back by the ease of doing business the way they always have – or by how vehemently their customers object to change.

Most organizations today know that they have to embrace innovation. The question is whether they can put a digital business model in place without damaging their existing business so badly that they don’t survive the transition. We gathered a panel of experts to discuss the fine line between disruption and destruction.

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qa_qIn 2011, when Netflix hiked prices and tried to split its streaming and DVD-bymail services, it lost 3.25% of its customer base and 75% of its market capitalization.²︐³ What can we learn from that?

Scott Anthony: That debacle shows that sometimes you can get ahead of your customers. The key is to manage things at the pace of the market, not at your internal speed. You need to know what your customers are looking for and what they’re willing to tolerate. Sometimes companies forget what their customers want and care about, and they try to push things on them before they’re ready.

R. “Ray” Wang: You need to be able to split your traditional business and your growth business so that you can focus on big shifts instead of moving the needle 2%. Netflix was responding to its customers – by deciding not to define its brand too narrowly.

qa_qDoes disruption always involve cannibalizing your own business?

Wang: You can’t design new experiences in existing systems. But you have to make sure you manage the revenue stream on the way down in the old business model while managing the growth of the new one.

Merijn Helle: Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are putting a lot of capital into digital initiatives that aren’t paying enough back yet in the form of online sales, and they’re cannibalizing their profits so they can deliver a single authentic experience. Customers don’t see channels, they see brands; and they want to interact with brands seamlessly in real time, regardless of channel or format.

Lars Bastian: In manufacturing, new technologies aren’t about disrupting your business model as much as they are about expanding it. Think about predictive maintenance, the ability to warn customers when the product they’ve purchased will need service. You’re not going to lose customers by introducing new processes. You have to add these digitized services to remain competitive.

qa_qIs cannibalizing your own business better or worse than losing market share to a more innovative competitor?

Michael Liebhold: You have to create that digital business and mandate it to grow. If you cannibalize the existing business, that’s just the price you have to pay.

Wang: Companies that cannibalize their own businesses are the ones that survive. If you don’t do it, someone else will. What we’re really talking about is “Why do you exist? Why does anyone want to buy from you?”

Anthony: I’m not sure that’s the right question. The fundamental question is what you’re using disruption to do. How do you use it to strengthen what you’re doing today, and what new things does it enable? I think you can get so consumed with all the changes that reconfigure what you’re doing today that you do only that. And if you do only that, your business becomes smaller, less significant, and less interesting.

qa_qSo how should companies think about smart disruption?

Anthony: Leaders have to reconfigure today and imagine tomorrow at the same time. It’s not either/or. Every disruptive threat has an equal, if not greater, opportunity. When disruption strikes, it’s a mistake only to feel the threat to your legacy business. It’s an opportunity to expand into a different marke.

SAP_Disruption_QA_images2400x1600_4Liebhold: It starts at the top. You can’t ask a CEO for an eight-figure budget to upgrade a cloud analytics system if the C-suite doesn’t understand the power of integrating data from across all the legacy systems. So the first task is to educate the senior team so it can approve the budgets.

Scott Underwood: Some of the most interesting questions are internal organizational questions, keeping people from feeling that their livelihoods are in danger or introducing ways to keep them engaged.

Leon Segal: Absolutely. If you want to enter a new market or introduce a new product, there’s a whole chain of stakeholders – including your own employees and the distribution chain. Their experiences are also new. Once you start looking for things that affect their experience, you can’t help doing it. You walk around the office and say, “That doesn’t look right, they don’t look happy. Maybe we should change that around.”

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. 

To learn more about how to disrupt your business without destroying it, read the in-depth report Digital Disruption: When to Cook the Golden Goose.

Download the PDF (1.2MB)

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