Political commentators in the US have argued that Donald Trump’s campaign is a protest one, attracting people who are against things, as opposed to pro something, that is, Republican values. Indeed, the Republican party does not seem to know what to make of many things going on. But the point here is not political, but one of human behaviour. We all are very good at protest, and protest is a great magnet.
Let me qualify ‘protest’. When we run Employee Engagement surveys we take answers as a face value, but an answer may or may not be a true answer. It may be my opportunity to ventilate my anger and annoyance about things that are only collaterally related to the question. We should know that. We know that. But we ignore it and read the scores, because doing anything different will be politically incorrect. After all, we have just invested in the Survey, one that ‘everybody does’, and that is a sign of sound management. (Really?)
Ridiculous feed back forms post-events, that are based upon a desperate an flawed customer worship, ask questions about ‘content relevance’, length of presentations, quality of slides, focus on topic, presentation skills of the presenter, and even ‘expertise’ of the speaker (which magically converts the audience into a panel of expert auditors), but I have hardly ever seen questions about changing your thinking, make you think, aha moments, learning something new, or triggering a different behaviour tomorrow. Those feedback forms are useless as learning platforms and only a source of numerical badges of honour for the organisers. They prostitute the learning event into an entertainment show, and seem to care little about true learning impact.
Many years ago I was invited to speak at a supposedly elite gathering. I had not finished my speech when the organisers started to hand out feed back forms to the tables and delegates started to fill them in. At that point, I ended the talk and walked out of the room. I was younger and less radical. Today I would have stopped as well but asked for a form for myself to rate the audience.
If you want a collective psychotherapeutic and cathartic platform, surveys and feed back systems may do the trick. But don’t automatically associate feed back with learning. They are not married.
To protest, ventilate, whinge and castigate the system, may all be legitimate and sound. As I said before, even therapeutic. The question is are we learning anything? Can we read between lines? Can we interpret the answers?
In any collective action ( and management and leadership are arts of making that happen), the future is built more on pro-something that against-something. Learning comes from many places including mistakes, but not exclusively from mistakes. A list of negatives does not automatically build a positive action plan. Surveys are as good as the questions and how to interpret the answers. The culture of perennial, indiscriminate, automatic pilot feed back, may be disguised as learning but, as in the case of Colossal Employee Engagement Surveys, may end up being a Colossal Distraction that gives us an alibi for harder, tougher, digging in the pursue of the truth.