Morale in the IT organization had been poor for a long time. After other strategies to address the problem failed, the CIO—whom I'll call Brad—decided to try something new. He invited employees to volunteer to be on a team of non-managers that would evaluate the morale problem from their perspective and submit recommendations for improvement. Brad and his senior management team committed to take their recommendations seriously and act on them.
Morale in the IT organization had been poor for a long time. After other strategies to address the problem failed, the CIO (whom I'll call Brad) decided to try something new. He invited employees to volunteer to be on a team of non-managers that would evaluate the morale problem from their perspective and submit recommendations for improvement. Brad and his senior management team committed to take their recommendations seriously and act on them.
The volunteer team came up with a long list of recommendations. And now, Brad had called the employees together to give a presentation on senior management's plans for implementing them.
As people arrived for the presentation, he gave them a feedback form and asked them to jot down their reactions to the plans he'd be describing.
So far, so good.
When Brad looked through the feedback afterwards, he found one form filled with nasty, pointed comments about him and his managers. The form was, of course, unsigned. Things then took a nearly disastrous turn.
Don't Go Away Mad, Just Go Away
Despite being an astute, level-headed executive, Brad blew up. And in his blown-up state, his first impulse was to send an email message to all IT employees saying that the person who had submitted the highly negative feedback was no longer welcome in the company and should pack up and leave.
Just imagine! If he had done that, he would have fed the already overactive grapevine, damaged his reputation, undermined the efforts of the volunteer team, and sent morale plunging even further. He would have also wiped out the results of my work there as a consultant. Meanwhile, the person whose feedback triggered this irrational response probably wouldn't even have known that he/she was its intended recipient.
No one craves negative feedback. Still, is this any way for a leader to respond? Especially given that he had only recently been promoted into the CIO position and his reputation as a trusted leader provided a strong foundation for making significant improvements.
The senior management team had to practically sit on Brad to prevent him from sending the email. As an outsider, I wasn't invited to participate in the sit-on—fortunately, they succeeded.Behavior Unbecoming a Leader
One of the most important responsibilities of a CIO—or anyone in a leadership position—is to serve as a role model. If he invites feedback and then suggests by word or deed that only positive feedback is welcome, he fails as a role model. He also guarantees that critical feedback—the kind he really ought to hear—will be withheld.
I suggested to my client—one of the senior managers—that a CIO-as-role-model might respond with the following email message:
"At the presentation on the 9th, we invited your feedback. Thanks to all of you who responded. Some of it was positive and some wasn't, but all of it was helpful. However, some of the feedback left us wanting to know more. If those of you who submitted unsigned feedback would contact me, I would like to meet with you so I can better understand your concerns. You will be helping me make this the kind of organization you want it to be.
For those of you who have not yet submitted feedback, it's not too late. Simply send me an email message or jot your comments on a sheet of paper, and let me know your reactions—positive OR negative—to the information I presented.
I want to make this an organization in which people feel comfortable in letting me—or any of the managers—know their grievances and dissatisfactions. We have a long way to go, but I'm convinced this goal is attainable."
I was hoping he'd send out a message along these lines. He didn't, but at least he also didn't send out his first choice of response. His senior management team keeps a close eye on him these days.