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Panta rhei

Now that we are slightly recovering from the financial crisis, the ashes of an Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name turned our world upside down this week. Last weekend, the top man of a company for which we had the chance to organize a three-day workshop in Wallonia, had to come from the South of Spain to Belgium by cab, in order to attend our workshop. And yet, we had told those Icelanders: 'send us cash, not ash!'… :-) Just when you think that you can slow down a little bit, something unexpected always happens. In my opinion, the moral of this story is that change is our only certainty. Everything is moving. Or, like Heraclitus put it so nicely 500 years before Christ: 'panta rhei'; everything flows.

Successful companies are able to quickly anticipate external evolutions all the time. Think about the Taiwanese company HTC that manages again and again to introduce brand new lines with mobile phones on the market after a few months. It has an ultra short time-to-market of new products. However, many organizations tend to focus more internally after a while. This seems to be a gradual and imperceptible tendency. In the course of time, their gates are being closed more and more. Good market shares or technically superior products can lead to the fact that companies become passive after a while, whereas the outside world has already changed for a long time: 'panta rhei'. This could have important consequences. Think, for instance, of the American car industry which had a very rough time last year, because it lived too long on its old successes and didn’t innovate quickly enough. So, you have to make sure that:

a) you keep an open mind, in order to regularly innovate
b) the quality of your internal communication is good enough, so that your company can adapt itself to changes in the outside world, before it’s too late.

One of the most famous techniques for a better communication is giving feedback. In fact, feedback is nothing more than informing each other according to some rules of conduct, about what you think of someone else’s behavior in the past. I always notice that this does not happen enough. People receiving feedback feel personally attacked and think: ‘I am not good enough’. And the person giving feedback anticipates this by not giving it anymore, because (s)he is afraid to be personally attacked in return or because (s)he thinks that (s)he is harming their personal relationship this way. Actually, we should thank someone who dares to give us feedback! Unfortunately, it happens totally differently in practice. I experienced it myself during the years in which I had the chance to be a leader. Eventually, I became director. Every year, I had to do more efforts to know how people really thought about situations. 'It's lonely at the top of the house' is a true statement, unfortunately.

A second problem with regard to feedback is that it concerns the past. Nobody can change the past. So, feedback is in fact a negative conversation technique to discuss things that can not be changed anymore. My opinion is that people especially find it difficult to give feedback. This is why it happens so rarely. Discussing the future is much more useful because the future is something we can have an impact on. Moreover, people who have to give it, encounter fewer difficulties to do it. In recent years, this technique became more and more popular and it is known as 'feed forward'.

During the following weeks, I will discuss the feed forward technique in detail. For now, I wish you a sunny weekend!


By Paul Donkers

"my purpose is to help improve strategy execution, to create high performing teams and coach for effective business leaders"

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