Jack Zenger is the CEO of Zenger/Folkman, a strengths-based leadership development firm. He is the author and co-author of 13 books including including How To Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths. Here (originally in Forbes), he shares his insights on the value of “Peer Consulting”. How much of your talent and ability do you believe your current organization uses? For the past 50 years I have asked this question of groups of executives and managers—and the average response over the past 50 years has been amazingly consistent.
If the majority of executives and managers thought their company was utilizing a high percentage of their skills and abilities, then it would obviously have significant benefits to both the individuals and their firms. Employees would be more energized and the company would receive greater value from them. There are many elements that influence the degree to which anyone’s skills and talents are utilized, such as the design of the job, the behavior of the previous incumbents, and the energy of the individual putting forth their utmost effort. While there is no Silver Bullet that provides a universal solution, there is one practice that comes close.
The Closest Thing to a Silver Bullet
The one practice that would make a big difference is colleagues more frequently seeking ideas and feedback from each other. The plusses of this solution include:
- Cost effective
- Totally in your control
- A solution in which everyone wins
What are the payoffs?
This practice of seeking feedback from one another benefits all involved.
- Benefits for those who ask others for input:
- Fresh new ideas coming from formerly untapped perspectives.
- Exhibiting a variety of highly valued leadership behaviors, such as humility and openness to the ideas of others.
- Conveying respect for others, which brings the organization closer together.
- Elevating the implementation of the final solution. The person asking others for their ideas is more likely to receive help from them when it comes time to make it all happen.
- Personal growth of the person asking for feedback. Our behavior changes us. Consider that when a person assumes the “Hero pose” with feet apart, chin up, and hands on hips, the level of oxytocin in their blood is elevated. That in turn changes their thinking and emotions. Asking for ideas or feedback from others inevitably escalates the self-confidence and assuredness of the person who does it. Why? It displays strength and confidence, not weakness. Plus, the more someone does it, the easier it gets.
- After consulting with peers, a leader usually feels more confident to make a difficult decision. The combination of having other people concur with your reasoning, plus the reassurance that comes from knowing that you have considered several alternatives, provides the needed push to boldly move ahead.
- Benefits for those who ask others for input:
- Benefits to the person consulted:
- Overcoming the isolation that people often feel, freeing them from the silo that is often built around each functional area.
- Enlarging their sphere of influence, making them a bigger part of the organization.
- Increased feelings of respect and appreciation for their ideas and opinions. In fact, their talents are being used more fully as a result of being asked.
- Broadening their understanding of the organization and the issues it faces.
- It becomes easier for the person who was asked for their observations and ideas to turn around and have the conversation go the other way. A stronger relationship is inevitably formed.
- Organizational benefits:
- Cross-consulting creates a stronger leadership team by utilizing everyone more fully.
- The free-flowing exchange of ideas helps shape a culture of collaboration that replaces competition. The free exchange of feedback becomes a comfortable way of operating.
- Instilling an ethic of teamwork and collaboration.
- Improved retention. The level of being engaged is highly correlated with turnover at all levels.
- Prevents careers being torpedoed.
- In analyzing a number of executives who were terminated by a large consumer packaged food company, the one competency that most predicted who would fail was their lack of “practicing self-development.” Peer consulting is a practical tool for self-development.
Making Peer Consulting Happen
Consistently over the past five decades, executives have expressed that they thought their organization was using only 40% of their talents and ability. No organization should expect that this number will be 90% or 100%—that suggests a perfect fit of the individual into a position that fully utilizes a wide variety of skills and knowledge. But we should not be content with 40%. We should all aspire to have leaders in our organization feel that well more than half of their skills and knowledge are being tapped.
What would cause more peer coaching and consulting to occur? One answer is deceptively simple: Encourage everyone to ask for it. We learn at a young age not to give people unsolicited advice, or gratuitously point out behavior that we think could be improved. Most people are reluctant to volunteer opinions, fearing it might be perceived as criticism or prying into someone else’s business. However, all that changes when someone asks in a sincere manner…..