In Defense of Feedback, Gender Equality, and Psychological Safety: Adam Grant Q&A (Part 2)

Grant’s new book, co-written by Sheryl Sandberg, will be released next month.

In part one of our interview with Adam Grant, we talked about why it’s important to hire for cultural contribution as opposed to cultural fit – especially if you want to stamp out groupthink.

Once you have the right people in place to contribute original ideas, what role does continuous feedback play in improving performance across the organization? How can you create an environment that not only promotes gender equality, but also psychological safety and belonging?

Check out the second part of our Q&A with Grant below, where he also shares a bit about his new book with Sheryl Sandberg. If you prefer to listen to the interview, click the play button at the top of this post to listen to the latest episode of WorkHuman Radio.

  

What role do you see continuous feedback from peers and managers play in improving performance and generating more original ideas?

Feedback is critical for anybody who’s trying to do anything original. I don’t think it’s surprising. It’s critical for figuring out if your ideas are any good. One of the most interesting pieces of data I came across when writing Originals is from a former student of mine, Justin Berg. He was interested in how people predict the success of new ideas. He studied circus performers and found that the worst judges of whether a new act was going to be a successful performance for an audience were the artists themselves. If you try to judge your own act in a set of 10, on average, you rank it two slots too high. It’s easy for people to fall in love with their own ideas.

Feedback is where we get other people to hold up a mirror and say, “These are the ones that are promising. These are the ones that are dead on arrival. This is such a horrible idea. You never should have had that thought in the first place.” In Justin’s data, that was clowns. Clowns are universally hated by everyone. Not every performer knew that.

I think that’s where feedback becomes so valuable, is in vetting ideas. Every original person has lots of ideas on the table. You have to rely on other people, especially your creative peers, to help you gauge which ones have the most potential.

 

Why is gender equality still an important issue in the workplace and in the world today?

I think you could make a case that it’s more important today than ever before. Of course, there’s a moral case, right? It’s unjust and unfair that we continue to have equally qualified women passed over for promotions in favor of men, who have been our stereotype of what a great leader is supposed to be.

When Sheryl Sandberg and I first started talking about gender inequality, she asked me some questions that I couldn’t answer about my own data. I had a long flight back from the West Coast to the East Coast, and I reanalyzed a decade of my own datasets. I was stunned to find that, consistently, men who engaged in helping and giving behaviors got rewarded. And when women did the same behaviors, they were taken for granted.

A lot of it is about stereotypes. When a man helps, people say, “Wow, I never would have expected that in a million years. I must now shower you with praise and rewards for not just being ambitious and self-focused.” Whereas, we expect women to be communal and caring.

Similar results played out for voice. When men spoke up with ideas, they were patted on the back. When women spoke up, they were either judged as too assertive and a little bit aggressive, or they were barely heard. Obviously, this is terrible for women, but it’s also bad for organizations.

The business case for diversity is extraordinarily strong. S&P 1500 firms that place a premium on innovations are more likely to do it if they have more women on their top management teams. Gender differences help people look at the world differently. When people are in diverse groups, they also prepare more, because they know it might be a more challenging conversation to get everybody’s ideas on the table. And that’s also good for idea generation. So the evidence is overwhelming that gender diversity can help organizations become more successful.

 

Your next book, Option B, is co-authored by Sheryl Sandberg, and explores the idea of resilience. Can you talk a bit about why some workplaces are more resilient than others?

One of the factors that a lot of evidence supports as critical for building organizational resilience is psychological safety – the sense that you can take a risk and speak up without getting punished. That’s especially important for mistakes and errors.

There’s some research that I love by Amy Edmondson who studied hospitals. At first, she found that the more psychological safety there was in a team, the more errors they seemed to make. It seemed like if you felt your team was a safe place to speak up, then maybe you weren’t as vigilant, and you didn’t double-check each other’s work.

But a closer look at the data showed that all the errors were self-reported. Then Amy brought in a colleague of ours, Andy Molinsky, to do an independent analysis. It turned out that when there was a lot of psychological safety in a team, people reported more errors, but they actually made fewer of them. Once you admit your mistakes, it creates an opportunity for everybody to learn from them.

An example that illustrates this nicely is from Etsy, where when engineers make a mistake, they send an email to their entire team, or sometimes even the whole company, so everybody can learn from it. You want a culture where that’s safe and not going to lead you to get fired or punished, unless you make the same mistake 19 times, which is obviously a problem.

 

What does a more human workplace mean to you?

When I think of a more human workplace, I think about a place where people care about each other as individuals. They don’t just see their colleagues and clients as means to an end. They actually value the relationships in and of themselves.

I don’t know that every workplace is one where you want to see your co-workers as family members. But this is one of the reasons, in a lot of my work, I’ve been so passionate about trying to change cultures of taking into cultures of giving, because when people go to work and feel like other people have their best interests at heart, not only are they more motivated, but they also feel a greater sense of belonging.

When you think about work as the place where most people spend the majority of their waking hours, I think it’s a travesty if people have to check those values at the office door. A truly human workplace as one that is marked by norms of generosity, where people help each other without strings attached, and really look out for whatever they can do to make their colleagues and clients’ lives a little bit better and easier.

Don’t forget, I have a special discount for blog readers – $100 off your registration! Just go to www.workhuman.com and use the code WH17BLG100 when you register.

RELATED POSTS

Adam Grant’s Tips for Hiring and Developing Original Thinkers

3 HR Lessons from Adam Grant

Why “Givers” Matter So Much

Feedback, Inclusion, and Permission to Be Yourself: Q&A with Susan Cain (Part 2)

A Professor’s Take on Employee Engagement

Survey: 93% of Managers Need Training on Coaching Employees

Over the past few months, we’ve run a series of posts covering findings from the latest SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey. To recap, here are the four findings and their respective posts: The top three workforce management challenges faced by organizations today are retention/turnover, engagement, and … Read full posting »

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is Coming to WorkHuman

  One of our favorite parts of planning the agenda for WorkHuman each year is choosing celebrity speakers. In the past, we’ve invited Rob Lowe and Michael J. Fox – both beloved actors who got their start in the 1980s, and both with, perhaps surprisingly, … Read full posting »

Adam Grant’s Tips for Hiring & Developing Original Thinkers

Lots of companies say they want to be innovative and push beyond commonly accepted boundaries in their industry. But is your HR strategy truly supporting this endeavor? Are original thinkers flourishing – or being stifled – in your organization? Are you taking the right steps … Read full posting »

Calling All Students: 3rd Annual WorkHuman Fellowship Essay Contest

  Do you know an undergraduate or graduate student with a passion for building a more inclusive, human workplace? Are you a student who would love to learn from thought leaders like Susan Cain and Adam Grant at WorkHuman 2017? We are thrilled to announce … Read full posting »

How One Company Is Tackling the Turnover Challenge

A few weeks back I wrote about how retention/turnover will be the biggest challenge for HR leaders in 2017. Then Gallup released its State of the American Workplace report, which reveals that 51% of employees are actively looking for a new job or watching for … Read full posting »

Is Employee Appreciation Day Fake News?

Today is Employee Appreciation Day, the one day each year when you’re supposed to throw a party and thank your employees for all the hard work and dedication they’ve shown your company the other 364 days a year. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting … Read full posting »

3 Programs Adopted By Award-Winning Workplaces

  With all the buzz surrounding the Oscar winners this week, I wonder what the equivalent of the Oscars is in the HR world? Having your company named as a best place to work is certainly a highlight for any HR team working to create … Read full posting »

Feedback, Inclusion, and Permission to Be Yourself: Q&A with Susan Cain (Part 2)

In part one of our Q&A with author and WorkHuman speaker Susan Cain, we talked about the misconception that introverts are not as ambitious or as inspiring as leaders. If we think about coaching and managing quieter people, what are the best ways to deliver … Read full posting »

Announcing WorkHuman Radio – Listen to Episode 1

The WorkHuman movement has grown tremendously since the inaugural conference back in 2015. We’ve learned so much from our speakers along the way – from Tim Leberecht’s thoughts on what it means to humanize work, to Dr. Robert Emmons’ research on gratitude, and Steve Pemberton’s … Read full posting »