Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Goal Was Success, So We Accepted the Awful Truth

In 1994 my company introduced an innovative multi-source feedback system called 20/20 Insight. It was used by over a million people in virtually every kind of organization around the world, and it’s still in use today. In the spirit of “walking our talk,” we decided to use it in our own company to give each other feedback.

It was an enlightening process. We learned some new things about our product, and we learned some important things about ourselves. According to the feedback I received from my partners and employees, my lowest-rated performance area was “listening.” In a meeting, they affirmed this result.

To be honest, I was shocked. I was a trained listener. I had studied the best books about listening. I had trained countless managers myself and had written all our content on listening. I had been consciously practicing active listening for 20 years. My first thought was, “What they’re saying can’t be valid.” I was in denial.

However, I’m a realistic person, and I prefer to accept the way things are as quickly as possible. But I must say, I felt a little bit of anger, bargaining and depression before I finally acknowledged that I needed to work on being a better listener. I took their feedback seriously and made a dedicated effort to practice in my behavior what I knew in my head. After months of effort and a couple more rounds of feedback, I ultimately succeeded. I’m a much better listener now.

Today, our company’s new product is called ProStar Coach. It’s like an online virtual gym for developing people skills and personal strengths. When we circulated it to selected companies for testing, one of the initial reports took us by surprise. Some of the testers said they disliked the graphics, which used variations of an upbeat cartoon rabbit. We had invested over $10,000 to create a positive and playful tone to balance the seriousness of the content. We wanted users to find the product welcoming, not intimidating.

I didn’t want to accept what these people were telling us. “We can’t please everybody,” I said. “Some people like the rabbits. Not everyone has the same sense of humor. The rabbits are cool. Most people will like them.”

But the feedback kept coming back negative. I got past my anger, bargaining and depression and accepted the fact that the rabbits were not a good fit for the business world. Too many managers were put off, complaining that the visuals seemed juvenile. In the end I said, “It is what it is. Our designer did a great job on the rabbits, they’re exactly what we asked for, but they’ve got to go.”

Once we acknowledged the truth, we quickly obtained the kind of upbeat images that we knew managers would favor. It only took a few days to replace the rabbits, and it vastly improved the look and feel of our new product.

A Fortune Cookie...

Accept the awful truth, and it will stop haunting you.

The story behind the Fortune Cookies...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


sanzplans said...

Why is it so hard for us sometimes to just acknowledge what we know is true, when it isn't what we want to be true? Probably because we are such imperfect human beings with so much learn!
But I get that the faster you can let yourself deal with reality, the happier, and more successful, you can be. Great story about learning how to listen, and accept, what you were hearing...

Therese Skelly said...

Denny, I love how authentic you are. And you give a great example of listening to your market.
Way to go!

Therese Skelly