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​Desperately Seeking Feedback

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In my time with Farmers Insurance, I was lucky enough to become very good friends with a number of the people with whom I worked. And where I was really lucky was that some were the types of friends who I could count on to provide me with honest, critical feedback. (In other words, they were more than willing to tell me when I got stupid, usually before I showed that stupidity to the rest of the world.)

If we want to really improve as professionals, we need honest appraisals of how we approach and complete our work — how we develop our strategies, how we execute our strategies, and how we make decisions that impact the success or failure of those strategies. And, since few of us are able to do self-assessments without throwing a little bit of rose coloring on the glasses we use, the best way to get those honest appraisals of what we do wrong (and right, never forget "and right") is to find people who will critically analyze the work we do. We need individuals who will not pull punches, who will lay it on the line, who will tell us when we are being stupid, who will tell us when we are being brilliant; ones we can trust to be honest and forthright in their assessments, providing constructive criticism that makes us better. (And, if they are the right kind of people, we should be able to return the favor.)

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been writing about internal audit's approaches in thinking about and analyzing the way we do our work. It started with a common issue in internal audit — trying to build a better report, and the role quality audit work plays in ensuring a quality audit report. The next topic focused on how easy it is to blame others when the fault is our own (even for the most ethical internal auditor; yes, we all fall into the trap.) Then, most recently, the discussion focused on the need to pause a moment, step back, and take a long, hard look at the work that we have just completed in order to learn from past mistakes and successes.

But none of that is worthwhile — none of it will provide even the merest scintilla of value — if the people involved in such analyses are not willing to tell the truth.

Throughout this series of posts, I have been quoting from Annie Duke's book, Thinking in Bets. The particular chapter is titled "The Buddy System" and, in it, she emphasizes the need to become a part of a group that provides that kind of honest feedback. She calls them "decision pods" and they are meant to analyze the success and failure of strategies, approaches, and decisions that have been made by individual members of the group. In her case, it was a group that got together to analyze the games of poker that had just been played. They were not allowed to blame luck, they were not allowed to blame circumstances — they were only allowed to critically analyze the approaches, decisions, and strategies used throughout the game to determine what had succeeded, what had failed, and why.

Ms. Duke makes the point that such a cadre of truth seekers, working together, can raise the strategy-development and decision-making skills of the entire team. However, she goes on to say that, for the group to be successful, it must modify the usual social contract. "It means agreeing to be open-minded to those who disagree with us, giving credit where it's due, and taking responsibility where it's appropriate, even (and especially) when it makes us uncomfortable."

She lists three important foundational requirements that must be agreed upon for the group to be successful:

  1. A focus on accuracy (over confirmation), which includes rewarding truth-seeking, objectivity, and open-mindedness within the group;
  2. Accountability, for which members have advance notice; and
  3. Openness to a diversity of ideas.

Think about that for a second. Imagine the power of any group who has agreed to this kind of open discussion about the work that has been or is being done.

Finding and building such a team is not an easy task. It takes the right temperament, the right skills, and the right passion for success. As I mentioned, I was lucky to have co-workers I could count on to provide just that kind of feedback and analysis. No, none of them were decision pods, per se. But we were doing the same kind of things. But, if you are serious about improving your work product, if you want to make yourself a better professional, if you want to help elevate yourself and the people around you, do the hard work of finding those individuals whom you can trust and build that team.

We all need trusted advisors.

Which leads nicely into the next discussion point. See you next Tuesday.

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