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Google CEO Sundar Pichai Asked All Employees 3 Thought-Provoking Questions. It’s a Lesson in How to Handle Criticism

“I would love to get all your help.”

That’s what Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees at an all-hands meeting, as reported by CNBC. Pichai, who spoke about challenges related to a slowing economy, went on to ask Google’s more than 174,000 employees for critical feedback, to help find areas to improve focus and productivity. He then introduced he called a “Simplicity Sprint,” an initiative to crowdsource ideas for improvement from the entire company.

  • What would help you work with greater clarity and efficiency to serve our users and customers?
  • Where should we remove speed bumps to get to better results faster?
  • How do we eliminate waste and stay entrepreneurial and focused as we grow?

These questions are more than a great example of how organizations can benefit from employee feedback, they also teach a lesson in emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. Let’s break down what makes these questions so great, and what you and your business can learn from them.

(If you find value in the lessons presented here, you might be interested in my emotional intelligence course — which includes 20 rules that help you develop emotional intelligence in yourself or in your organization. Check out the course here.)

How to deal with criticism

As individuals, we’re emotionally attached to our work. Sure, we all say we want to grow and improve, but when people actually tell us how, we take things personally. “How dare they criticize me!” we think to ourselves.

We see similar problems on the organizational level. Company leaders say they value transparency and honesty, but most are lying. In many cases, companies are content to simply do things the way they’ve always done them, because that’s the path of least resistance.

But critical feedback is like an unpolished diamond: It’s ugly. But the trained eye knows that with cutting and polishing, that diamond is extremely valuable. When individuals and organizations view criticism through this lens, they can benefit greatly.

And that brings us back to Pichai’s three questions. They’re great for (at least) three reasons, namely:

They’re framed as constructive, instead of critical.

At first glance, Pichai’s questions don’t even look like an invitation for criticism. They are framed simply as “working together” to find areas for improvement. This is helpful because all organizations, and we too, have blind spots. We have processes and habits that need changing.

However, by setting the tone as constructive instead of critical, Pichai helps put everyone on the same team, in pursuit of a single goal. The idea isn’t to point fingers or place blame; the intent is to improve.

They’re specific.

Asking for feedback is one thing, getting the feedback you need is another.

In the book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, coauthors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone advise against using vague questions like “Do you have any feedback on how we can improve?”

Instead, you need to narrow your focus. For example, after a presentation, an employee might ask a teammate, manager, or even a direct report to name one thing they could have done to make that presentation better.

Pichai’s questions use constraints to do the same thing for Google employees. The questions are not just about how to do better, which employees could quickly answer with their pet peeves. Rather, they are constructed in a way that invite careful, thoughtful responses–the kind that will deliver concrete information that can help inform real-world change.

They utilize the IKEA effect.

The term “Ikea effect” first appeared in a research paper published by Harvard Business School, which defined it this way: “When people imbue products with their own labor, their effort can increase their valuation.”

In other words, when you build something yourself, you value it more.

Pichai’s questions employ the IKEA effect, not only because they promote solution-oriented thinking, but because they offer employees the chance to have a hand in crafting those solutions. And just like customers place value on IKEA furniture they build themselves, Google employees will buy more into solutions they actually helped create.

So, as you and your business navigate current economic challenges, remember this lesson from Google and Sundar Pichai’s three questions. Treat critical feedback like a gift, by:

  • Inviting feedback in a way that’s constructive
  • Asking specific questions
  • Utilizing the IKEA effect

If you do, you’ll use emotional intelligence to transform the feedback you receive from a raw, ugly stone to a cut and polished diamond that shines–a diamond that just may save your business.

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