S7E07: "Where's the dissonance?"

An episode of The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast

S7E07: “Where’s the dissonance?”

It's not about having better answers but about having better questions. In this season of The Impact Multiplier CEO podcast, Richard Medcalf and co-host Davina Stanley explore some powerful questions that every CEO, entrepreneur or senior business leader should reflect on. Engage with them fully, and they'll provoke deeper thinking and shift you into a new realm of possibility.

What does it take to move you onto an entirely different trajectory and multiply your impact? And move from incremental improvement to a step change?

In this conversation, you’ll learn:

  • Why it's so important to look for dissonance and disagreement
  • Strategies to overcome confirmation bias
  • How "triangulation" helps us deal with VUCA
  • Where to look for divergent thoughts

"Who's speaking the unwelcome truth?"

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Transcript

Davina Stanley
Hi there, Welcome back. It's Davina Stanley here with Richard Medcalf on The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast. Now, Richard, you've got another curly question for us today. What is it?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we are going to get into another question to help you multiply your impact and this question is, what's the dissonance? And another way of saying it as well is who's speaking the unwelcome truth? So what's the dissonance and who's speaking, the unwelcome truth?

Davina Stanley
How often is the unwelcome truth, the very best truth you've been given in a very long time, even if it stings, can be such a valuable thing to receive if we can get our defenses down and listen. but it's hard to do it, isn't it? It's hard to speak up with that, that unwelcome message to deliver?

Richard Medcalf
Well, and what I'm finding is that, you know, as I'm working with high level leaders, a lot of them actually have a gap. They don't have enough unwelcome truth in their life. Now, they might want level, they might say, you know, I get unwelcome news every day, right? But they often find themselves as, as a senior leader, you'll find yourself surrounded by yes, men, right, people who are telling you what they think you want to hear and they often do it deliberately. But yeah, who wants to be the bearer of bad tidings, you know, who wants to go head to head against somebody who's more senior than you, and he's got their own very full clear ideas about how things are and the end of the day, despite how much permission you give people, it can be really hard, because the end of the day, is it really worth the risk to have that conversation with my manager or with my leader? And in addition, we know about confirmation bias, right? We know that we are wired to look for things that reinforce our current beliefs and our current perceptions and so if you can buy in as a leader, your own confirmation bias, which we all have, and the fact that we're less likely to have challenging conversations from the people around us, then that puts us in a bit of a precarious position.

Davina Stanley
It does. And I'm actually thinking back to a Prudential inquiry here in Australia into some of our one of our banks in particular. And one of the comments made there was that there was a culture of hiding the truth from the senior executive. And when working in that organization, sometimes people will say to me, yes, we've got a very Upward Facing culture where we're very careful what we send up. And I think one one has to be courteous and careful about what one sends out, of course, but I think you there's a very big danger, particularly the closer you get to the top to not deliver those messages, but also if you're not getting them work out a way to get them find a hack.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. And it's also I mean, it's interesting to think about, what's the what, why is that happening? And perhaps sometimes it's because if you bring a message up to your senior leader, they're just gonna push the problem back on you. In other words, there is such I mean, there's such a culture of being like can do, and like problem solving. Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions, right? I see the incline. So it's a good that's a good mindset to have. But there are times where you haven't got the solution. It's above your paygrade in a certain way, you know, you don't have the span of control, you know, You can't? And it's not actually, in some ways not actually you're with it, you know, you're within your purview you can't do with this, but you see it and, and so that culture as well, I don't want to come and wind I don't want to come and just give a problem can kind of backfire in that sense.

Davina Stanley
So how do you actually do it, then how do you do it constructively? And what are some strategies for getting delivering some unwelcome news to somebody who you think might be resistant?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so Well, I think there's two ways of looking at it. Right. So there's How do you deliver it into something somebody else? And also how do you create a culture where people are delivered to you? Yes. Yeah. Right. And so I pretty focused on that second question. But even before we get there, I'd step back and just say, Are you really committed to hearing unwelcome truth so I really actually committed to dissonance because actually, the corporate world is addicted to certainty. And in some ways, simplicity, right, we just want like, just give me a simple message that we can all execute on. Rather than accepting that there are these contradictions, these these divergences, these differences, and daring to live with that. But in complexity in this world, where there's so many interlocking pieces, no one has anything like the full picture, right? Not even the best leader is going to be able to see all the factors and all the drivers impacting their business. And that's why incentives diversity movement has arisen in partially because there's a social justice part of it, but in part of it is because actually, it makes sense to say, we need divergent perspectives to allow us to triangulate on a problem and understand it in its entirety, or at least in a in a, in a bigger to a bigger degree. So you know, if you spend your entire life in the USA, in finance, then you're going to see the world in a very specific way. If you've actually spent the time in the US and finance, and then you move to, you know, Hong Kong and you worked in marketing, you're going to have a whole different view, on situations, and you can see the world through a different lens. And then if you actually move to South Africa, and you work in operations, you're going to see the world and ever again in a very different way. But most of us, we don't have all that experience in our in ourselves, hopefully, we've picked up different ways of looking at the world. But in the absence of having all of those experiences, and just our day to day life not being able to cover everything for a senior exec, we're not going to have the ground level viewpoint, then how do we create? How do we seek out those alternative viewpoints? Those days that disconfirming evidence, right? How are we going to get ourselves out of our own echo chamber? And you asked about practically how you can do that? Well, I think, in a sense, there's a couple of moves you can make. The first move is to find somebody who is willing to challenge you hard and push you and ask you the hard questions. I've ended up for my clients, it's often the role of a coach. But there are obviously many other people that might be able to fulfill that role I find in organizations, it is quite hard when you have people who have a stake in the game to fully do that. But you might have a co founder, you might have somebody else who's perhaps just by their personality is going to be really good at that. So I think that's one and I think the other one is to say, what are the structures I'm going to create? Where this actually becomes easy. So where I'm really giving permission, and I'm not giving the weather and the weather isn't like weather really isn't a negative consequence to doing it. In the words. If you say to people, you're just come any time guys, tell me what you think, you know, really feel free to push back. You kind of giving permission, but people don't take it because Yeah, well you say that. But the last time somebody did argue with you, you just told them why they were wrong and why they were stupid. So why would I want to do it again? Right. So those things can be harder to do. I think just just reiterating that you want it isn't going to be enough. But if you were to say, look, you know, I like you know, please come and you know, give me a presentation to tell us what the five key risks are with our strategy. Right? Or, you know, if, you know, if my, if my current idea fails, what would be the reasons why it's gonna fail. You know, perhaps getting your two teams to work on different parts of the argument to come back with presentation, you can start to build things like that were actually success is presenting the disconfirming evidence, the alternative viewpoint.

Davina Stanley
And what do you do then when you ask your team and say please come with the five big risks that you see. And they water them down so much to play it safe, because the last time they fear that you're going to slap them down? If you do, or just disagree with them and write them off, maybe you just dismiss it, maybe it's not even an aggressive response.

Richard Medcalf
Yes.

Davina Stanley
What do you do?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, well,

Davina Stanley
How do you build the trust? How do you build the trust?

Richard Medcalf
Well, it's it's interesting, if I just jump back to give an example on that, when I was in telecoms, back in the 2000s, early 2000s, just before the telecoms crash, a company was doing some scenario planning for the future and for internal strategy, and at the time, I wasn't heavily involved in the process a little bit too Junior but what I know is that they came up with three or four scenarios representing how the market could evolve and the company's response to each of them and they eliminated they were told to eliminate one of the scenarios because it wasn't going to happen, and it wasn't worth looking at and that was like the kind of catastrophe scenario, right? And six months later, what happened, the catastrophe scenario, the, you know, the bubble was burst in the market, or the stock prices collapse. You know, all this new entrants start getting out of business, all that right, exactly what happened, and the layoff 30% of its staff. Ouch and so, it was because this kind of really hard, you say, like, this real kind of extreme scenario wasn't taken seriously and so I suppose if what do you do if people come back with? With things effed up playing too safe? Well, I mean, I guess you got to look at yourself, right? You've got to say, Well, what am I doing as a leader that's creating this scenario? And then I think the main thing you need to do is either I suppose you want to say there's nothing here that makes me particularly annoyed or angry? I mean, you could always pick it into a game, right? Like, you know, none of this. None of this is, this is not shocking enough. You know, like,

Davina Stanley
Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
So, you know, I know one person who gave his, you'll give his team flowers or, you know, gifts when they messed up. Because he was like, Well, I'd be talking about encouraging experimentation and stuff. And therefore, when you mess up, it obviously means you've been pushing, and you've been trying to do new things. So I want to celebrate that. And how many of us actually follow through and say, Oh, yeah, we want everyone to, you know, fail fast and the rest of it, then you do fail? And everyone's like, You screwed up. So

Davina Stanley
Yes, so true. So true. Yes.

Richard Medcalf
I guess that's kind of what I what I'd be saying here is, I suppose for me the, the how the What do I do that all kind of come? But the point of this question, where's the dissonance, and who's speaking and welcome truth is to get you to look for that. And then once you start to look for it, either you will find it and you will actually draw those people closer to you or spend more time engaging with that. Or your work, your won't find it. And you'll start to think about what's the opportunity for that I have. So I'm not so concerned about getting people four point plan for for doing it. Because I think the point of these questions is to get you thinking in a new way, is like, Am I in an echo chamber? You know, if everyone around me believes my strategy is the good one that I probably have don't have enough people around me.

Davina Stanley
Absolutely, absolutely. No, I can see that happening. So Richard, who speaks the unwelcome truth to you in your team? Do you have someone in your team or in your life that does that for you?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I gotta be honest, my wife's very good at speaking on rock country. So that definitely happens. I was very familiar. One Two is and I think in the business, yeah, I've made it I've made a point to, to put a few people around me. I think sometimes in our conversations, you do that to me, you know, I'll I'll say something and you will call me out on some of my, you know, less good ideas. 

Davina Stanley
And, but I have a number of ways I might add, that definitely works two ways.

Richard Medcalf
And I have another couple of other people who I have, you know, my diary, you have a couple of other coaches that I will speak to on this to be pushed, because especially when you're running your own business, it's very easy just to do whatever you want to do.

Davina Stanley
And you can, very, very quickly to and not go in think properly about ideas that you've got, and if you're really excited about it, I think it's really hard for people to challenge you. And to you know, to you a to notice them. Because you're moving so quickly, but also, for people to not want to get in the way of your enthusiasm, you know, you're so excited about a new project or a new idea. And someone thinks, Well, isn't that rubbish? Or she's going about that backwards. And it's just, oh, well, she'll work it out, because I don't want to, I don't want to, you know, deflate her balloon, she's excited about this one.

Richard Medcalf
And the other one, and the other one is thinking about customers, right? So often, we'll reach out to customers, you know, because we want to get a testimonial, or we want to find out how they're going to rate us and we want the high scores, and we want, but actually really asking for the unwelcome truth from them. is a is a bit of a scary thing, but it's the truth is already there anyway, and we better find out about it.

Davina Stanley
Much better, much better, painful, sometimes, but much, much better.

Richard Medcalf
So I have done that on occasion. It's I mean, I obviously do try to ask my customers, you know, what their, you know, their most change? agenda, you know, great, you know, repeat business, and it's always kind of good. But, you know, perhaps if I pushed more to me say like, really? Tell me, give it to me straight, right? Like really? Like, if you're going to, you know, if you're gonna get really mad about something, or wanting just irritating Google, whatever. Yeah, what is it? What's the one thing that you don't want to tell me? That could be an interesting conversation.

Davina Stanley
And what we do, at the end, when people leave clarity, first is they have a set of questions to complete, obviously, they don't have to, but we ask them to, you know, why are you leaving? And you've got a series of options, but also, you know, some what are the things you liked the most about the program? And if you would have changed something? What would that be? What would it be? And I think that's something we're trying to get in the habit of asking more often, at the end of all of our programs, be there, the public one, all private and corporate programs. And you know, just get to the end and say, What would you keep? And what would you change and put people in small groups, so they can have that private conversation and then agree, which is the thing to share. So just give them a few moments to do it. But let them do it in private first, rather than, oh, gosh, I'm in the spotlight now. And I've had no time to think and Oh, it was all great. There's nothing there's nothing that's really unhelpful. Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
And it's really interesting, isn't it? Because as a CEO, you might have a, you might have conversations with key customers. And a lot of that is forward looking and like, what can we do together? And what could be new? And that's going to be great. How are you going to get the unwelcome truth in your customers?

Davina Stanley
About what you don't want to do again?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. And again, you know, obviously, there'll be escalations as long as they come to you as a senior leader. But what about the customers who are not really escalating, but they're just, they're just some things going on? How do you actually get that out? And, and even from your best customers, the ones who actually have the best relationship with? How do you get them welcome through from them? Because again, it can be easy to go on to all the positive stuff that's happening with the negative side there?

Davina Stanley
And also, what are they working around? You know, somebody I worked with a while ago said that she had, I was telling a client that she was no longer going to be working with them that she was going to be coming and doing some communication, training and coaching instead. And the client just roared, laughing and said, you know, you are the most amazing lawyer. Absolutely fantastic. I read your first advice you gave me, why don't you know beginning to end, we had a conversation about it. I worked out. You're an amazing lawyer. Did you know I've not read another one of them since I just give you a call and ask you what your advice is? Because there's so hard to read. You know, so what workarounds have they got to avoid things that aren't going so? Well? Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Great. So that's, we leave it there today.

Davina Stanley
I think that sounds pretty good. So we have another episode coming soon and I'm looking, oh, here's the question - what kinds of leaders Am I growing? That's a fabulous one to follow on from this, I think. So, a terrific one to look forward to and if you'd like to have a look at any of the recordings of podcasts, from this series, or other series that Richard in his head, go to xquadrant.com/podcast and you'll find a wealth of ideas there for you. Thanks so much everyone, and we look forward to seeing you again. Bye for now.

Richard Medcalf
Goodbye.

**Note: This transcript is automatically generated.
Please excuse any errors.

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