Can Feedback Create a 'Safe' Work Environment?

Linda Dulye's picture
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responsibility.jpgRegular readers know that one of our favorite regular features on managing in today's workplace is the "Corner Office" series in The New York Times' Business Day section.

Recently Bob Brennan, president and C.E.O. of Iron Mountain, an information management company, was interviewed for the series and gave a thought-provoking answer to the question "what's your approach to leadership?":

I think businesses are going through this transformation where command-and-control leadership is dead. The problem is, a lot of managers haven't been told this. They are very much in a command-and-control reflex. That's what they've learned. … So it's important for us to establish a framework that says, "Here's how we want you to behave." For instance, you need to seek constructive feedback on your performance from the people who report to you. We're not talking about 360 reviews once a year. It should be a constant dialogue in one-on-ones about how can I improve my game? If I'm not seeking that feedback, I'm creating an unsafe environment for you.

How's that for provocative? Brennan goes on to explain why believes the word "unsafe" is the right one to describe work environments in which feedback is not sought or accepted.

[I]f I'm reviewing your work, but I'm not asking you to collaborate with me and review mine. That would presume that I'm fine with the way I'm performing, yet I've been sitting here offering constructive or destructive feedback on your performance. There's no symmetry to the conversation. Does that feel safe to you? I don't think that's safe.

In this interview Brennan describes a culture at Iron Mountain in which feedback and candor are encouraged -- and defensiveness is not. Read the article for yourself and tell us what you think.

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