Creating an Observer Culture: From harmful hearsay to an open feedback culture

Observer
Courtesy Prawney @ Morguefile

Leaders need observers

In a world of information overload, a leader’s ability to be the sole key observer in keeping an organization abreast of trends, innovations, and market changes is diminishing. There is an ever-increasing multiplicity of social, economic, technological, environmental, and political factors impacting business. Leaders depend on the keen observation of others. How can a leader maximize the benefit of what is being observed?

The observer obsession

According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, the verb observe is to notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant. Do what employees deem significant match what management deems to be? Collective opinions matter. To add some perspective, on just one day there are on average 500 million tweets and 95 million pictures and videos shared on Instagram. Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. (Source: The Social Skinny).  What do these mindblowing numbers mean for leaders?

Observer bias

The Cambridge Dictionary defines an observer as a person who watches what happens but has no active part in it. Are observers always able to remain objective and/or independent of what is being observed? Take a brief moment to look at comments on any social media site; division and divisiveness appear to be on the rise. At any level of an organization, including the executive, individuals are both subjective and objective observers. Leaders encouraging objective observation focus on organization-oriented outcomes as opposed to those that are driven by special interest. A leader’s job is to not only be aware of his or her own observer bias but also that of others.

Forget water cooler chat

According to a two-year-old Pew Research poll, 86% of US adults aged 18-29 are social media users. With every new young hire comes a prospective employee who is used to regularly sharing observations on various social platforms.  Employees want to share their observations. And organizations can profit. How can leaders improve the quality of employee observations?

 The idle mind is the devil’s playground

Unfocused observers can go rogue, using information for selfish gain and harming others, creating a toxic gossip-filled work environment. Social networking policies are restrictive and punitive in nature. Their sole use to deter unproductive social media chitchat promotes a secretive and covertly defiant workforce. What is the point of observing if not to share with your followers? Organizations need to address the root of the problem. Is there a better way to reel in the idle mind?

Focus the observer

Give your employees something you want them to observe! This also tests their mindset to see if they are in line with the organization’s mission and purpose. When employee attention is focused observations become more targeted. This is how organizations reap the rewards from an ever-growing observer workforce. Focus the observer’s attention on a specific goal, service, or product. Always have employee attention clearly directed toward developing the organization and enhancing its performance and purpose. Are your employees currently focused on improving desired organizational outcomes? If not then how can you shift their focus?

Focused observers create an open feedback culture

When management seeks clear observations from its employees, deleterious chitchat wanes. Innate pro-social behaviors kick in. Believe it or not, people want to work together. Everyone benefits from a culture that promotes pro-social interactions. A group of focused observers creates a peer culture that derives constructive feedback and not harbor toxic rumors. Safety to verbally contribute increases. Speaking up is now associated with sharing an innovate idea or an improvement of some kind. Making your voice heard now brings the organization forward and not a colleague under. Feedback becomes solution-oriented. Possibilities become the focus and not what is not possible. An open feedback culture with focused observers creates an atmosphere of collaboration and collective wisdom sharing. Which organization doesn’t want that?

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

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