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Chapter 7 is entitled, “Foster Valuable Interaction.”
The book has already chronicled some stories of CEOs and business owners sharing their story with a peer group. In each case, the group provided support and encouragement. Members of a peer advisory group must believe that sharing their issues – sharing their story – will result in a positive outcome. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how safe or confidential the setting may be, they’re not likely to open up to the group.
Sometimes sharing our story is simply about engaging in dialogue with others with no expectation of reaching a decision. We just need to be heard. That’s a positive outcome.
Still sometimes we want a fresh perspective and guidance. We want to make a great decision and the feedback from others can help us achieve that positive outcome.
Defining valuable interaction
The authors define this in terms of a conversation where all participants are engaged. Everybody understands what’s being discussed, and are prepared to ask insightful questions that inspire focus and clarity for everybody. Everybody learns something valuable because they’re all involved in the conversation.
These are defined as a way of talking that leads to decisions. A skilled discussion is aimed at looking at a situation to separate good ideas from bad ones in hopes of letting the best ideas bubble to the top. If a discussion lacks a process, or the discipline, it can devolve into members just tossing out ideas, sharing thoughts and trying to sell their ideas. Effective peer advantage is found when members engage in some rigorous thinking with mutual respect so all the options can be weighed.
As you might imagine, these discussions don’t happen by accident. There is a process that will help optimize. Some real-life examples to help us do that come from the Blue Angels and the Navy Seals. They give us a framework for skilled discussions that can used by CEOs or business owners worldwide.
Blue Angels post-flight debrief
Everybody is equal in the debrief. That creates a safe environment for honest conversation. Rank, age and experience are non-factors during the debrief. Everybody is encouraged to be as candid as possible. People’s lives depend on it.
The pilots take turns talking about what they did well and they identify specific mistakes they made during the flight. They call those mistakes “safeties.” That means they’re safety problems or violations. Each pilot identifies their own safeties, but they also commit to the entire squadron that those errors will be fixed the next time they fly. Each pilot concludes his remarks by saying, “Glad to be here.” That tradition refers to their gratitude for being a member of the Blue Angels. They know other pilots are deployed around the world serving our country, making it possible for them to be part of an elite flying team.
After each pilot takes a turn, he gets critiques from two members of the team who are assigned to specifically observe and assess the flight from the ground. They share their perspective. Reviewing video of the flight, they watch and rewatch specific maneuvers to get a complete picture of the performance. The goal is to improve the performance for next time.
Other members offer the team their observations about the non-flight parts of the performance. These include things like the pilot’s salute and his march to and from the aircraft. This debriefing process is simple, but it ensures that every detail of the performance is covered.
Today, former Blue Angel pilot John Foley works with companies on continuous improvement. He uses the principles he learned while flying with the elite team. Foley says that what separates the Blue Angels from other great teams is the unique combination of attitude, habits, and worldview. Here’s how he summarized the difference:
The Blue Angels share a mindset, a special way of looking at the world and seeing the potential for success that is often hidden behind the obstacles and difficulties of daily life.
The Blue Angels create a culture of excellence that surrounds, supports and nourishes them.
The Blue Angels transcend expectations; they continually improve, innovate, and seek higher levels of performance.
Foley says the biggest excuse companies make for not employing a debrief is that it takes too much time. He believes if it would become a habit though, it would actually save time because it would prevent people from repeatedly making the same mistake. Sort of reminds me of that phrase, “If you don’t have time to do it right, then when will you have the time to do it over?”
Navy Seals’ after-action reviews
Former Navy Seal Brandon Andrews goes around the country sharing the principles and practices of the Navy Seals with business leaders. For Seals there are two kinds of “after actions.” Informal and formal. Informal reviews are largely to critique individual training runs and formal reviews are reserved for larger training exercises or important missions. The formal reviews involve the larger leadership team and are documented for the benefit of future platoons.
The informal review is structured around 3 basic questions:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go well?
- What’s going to be done to get it fixed for the next time?
After-actions are happening constantly for the Seals. It happens thousands of times because the teams may do 40 – 50 runs a day and the reviews happens each one. The team gathers quickly to review without the need for any write-ups. It’s just a constant focus on continuous improvement.
The leader of the informal review helps navigate the conversation to answer those 3 important questions. Usually, the leader sets the example by giving his perspective and critiquing himself. The mission and the team come first. By humbling himself in front of the men, everybody feels more comfortable to make sure nothing gets left unsaid.
The philosophy of these sessions is powerful. “Let’s all take note of it so no one else makes that mistake, and we don’t have to worry about that ever again.”
The formal after-action reviews are directed by the leader with the most situational awareness of the mission or training run. That person creates a detailed, often chronological agenda based on the nature of the mission or training. It may include a slide deck and other training aids. These sessions are formal because there’s a larger leadership presence in the group. The entire session is documented and plugged into a computer system where it’s available to anybody in the military. That’s so the learning can be shared as widely as possible.
Both the Blue Angels and the Navy Seals understand the power of optimizing these conversations. They devote the time to it because it’s invaluable to their work, and the work of others who can benefit from what they’re learning. Imagine a resource in your company where employees could benefit from the lessons learned by the employees who came before them.
Issue processing for CEOs
The authors review a process that’s been around since the 1950’s. It grew more popular in peer advisory groups in the 1970’s. It’s commonplace today.
CEOs or owners who bring a specific challenge to the group benefit from a formal process that guides the conversation. It’s a realtime case study as opposed to something historical. Too often the initial question addresses a symptom instead of the real challenge. The protocol goes like this…
- The issue is framed in a question that begins with the phrase, “How do I ________?”
- The group then asks clarifying questions
- The issue is then restated to make sure it’s accurate
- The issue is then reframed, if necessary, using the same “How do I ________?” question.
- Suggestions are offered
- Action is promised with a due date
It focuses on the person with the issue. The clarifying questions are asked without judgment or suggestion. Rather, they’re asked to seek deeper understanding of the issue. Sometimes the best question isn’t a question at all, but a request. “Tell me more about that.”
The objective is to get to the root of the issue to make sure the stated issue is THE real issue, not some other hidden one. Sometimes members find they’re asking the wrong question. That knowledge or awareness changes everything. It’s the power of deeper, more structured conversations. The authors cite some examples of this in the book. It’s enlightening when leaders discover how to more accurately view the issue. It’s a bit like trying to fix a problem that isn’t really the problem. Instead of putting a bandage on it the group seeks to find a more permanent remedy for the ailment.
As this chapter points out, the benefit isn’t merely to the person with the issue. The entire rooms benefits as members work through any single issue. Learning how to have these conversations engages members in learning how to approach issues. The shared conversation helps each member distill something they can use and apply to their own lives and businesses. Members may end the conversation with some statement of thanks, similar to the Blue Angels ending with “Glad to be here.”
At the conclusion the person with the issue decides for himself what action he’ll take. His intentions are noted and they’ll be revisited at the next meeting so a culture of accountability can be established and maintained. We’ll look at that in the next chapter, chapter 8
Variations on a theme
The issue processing protocol is a framework designed to slow people down to accurately think about what they don’t know and what they might need to know before making a decision. There are variations on how this can be done.
One is the fishbowl. This involves starting the conversation with a member and a small number of people inside the circle (the fishbowl) while the other members remain outside the bowl to listen and observe so they can gather data. After a time, those outside the bowl switch places with those inside. Often times the questions get better using this process. It also gives the person with the issue the opportunity to engage with a smaller group of folks in stages rather than working with the whole group at once.
Another approach is the fly on the wall. After clarifying questions have been asked and answered the member backs away from the conversation and sits silently to listen. The rest of the members engage in a no-holes-barred conversation about the issue and what’s really happening. No matter the comments, the member with the issue understands that this level of honest feedback is supremely rare. They also understand it comes from a place of real care and concern for the member’s welfare. After 20 minutes or so, the person with the issue rejoins the conversation. It provides a powerful way of helping the member look at some aspects of the situation that she may not have confronted during earlier meetings.
A third method involves dividing the group into different perspectives. This works well with larger groups. The group may be divided into 3 subgroups with each group tackling one aspect of the issue from a particular perspective. The groups gather independently from one another. The member with the issue doesn’t engage in the conversation but rather roams from room to room listening and observing. After a period of time, the entire group rejoins and each subgroup share their perspective. That way the entire group may have covered the issue from three different perspectives (for example, company, individual and family).
No matter what issue has been processed and no matter who brought it forth, sometimes the smart guide will end by asking the people in the group, “Okay, if you were the one who had to solve this problem, what recommendations would you give yourself?”
The four dimensions
When you combine emotional safety and confidentiality with an intellectual process designed to get at the heart of the issue and elicit honest advice from different perspectives, you create collegiality and a bond that enriches the total experience.*
*People sometimes ask me if I’m selling a product or service. In spite of the fact that I love selling and think it’s honorable, I’m really not selling anything. I’m inviting people to an experience! The experience is to become the member of a group unlike anything most people have ever experienced or had before – a group of their peers – people pursuing what they’re pursuing, business success as an owner. A group that will support, encourage and help them without reservation or expectation. A group that will provide the experience because that’s the entire purpose for their existence! To help each other grow and accelerate that growth, professionally and personally. A group where every single member has skin in the game and a full commitment to give as much and get as much as possible from the experience. That’s what THE PEER ADVANTAGE by Bula Network is all about. Visit ThePeerAdvantage.com to learn more and apply today.
The four dimensions are intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual. The authors quote Cecelia Wooden of the Hay Group who commented about the power of CEO peer advisory.
There’s certainly the intellectual dimension that is augmented by a group of smart people sharing different experiences and perspectives. The emotional dimension comes from feeling safe to be vulnerable. The camaraderie creates the social dimension, which I believe adds to a person’s multidimensionality. Finally, I would suggest that there’s a certain spirituality that occurs as a result of fully actualizing your peers, being able to not only emotionally connect with them, but also to have your core values expanded. I regard this as more spiritual than emotional. I’m not talking about religiosity, but spirituality. What is the spirit within me that has grown as a result of those core values, and how can I understand that spirit more? That’s even deeper than the emotional bonds that so often occur in such a group. The degree to which you can learn to look at yourself and your core values through a lens of others, and open yourself to whatever you believe, is amazingly powerful.
Next time we’ll dive into chapter 8, Be Accountable.
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