Conditioning Customers

Ford: Rebuilding an American Icon tells of the company’s comeback after its largest-ever loss of $12.7 billion in 2006. At the helm of its turnaround was Alan Mulally — who faced quality concerns by embracing criticism from Consumer Reports. When he says the following, it’s not some fancy quote to float — it’s a mindset that makes all the difference in the world:

We’re gonna seek to understand before we seek to be understood

This 2:20 scene shows what serious-minded leaders look like (and not just Mulally). Ya gotta hand it to the great-grandson of Henry Ford for having the humility to see what was best for the company by putting the right person in place:

Mulally didn’t invent the phrase — but his version flows a bit better than Stephen Covey’s from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The synopsis for the “seek to understand” tenet is as follows:

Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.

You’ve really gotta be listening to pick up on criticism when it comes from the inflection of a single word. In telling a new colleague about my approach on a project, he replied, “Interesting!”

I picked up on the veiled criticism and asked to hear what he really had to say.

I thought I had a good idea — until he opened my eyes to a much better one. I ditched mine and adopted his — retooling my work over one weekend.

One word was all that was needed to spark my curiosity to inquire. From a lifetime of practice, embracing criticism (harsh or otherwise) — is as easy for me as it is difficult for others.

I thirst for the value to be found on the other side of offense — so even if my pride is momentarily hurt, I’m gonna plow right through that to reap the rewards of awareness.

That friend and former colleague recently told me that he benefitted from sharing that experience in an interview for a management position. Nice to know that I could play a part in his future — after he’s spent so long playing a part in mine.

it takes two to pull that off

All the constructive criticism in the world wouldn’t have a prayer without someone listening on the other end.

There’s a mutual responsibility in communication — and “interesting” embodies the best of that bargain. What happened on the death-knell call is worlds away from that. Inside of 60 seconds, Mike turned it around on me — which is how he handles any threat to his throne.

That “threat” is not to his job — it’s the puncturing of the vacuum of how he sees himself.

Forget “deep organizational understanding,” with Mike, there was no “why” in search of any understanding. With the ease of one without conscience, he rolled out one ludicrous excuse after another — absolving himself as though his record had disappeared off the face of the Earth.

What they/you don’t understand is . . .

How many times I’ve heard him sling that slogan . . .

Even when I agreed with what he was saying about others, his all-knowingness was off-putting. And pot, meet kettle — as he had no qualms about criticizing business partners for not validating their work (never mind his history of glaringly wrong results).

That is not to suggest that Mike isn’t thorough in a lot of ways — it’s that his thoroughness is exceptional in some areas and woefully inadequate in others.

Now, I know it’s not you and that we’ve got problems with the data.

The very first time I’m talking to Pat — and that’s what she says before she even gets to “hello”? But for the sake of argument, what if it wasn’t “conditioning” in this case?

Why do you think that “conditioning” is what instantly came to mind?

Mike doesn’t ask those kind of questions — not with anything that could possibly put a dent his armor.

So rather than consider how “it’s not you” ties to “I’m not pointing fingers, Mike” — he ignored the clarity of the latter to obfuscate the issue in the fog of the former. I don’t know for a fact that I perceived Pat’s comment correctly — as it is open to interpretation.

“I’m not pointing fingers, Mike” — is not

And hey, anybody can make the mistake of explaining themselves in a way that prompts “I’m not pointing fingers” — but in two consecutive meetings with the same person?

Most people would keep that communication misfire in mind — but the fact that he didn’t, dovetails with how he never absorbs anything from situations that call him into question (in any way, shape, or form). Jennifer was just trying to understand the problem, and her manner was perfectly fine.

But even the slightest hint of something that could be perceived as accusation — and off he goes to defend himself. On both occasions, it was cringeworthy listening to him try to massage the situation.

When she asked a harmless question about the reporting platform, he acted like we needed to call a summit meeting to address it with Dave. I have never worked with anyone who overreacted on such a regular basis.

It was embarrassing — and I felt that way, a lot!

Whether or not I’m right about Pat could only be ascertained from her — and even then, this is not yes/no territory. She might not even realize it.

But it’s irrefutable that Mike has a history of conditioning people to think that the problem is with them before it’s him.

How often he might be right is irrelevant — as that behavior is unprofessional and unwise.

He starts from the position that someone else is wrong and off he goes to prove it. I start from the position that someone brought a problem to my attention — and I have a responsibility to objectively investigate it.

Those were just recent examples — I had nearly 2 years of observations that brought “conditioning” to mind the moment she said, “It’s not you.” This man was hell-bent on being right like nothing I have ever seen in my career — and I’ve been around!

For the waste I have witnessed in over two decades of company-sanctioned self-delusion . . . that speaks volumes.

The Duplicates Deal