Stakeholder Management

Is Feedback Really A “Gift”?

Image Credit: © Jérôme Rommé— stock.adobe.com #223862658

It’s difficult to imagine how any practitioner could improve without seeing, seeking and considering feedback1.  There’s an often cited phrase that you’ve probably heard before, it’s the kind that adorns LinkedIN memes and motivational posters.  It is:

  “Feedback is a gift”

It’s difficult to argue with the underlying intent of this statement—it takes effort for someone to explicitly consider a situation and provide their feedback, and this is something we should be grateful for.  However, in this short blog I want to consider:

  • Is all feedback a gift (is it always consciously given)?
  • Is feedback always a gift?

Most Feedback Is Tacit

Gifts, I would assume, are consciously and explicitly given, they might be wrapped up with a bow added to make them look pretty.  When giving somebody feedback, there is often a similar temptation—feedback is (quite rightly) packaged into a neat box using words that are deemed constructive and appropriate.  

Yet in many cases feedback is tacit and some may even be unconsciously given.  If you or I were facilitating a workshop and  80% of the attendees didn’t return after a short coffee break then that is a form of feedback!.  The people leaving are sending a signal, even though they may not consciously be intending to provide ‘feedback’. The fact you are reading this article now (as opposed to other articles on this blog) is a form of feedback; indeed there’s an entire discipline behind understanding web analytics and continually optimising websites.

The trouble with tacit feedback is:

Cartoon Villain Or Just Misunderstood? : Don’t Judge a Stakeholder By Their Actions Alone

Image Credit: © durantelallera — stock.adobe.com #301727597

Defining and implementing change is an inherently human endeavour, and working closely with stakeholders is a crucial part of the BA role.  Different stakeholders will, quite naturally, have different perspectives on the various situations that we find ourselves trying to change and improve.   This will be no surprise to anyone reading this blog—I am certain we’ve all worked in situations where there has been stakeholder disagreement and we’ve probably all worked with individuals who seem to have ulterior motives.

When analysing the stakeholder landscape it’s very tempting to start assessing stakeholders by their actions.  This may seem a completely logical approach, after all as the saying goes “actions speak louder than words”.    

The trouble is that people are somewhat more complex than we might imagine, and if we judge people by their actions alone, without speaking with them to gain their perspective, then we risk making assumptions that may prove to be completely wrong.  “Ah, that stakeholder is rejecting all of my meeting requests therefore they must be completely uninterested in the project.” Well that might be true; equally they might be swamped with work, recovering from a long-term illness or balancing some other urgent non-work tasks alongside their project obligations.  Just because something is possible and maybe even plausible doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

Beware The ‘Cartoon Villain’

The Obviousness Trap: Double Yellow Lines And The Danger Of Unrecognised Misunderstandings

Progressing change is an inherently human endeavour.  It doesn’t really matter how slick a change ‘process’ is, if people aren’t on-board with a common understanding of what needs to change then the initiative is unlikely to be as successful as it otherwise could have been. One challenge that we face when working with others is… 

The Tricky Question of “Purpose”

When creating or ‘improving’ some kind of product, business process or service, a question that will often crop up is that of purpose.  We might (quite logically) ask what the underlying purpose of the thing is, and we might even be tempted to define some kind of measures around what ‘success’ looks like.

As outlined in my previous article, what ‘success looks like’ is very likely to vary depending on who we ask.  It stands to reason that the perceived purpose (i.e. what ‘ought’ to be) is likely to vary too.  Ask ten people what an insurance company’s primary purpose ought to be and you’ll get ten different answers—probably all of which are valid.  (“Make money”, “protect policyholders”, “provide information so as to reduce risk” might be three possibilities).  If the insurance company is to be successful an ‘accommodation’ 1 between a range of possible and valid perspectives is likely to emerge.  Lurch too far to one extreme and the viability of the organisation comes into question.  The challenge is understanding which perspectives are key—which form environmental constraints (e.g. regulation) and which others lead to strategic choices (e.g. which markets or customer segments to focus on).

These types of considerations apply at a more granular level also.  Not only can we ask ‘what is the purpose of this company’ we can also ask ‘what is the purpose of this product/service/process’.  Almost certainly the same types of differences in perspective will occur.  Don’t believe me?  Ask three people what the underlying purpose of the “Issue parking ticket when someone has parked illegally” process is (i.e. why it is done).  You’ll likely get a range of opinions from “make money”, “increase safety” or “to ensure the rule of law is respected”. 

Gulls, Shellfish and Change: The Change Profession Needs More Empathy

A few days ago I was walking around Canoe lake in Southsea, lost in my own thoughts.  I felt a sudden adrenaline rush as I involuntarily slowed down and swerved to avoid a small object that had dropped from above, followed by a bird (a gull) that swooped down to retrieve it.  I was taken aback; I’d probably walked past gulls doing this hundreds of times before but had never consciously thought about what they were doing and why.  It was only because I nearly collided with one of them that my attention was drawn to it!

Gull next to a shellfish
Gull eating a shellfish

I paused for a second and watched from the side-lines.  There are at least two varieties of gulls that swoop down into the water and retrieve shellfish (some sort of clam or muscle). The shellfish, understandably, aren’t keen on this encounter so tend to have their shells in the ‘closed’ protective position.  The gulls have figured out that the concrete besides the lake can be used as a tool for opening the shells.  A shell dropped from high enough will open or shatter, leaving a tasty morsel for the gull to enjoy.

Perspectives and Evaluation: Important for Change

Connection, Community and COVID-19

Wherever you are in the world, it is highly likely that your routine has been disrupted by restrictions on movement that have been implemented to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  There have been a whole range of significant changes thrown at citizens throughout the world, with relatively short notice.  I suspect it has been (and will continue to be) a period of adjustment for all of us.

I live in the UK, and like most of the population, I am pretty much confined to my home.  We are (currently) permitted to leave the house once per day for exercise, providing strict rules around physical distancing are observed.  I am someone who feels a lot better for exercising daily, so I’ve been leaving the house early (before most people are awake) and going for a brisk walk.   I’ve found myself falling into a routine—I tend to take the same route and around the same time each day.   Perhaps subconsciously I am finding comfort in the fact that this routine is something I can control… for now at least!

Canoe Lake
Image: Picture of Canoe Lake

After a few days of following the same route at the same time, I started to recognise the same people at certain points.  One person does aerobic exercises near a war memorial; another feeds the swans at Canoe lake (a constructed lake near the seafront).  There’s a person who jogs around Canoe lake, another that roller-blades, and there’s me who walks anti-clockwise around the lake five times before heading off.  At this time of the morning, everyone is acutely aware of the need to maintain a safe distance from each other.  New etiquette has emerged on crossing to the other side of the path to maintain at least 2 metres distance.

Emergent Connection and Community

Decision Making: Context Is Crucial

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 6 min read
Picture of an open-air music concert
Image Credit: © Africa Studio — stock.adobe.com #119408486

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was a teenager, a group of friends and I made the trek from Portsmouth to London to attend a one-day open-air music festival.  We had been looking forward to the event for months and we’d spent a fair amount of time planning our journeys to ensure we could get there on time and (crucially) also get home.  I remember one of my friend’s parents was a classic car fan and had offered to drive us in his restored Lincoln Continental (a car you virtually never see in the UK), but we decided to get the train instead.  As an adult looking back this seems like a crazy decision (seriously, who wants to be on a train when you can be practically chauffeur driven?!). However, part of the fun was being independent and travelling “sans-parents” for a day—it was an absolutely logical decision given what we valued at the time.  A reminder that what is the “right” decision really does depend on what those affected by the decision find valuable….

Sunburnt And Sleeping On A Platform

Confessions of a BA: Deleting my ‘CYA file’

Image Credit: © Africa Studio — stock.adobe.com #188432485

Back in the dim and distant past, I worked in a highly political organisation.  In reality I suspect anywhere there are humans there will be politics, but this organisation had such prolific politicking it was on another level.  With so much political posturing—particularly from middle-managers—I felt really exposed as a BA.   After all, as BAs we are usually facilitating change, and quite often the sort of change that will affect the ‘empires’ of those that are playing the political game.  I started to experience situations where certain stakeholders would have ‘momentary losses of memory’ — they would have agreed to something verbally the previous day, but then all of a sudden they couldn’t recall that conversation at all.   Curious.

Being a BA in the Screen-Scrolling Economy: Business Analyst as Stakeholder Advocate

Social Media Emoji Masks Over People's Faces: Surprised, Smiling, Happy, Hearts
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There is little doubt that social media platforms have created new ways for people to interact with each other. Whether it’s staying in touch with friends, exchanging holiday snaps or “debating” the day’s hot political issues with strangers, there’s bound to be a place for it somewhere in the social-mediasphere.  In fact, if you are ever feeling brave, scroll down into the comments sections of most news articles.  Often there is a treasure-trove of opinion, ranging from well-considered and well-considered arguments and counter arguments, right through to knee-jerk assertions from people who have done little more than read the headline. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and this type of forum provides a useful space for debate.

I was recently drawn into reading the comments section on an article about snow (a relatively rare occurrence in the South of the UK, and one that tends to hit the transport infrastructure fairly hard). The comments ranged from constructive ideas, through to moral outrage, through to individuals expressing clear objection to certain political ideologies.   To a certain extent, this makes sense, but I suspect that of the hundreds of authors of those comments, precisely (or nearly) zero:

Rucksack Rules: What A High-School Bag Tells Us About BA Identity

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 5 min read
Picture of a student wearing a rucksack on one shoulder
Image Credit: © AntonioDiaz — stock.adobe.com #66584536

Although it was more years ago than I like to admit, I can still firmly remember my time at high-school (or ‘senior school’ as we call it here in the UK).  As with most schools, there were cliques and divisions, and it was a time when everyone was finding their identity and trying to prove how ‘cool’ they were.  As is common in the UK, my school had a prescribed uniform, so there were very few ways that identity could be outwardly expressed.  Some people chose to shorten their ties (rebels!), and others covered their exercise books in colourful wallpaper (shocking!).  However, one way identity could definitely be expressed was with the type of bag that you carried.