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Is debate encouraged in your company? Is everyone, regardless of position, listened to?
Intel CEO Andrew Grove explains how debating and listening can help you become aware of blind spots, improve your decision-making, and recognize when you’re at a strategic inflection point. He offers two pieces of advice that will help you keep an eye on potential market disruptions so you can respond accordingly.
Continue reading to learn the importance of feedback in the workplace in regard to strategic inflection points.
Invite Spirited Debate
Grove’s first piece of advice on recognizing strategic inflection points is to debate the issue with your team. He argues that opening your perception of the business environment and your company’s future to criticism and dispute will reveal blind spots in your thinking—key pieces of information you’ve missed or possibilities you’ve overlooked. He encourages you to debate intensely over prolonged periods to leave no stone unturned and consider every angle. For Intel, this process lasted several years. They clearly understand the importance of feedback in the workplace.
This may sound like a lot of wasted time, but Grove looks back and sees how his thinking evolved over the course of the debate: from denial, to confusion, to clarity, and finally to decisive action. He insists that without this process of argumentation, Intel wouldn’t have accepted their situation in time to respond effectively.
|Keeping Debates Productive
Grove discusses the long, sometimes exhausting debates he had with other senior managers at Intel. Other writers expand on this, offering specific advice on keeping such debates productive and goal-oriented. In Radical Candor, Kim Scott offers several pointers.
1. Press pause on making a decision. If some on your team want to make the decision ASAP—understandable given the time constraints—this can create unnecessary friction or pressure to jump to a decision. Designate and hold time for simply exploring ideas.
2. Debate to explore perspectives rather than to win. Once someone becomes entrenched in a position, they will have a hard time taking an objective view of the problem. Try to redirect the conversation if you notice someone doubling down too hard on their argument. You can also explore perspectives by asking people to switch positions and argue the opposing side.
3. Know when to take a break. While Grove advises you to debate vigorously and energetically, most people reach a point where they just get tired of arguing. If your team reaches this point, they may suppress their opinions or concede their positions simply to get to the end of the meeting. If you sense fatigue setting in, put a pin in the conversation and schedule a follow-up session if needed.
Welcome a Range of Perspectives
Grove’s second piece of advice on recognizing strategic inflection points is to—again—leverage a wide range of perspectives. This further cuts down on your blind spots by bringing in information and possibilities you might have missed. Grove also suggests that someone from outside your company may be less attached to your company’s way of doing things and make suggestions that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to you.
He suggests you listen to voices from throughout all levels of the company, including middle management, salespeople, and engineers who may be closer to the six forces that determine changes in your business environment. Grove even includes journalists or critics who might hold a negative view of your company.
|How Cognitive Biases Can Lead to Blind Spots
Grove insists that bringing in a wide range of perspectives can cut down on our blind spots. Psychological research clarifies how and why this works. A blind spot could be a gap in information, but it could also be a cognitive bias.
In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains that we are more likely to consider something exceptional if it’s within our first-hand experience. If something is exceptional, it stands apart from the larger statistical trends that apply to similar situations. This perception is often false.For example, a survey found that 86% of respondents ages 18 to 29 believed their marriages would last a lifetime. This is highly unlikely, as close to 50% of US marriages end in divorce. This overestimation is caused by the tendency to consider one’s own marriage exceptional.
This explains why you would want to bring in people from outside the organization. They would be less likely to consider your company exceptional, and may make more objective assessments of your situation.
This same principle may cause managers to overestimate their decision-making ability. If you consider your own management to be an exception to larger statistical trends, it’s easy to overestimate your abilities. For Grove, inviting multiple perspectives isn’t simply about gathering information: It’s about staying humble and recognizing your limitations as a manager. He encourages you to consider that there might always be someone else who understands the situation better than you.
Create a Culture Where Employees Speak Up
To bring these voices to the table, you need to create a business culture where employees feel empowered to speak their minds. Grove offers two suggestions.
- Actively solicit feedback. If your employees won’t pipe up when there’s a problem, they may be waiting for an invitation. Make a habit of asking for their thoughts and opinions.
- Reward the messenger. How you respond to your employees’ feedback may determine their willingness to speak up in the future. Managers who show anger or irritation with the bearers of bad news may create a work culture where employees are reluctant to bring up problems for the company.
|Motivating Employees to Contribute
Grove highlights the importance of making space for employees to speak up. However, beyond simply “making space,” you should consider what motivates employees to “step into that space” and speak up. In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek argues that what motivates contributions from your employees is care for their organization and the sense that they are cared about. Sinek offers two pieces of advice for fostering a reciprocal sense of care.
1. Employees must care about their goal. Most people don’t want to feel like they’re simply trading labor for money. They’re much more motivated when they feel like they’re contributing to something larger than themselves. Think about the value your company brings to the world and keep that vision at the center of your company’s culture. This will increase the likelihood of your employees caring about the future of the company and wanting to speak up if they feel something is going awry.
2. You must show care for your employees. Create bonding and psychological safety within your team by making sure that all of your employees feel supported. Find out what kinds of support they need and prioritize providing it. This show of support helps foster an environment where your staff cares enough about the organization and their team to speak up and contribute.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Only the Paranoid Survive summary:
- How to adapt and survive as a business in a changing industry
- How the CEO of Intel lead the company through a time of crisis
- How to know when your company needs to pivot