When People Are The Afterthought


A long time ago I lived in a little beautiful house in Lakewood, New Jersey.

My best memories of growing up are in that house.

·      Zayde letting go of my bike as I finally “got” how to ride
·      Feeding the birds on the back stoop with my Dad
·      Birthday party with Raggedy Ann & all my friends, in the basement.

One day I bopped through the front door and confronted my mother. She told me to sit down.

“We’re moving,” she said. “Go pack your things.”

“When?”

“Now.”

It wasn’t that moving was the worst thing in the world.

It was that they didn’t tell me until AFTER the whole deal was done.

And my confidence, my little world, melted around me.

The daughter of an IT consultant, it wasn’t the last time I moved and I became a bit of an Army brat. Learned to jump in and swim wherever I was.

But the feeling never left me: Don’t trust anyone – especially not anyone in power. Because no matter how nice they are or how much they “love” you, in the end you never know what they’re going to do.

Another experience challenged this view. It happened 30 years later.

I was working in my first high-level job. Professional communication. Lucrative, Madison Avenue. But terribly unstable, like all high-flying jobs. Everything was subject to someone’s favor, the next internal project, winning the next big client.

For awhile, with G-d’s help, we rode the dot-com boom. We seemed very successful. My boss traveled around the world giving speeches that I wrote. I gave interviews to the Chicago Tribune and other major media outlets about the marketing research we did. We had a content partnership with Reuters. I wrote a column for a European marketing magazine. Everything seemed grand.

But of course this gig did come to an end.

It’s the curse of the private sector – you can win big but lose equally as big or more, and in no time.

The difference in this case was that I knew about it way in advance. My boss foresaw that it was coming, encouraged me to prepare, and generally cushioned the blow.

My boss was an extremely high-level executive and had better things to do with her time than deal with me. But the fact that she did take the time to be a human being, and to stand in the place where I stood, helped tremendously to soften the blow.

When you’re working on a project that messes with someone’s life – it changes their processes, it affects how their work is presented to the world, it affects their duties, or it could even result in their firing – it is tempting to avoid confronting them directly.

It is tempting to drop the hit on a Friday, give people the weekend to get drunk, imagine they are throwing darts at your effigy, then pick up on Monday as if nothing had occurred.

That would be the wrong thing to do.

You have to tell people what is going on in advance.

This does not mean that you stop the project, the process or the change.

It does mean that you grant them the respect and the dignity that they deserve.

Just like in a marriage, when someone is not happy – the other partner has a right to be spoken to, worked with, and not just come home to find the closet half-empty and a good-bye note on the pillow.

You may argue that notice gives ammo to the evil detractors of all good things. That it gives naysayers time to build their case.

I can’t argue with that.

But then again, it goes back to culture.

If you are the type of organization where nobody can talk, then the voices of powerful naysayers will be disproportionately strong. And you’re right – too much advance notice can hurt.

On the other hand, if you’ve got an open culture that fosters productive dialogue around change, and that assumes disaster may always lurk around the corner, one more voice of negativity is not going to have much impact. Because there are too many other people talking.

The difference between Culture A and Culture B is really leadership.

While it’s important to have early notice and open dialogue, it’s equally as important to have someone unafraid to steer the ship in a new direction. Someone who says, “I’ve heard your opinion, thank you very much and now we are moving on.”

An organization that combines openness, communication, and firm, reasoned-decision making is well-equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

And it will be full of people who are grateful to be there and want to say.

In the end it’s not feedback that poses a problem. It’s the fear of saying “no” to that feedback that leads to the impulse not to ask questions at all.

Good luck!