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Don't Wait to See the Blood
by Jim Clemmer

At my youngest daughter's sixth birthday party, a five-year-old boy hit her on the head. Asked to apologize, he politely refused: "Mr. Clemmer, I don't apologize unless I see teeth marks or blood."

Many managers don't realize the problems they're creating unless they see the teeth marks or blood on those with whom they work. The most insensitive managers are those who lack good feedback systems and refuse to seek input on how to improve their own performance.

Feedback is as critical to learning and improvement as cake is to a six-year-old's birthday party. As painful as I find "corrective feedback" and "suggestions for improvement," they are sources of my best learning and most profound personal changes.

There are a multitude of ways to gain a true picture of how you and your management team's actions are viewed through your organization. Here are examples:

• Run extensive organizational climate surveys at least once a year. Review the results with the people who completed the survey to clarify their feedback. Get them involved in making the improvements they're suggesting.

• Spend a long time with people on the front serving lines, production lines or support offices. You know you're accessible enough when your presence isn't a royal visit or a special occasion - and when people are comfortable in challenging management actions and flagging potential problems.

• Hold regular breakfasts ("muffins with management"), lunches and celebration dinners with front-line teams. Take this time to ask for feedback, concerns and suggestions. A simple question - "what's the dumbest thing management asks you to do?" - can produce powerful insights.

• Invite front-line teams to management meetings to show off accomplishments, provide input to new plans, or assess the state of the organization.

• Use focus groups (a cross-section of front-line performers) to test new management directions before making grand announcements to everyone. Even if you press on against the advice of the focus groups, you'll have deeper insight on how to face the issues the new direction may raise.

• Develop systems, practices and skills to gain continuous feedback on your leadership effectiveness from the people you lead.

• Get your management team into the habit of committing themselves to personal plans. Report on leadership actions each of you has taken to signal the values or priorities the group is espousing. For example, if customer service improvement is a key goal, all managers should report on the amount of time they're spending with customers.

Improving personal and organizational performance without constant feedback is like trying to pin the tail on the donkey when we're blindfolded. Only through knowing where we are, can we change where we are going.

Jim Clemmer may be contacted at
Jim Clemmer is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. His web site is


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