Whataboutism

Whataboutism is the common term for a version of the tu quoque fallacy, a diversionary tactic to shift the focus off of an issue and avoid having to directly address it by twisting criticism back onto the critic and in doing so revealing the original critic’s hypocrisy.

Whataboutism often results in a comparison of issues as pure deflection. We see it when individuals are always focused on why others get ahead and they don’t, looking for comparisons and reasons they are being treated unfairly instead of focusing on their own opportunities for improvement. It is so easy to use when we are faced with criticism, “Well, what about … ?”

We also see whataboutism in our cultures. Maybe it is a tendency to excuse your own team’s shortcomings because obviously the sins of another team is so much worse. This is a result of, and strengthens, silo-thinking.

Building the feedback process to reduce and eventually eliminate whataboutism is critical.

Drive Out Fear on International Workers Day

Happy International Workers Day. Let’s celebrate by Driving Out Fear!

Thirty-five years ago Deming wrote that “no one can put in his best performance unless he feels secure.” Unfortunately, today we still live in a corporate world where fear and management by fear is ubiquitous. That fear is growing after more than a year of a global pandemic. As quality professionals we must deal with it at every opportunity.

Fear undermines quality, productivity, and innovation. The existence of fear leads to a vicious downward spiral.

Some sources of fear include:

  • Competition: Many managers use competition to instill fear. Competition is about winners and losers. Success cannot exist without failure. Managers deem the anxiety generated by competition between co-workers a good thing as they compete for scarce resources, power and status. Therefore, management encourage competition between individuals, between groups and departments and between business units.
  • “Us and Them” Culture: The “us and them” culture that predominates in so many organizations proliferated by silos. Includes barriers between staff and supervisors.
  • Blame Culture: Fear predominates in a blame culture. Blame culture can often center around enshrining the idea of human error.

We drive out fear by building a culture centered on employee well-being. This is based on seven factors.

FactorMeansObtained by
ResponsibilityWell defined responsibilities and ownershipThe opportunity an employee has to provide input into decision making in his department
An individual employees’ own readiness to set high personal standards
An individual employee’s interest in challenging work assignments
The opportunity an employee has to improve skills and capabilities
Excellent career advancement opportunities
The organization’s encouragement of problem-solving and innovative thinking
Management CompetenceManagers trained with skills that lend themselves to contributing to the work of their team ensures that they will be looked to for help. Managers need to be able to guide.Direct Supervisor/Manager Leadership Abilities Management is engaged and leads by example (Gemba walks)
Management by Facts
ConsiderationWhen managers act as if employees have no feelings and just expect them to do their work as if they are robots, it can make employees uneasy. Such behavior makes them feel detached and merely a tool to carry out an end. In such environments, many times the only times employees hear from the manager is when something goes well or really bad. In either case, the perception could be that the manager has mood swings and that also adds to the employee’s insecurity. They may feel reluctant to talk to their manager for fear he is in one of his bad moods.Senior Management’s sincere interest in employee well-being
An individual employee’s relationship with their supervisor
Open and effective communication
Trust in management and co-workers
CooperationThe feeling that every person is on their own to look out for their interest is a sad state to be in. Yet when everyone has a fear that the other workers will take advantage of them or make them look bad at the first opportunity, a selfish and insecure environment will result. Employees should be able to work together for the benefit of the company. They should focus on group goals in addition to their personal goals, recognizing that individually there will be failures, but that the whole is more important than the individual parts.Trust Well trained employees Collaboration as a process Organizational culture (psychological safety) Hire and promote the right behaviors & traits to match the culture
FeedbackInformation that is given back to the employee regarding their performance on the job.Know what is expected of them (clear job descriptions)
Effective processes for timely feedback
Recognition
Know their opinion matters
InformationTransparency is critical. When employees know nothing about how a company is doing in terms of where they should be, it is a source of uneasiness. Without that knowledge, for all they know the company could be doing very poorly and that could be a bad thing for everyone. When they have a better sense of where the company is in the scheme of their objectives set by management, it helps them feel more secure. That is not to say it is the news being good or bad that affects their security, but rather the fact that they actually have the news.Strategy and Mission — especially the freedom and autonomy to succeed and contribute to an organization’s success
Organizational Culture and Core/Shared
Values
Feel that their job is important
StabilityEmployees feel more secure when their role does not change frequently and they understand what tomorrow will mean.Job Content — the ability to do what I do best
Availability of Resources to Perform the Job Effectively
Career development – opportunities to learn and grow
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Team Feedback

Research on feedback in teams recognizes the importance of continuous reflection and feedback mechanisms to team success and generally finds that the feedback process is an ongoing dynamic system of performance management rather than an isolated event. Feedback is critical to teams learning.

Four characteristics make feedback effective:

  • Type of feedback: Feedback can describe performance or processes behaviors. Performance feedback contains information about individual or team performance to reinforce good performance or repair poor performance by identifying areas for improvement. Process feedback is information regarding the way one performed a task and did or did not reach expected results.
  • Feedback level: Feedback can target the team as a whole (i.e., team-level feedback), individual team members (i.e., individual-level feedback), or both. In the latter, team members receive information about how the team behaves as a whole along with information about their individual contribution.
  • Feedback valence: The positive or negative evaluation of one’s performance in relation to the goal or standard. In teams, potential benefits of negative feedback might be explained by the activation of goal-striving iterative cycles.
  • Feedback source: Objective (e.g., a measure of delay of delivery) or subjective (i.e., opinion of a source). Feedback-subjective sources can be classified as (a) sources from outside the team (e.g., manager, researcher, expert, and customers) and (b) sources from inside the team (e.g., the team leader debriefing about the feedback or team members who give feedback to each other).

Feedback quality is determined by how specific, well timed, regular, non-threatening, shared, directed at teams it targets, and fairly distributed among team members the feedback is. When feedback meets these criteria, it has been found to be most effective.

Most feedback models state that feedback can only be powerful when individuals attend to and perceive this feedback as being relevant, meaningful, and useful. Conversely, if team members perceive feedback as being unrelated to actual performance, irrelevant, or inaccurate, or do not pay attention to cues presented in the feedback, they are likely to disregard, discount, or reject this feedback. If feedback perception is favorable for team members, and if individual perceptions are externalized in the team and shared among team mem-bers (i.e., team perception), teams as a whole will likely engage in interactions during which they will collectively make sense of the feedback and plan changes accordingly.

We live in the age of culturally heterogeneous teams, defined as two or more individuals from different cultural backgrounds who pursue a common goal, work on interdependent tasks, require social interaction, share responsibility for a team product, and have clear differentiated responsibilities and roles. Teams with members from various cultures can provide a broader range of perspectives, task-related knowledge, abilities, and skills. However, culturally related individual differences in social behavior, communication, and cognition can greatly increase the complexity of intra-team dynamics.

Empathy and Feedback as part of Quality Culture

Many of us have had, or given, a talk about how we can learn from children in how to communicate, whether it is being thoughtful in our relationships or learning to adapt and be resilient, or some other point.

Zach Weinersmith, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

What we are really talking about how communicating empathetically is essential, including to building a quality culture and it is a key part of change management.
People need to feel respected and have a sense of self-worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative, and committed to their work and to appropriately engage in quality culture.

I am not going to pretend to be an expert on empathy. I think it is fair to say that is still (always) one of my key development areas. That said, I think a core skill of any quality leader is that of giving feedback.

People need to feel respected and have a sense of self-worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative, and committed to their work.

To provide good feedback focus on doing the following:

  • Focus on facts.
  • Respect and support others. Even when people aren’t performing their best, they need to feel your support and to know that they’re valued.
  • Clarify motives. Don’t jump to conclusions. Keep others’ self-esteem in mind, and you’ll be more likely to ask, “What can you tell me about this error?” instead of, “Don’t you care about quality?”

When someone has done a good job, succeeded at a task, or made a contribution, you want to enhance that person’s self-esteem. Some ways to do that are to:

  • Acknowledge good thinking and ideas. Demonstrations of appreciation encourage people to think and contribute, and they support innovation and intellectual risk taking.
  • Recognize accomplishments. People need to hear specifically what they’ve done to contribute to the team’s or organization’s success. This encourages them to sustain or exceed expectations.
  • Express and show confidence. Voicing your trust and then calling on people to show what they can do boosts their confidence and their feelings of self-worth.
  • Be specific and sincere. When you describe in detail what people do well and why it’s effective, they know exactly what you’re recognizing.

Nothing can deflate people’s confidence faster than telling them they’re responsible for something, and then doing it yourself. Conversely, when you provide support without removing responsibility, you build people’s sense of ownership of the task or assignment as well as the confidence that they can accomplish it. When you use this Key Principle, remember to:

  • Help others think and do. Provide your support in two ways: Help others think of ideas, alternatives, and solutions, then support them so that they can execute the plan.
  • Be realistic about what you can do and keep your commitments. Remember that you don’t have to do it all, but be sure to do whatever you agree to.
  • Resist the temptation to take over—keep responsibility where it belongs.

Many quality individuals tend to be action oriented and task driven, so keeping responsibility where it belongs can take resolve, even courage. You might have to overcome the protests of a team member who is reluctant to stretch into new areas or even brave objections from a key manager about your decision to support others rather than take over.

Feedback Conversation Structure

Open

In the OPEN step you ensure that the discussion has a clear purpose and that everyone understands the importance of accomplishing it.

  • Always state purpose and importance clearly in the discussion opening.
  • If you initiate the discussion, explain what you would like to accomplish and why.
  • If someone else is leading the discussion, ask questions if necessary to pinpoint the purpose and importance.
  • Cite how accomplishing the purpose would benefit others in the discussion.
  • Ask if there are any related topics to discuss.

Clarify

There are two types of information to seek and share in this step: facts and figures and issues and concerns. Both are essential to building a complete picture of the situation.

  • Facts and figures are the basic data and background information that people need to understand the situation and make informed decisions.
  • Exploring issues and concerns provides insight into potential barriers to achieving your purpose. It also helps reveal people’s feelings about the situation, which is valid, important information to gather.

Develop

When developing ideas, it’s important to ask questions and include others in the process. Most likely, you’ll have ideas about what to do, and you should share them. However, you should put equal emphasis on seeking others’ ideas. Involving people in thinking about alternative approaches can:

  • Spark their creative energy.
  • Result in more and better ideas than you alone could generate.
  • Build commitment to turning ideas into action.

Agree

It’s important that you and the people involved agree on a plan for following through on the ideas that were developed and for supporting those who will take action. During this step:

  • Specify what will be done, who will do it, and by when.
  • Agree on any follow-up actions needed to track progress in carrying out the plan.
  • Be sure to agree on needed resources or support.

Close

This is the final chance to make sure that everyone is clear on agreements and next steps and committed to following through. Closing discussions involves a summary of actions and agreements as well as a check on the person’s or team’s commitment to carrying them out.