Question: How can chief executives source unbiased information

In my experience, I have usually found fellow executives to be very opinionated.

Even when they don't have a secret agenda, their passion for or against the projects they are closest to, colors their advice. Other staff are usually more guarded with their opinions.

In your work as executive coaches, are there any recommendations how a CEO can get unbiased, well-informed advice (outside of senior management team) before making decisions.

6 Expert Insights

The challenge with getting this type of quality advice can be very difficult.  Most people outside of senior management are very reluctant to provide any type of feedback or advice in fear of being retaliated against them.  They feel most surveys are not anonymous and feel somehow their candid (and maybe not popular) answers will get back to them in a negative way and will result in some sort of retaliation.   Often the surveys are structured such that the requested information can be used to narrow in on who provided the answer and as a result they do not complete the survey accurately.   Trying to have meetings in person will result is people NOT wanting to say anything as they do not want to sound like the bad apple and tattle tale.

You need to think really hard how to truly get anonymous results, maybe using an anonymous suggestion box or other mechanism.   You may even start by asking the employees  what they would recommend.  You may find some great suggestions from people if you ask for it.

Lenny Laskowski

Well, there are several thoughts that come to mind.

1. mastermind groups with other CEO"s...sometimes being in "good company" with players of your calibre who are not in your industry, are a great source of input. they can play with you at your level because they're not afraid of you, and your level of disclosure is up to you.

2. trusted advisor - in the tradition of the motley fools who have permission to give his best advice to the king, no matter how unpleasant it may be, served the king's well. So cultivating that kind of relationship with someone outside the workplace is a great source. inside, it may be too risky since as you said, everyone has their own agenda

3. get an executive coach - not so much for their advice as for their inquiry. Their questions can help you discover your own solutions that are typically trapped within the circularity of your own thinking. They can reflect back to you things both positive and incongruent in your thinking process. Good ones will also challenge your positions, not because they think they know better, or have a better one but simply to help you escape the paradigm you're leading from. And, on the odd occasion, they may give you some advice with this caveat...that it's up to you to determine the validity and value of the advice and that you vet it with at least one other person.  Lastly, they are your confidentiality space wherein you can explore thoughts, ideas and challenges without being judged. This is especially true of an external coach. Certified coaches have an ethics boundary about not sharing or acting on anything you talk about regardless of who is paying for the contract. They hold that boundary to the limits of the law,

4. a mentor, again, someone you can trust to not violate the vulnerability of the content of the conversation, someone whose attentive to your best interests and because they're not dependent on your approval will give you clean, clear opinions.

I agree with both Lenny and Michael. What I want to add is having a mentor and/or coach who has business experience is a must. Not all coaches have a business background, though they might be good coaches. If you wish to talk to me about this more please do not hesitate to connect. My information is on the Mentors Guild website.

You may have a hard time getting unbiased information, but as long as the bias is known, the information can always be useful. If you're looking for candor, you have to make it safe for people to be candid. They tend to be guarded because they fear being punished for saying something that is not well received. Bad news does not travel up the hierarchy unless the people at the top of the hierarchy make it clear they want to hear the truth, then hear the truth without slaying the messenger, then reward the messenger for telling the truth.

In a healthy organization, those fellow executives who are very opinionated get to air their views... all of them. The inevitable conflict of passion from different points of view gets managed - not glossed over or swept under the rug. The ability to steer those passions into common ground is a function of great leadership.

One last thing: make it easier to hear input from the front lines. Those people closest to your customers often have a good grasp of your customers' biases, and that is something you should value. Senior executives may have a tendency to become inwardly focused. The front lines rarely have that luxury, and therefore, they will tend to keep you in tune with what is really important - your customers.

Let me address two areas in responding to your question.

1st ... there is more than one way to get the unbiased input you seek. what is the right one for your org. will be determined based on structure and how you access the 'outside of senior management team'.  Some examples are:

~~~ establish an advisory council that is made up of people on the front lines (doing the nuts and bolts of the work) and some middle management.  Perhaps this group meets quarterly, monthly or whatever makes sense given your business.  They are presented with issues and asked to respond from their person experiences and perspectives.  

~~~ hold a rotating brown bag session during which you meet with the members of a given division or department.  during this time you present them with the issues about which you want their input as they see it.

~~~  schedule yourself to do departmental visits during which you just move around among the workers/supervisors and hear their suggestions as to what would make their work better, more efficient, etc. and you get the seek their opinions on some of the issues you are considering.

~~~ send out a survey to selected people or entire departments/organization. Responses would be anonymous, encouraging all to respond knowing that no one would be able to identify any respondent.  In such a ‘safety’ zone you will get good input for the issues being

In all of the above approaches,  It is  important that senior management not know who is involved as this will only work because you are getting the kind of input you need to share and add to that which you receive from your senior team.  

The 2nd issue is the one of getting biased input from Sr. management.  In a sense, you want your execs to respond from their perspective as this will assure you of understanding the real concerns and thoughts from all areas of your org.   Add to this the front line perspective and you have a better chance of making the best decision.

I like your concern!

I think Michael Stratford is on the right track here.  At Estrada Strategies we encourage every CEO or exec. we work with to engage in a peer group in some way.  These groups are an excellent resource for bouncing ideas around and getting external feedback from people who understand the pressures and concerns of business leadership but don't have an agenda to pursue.  I do recommend that you engage a peer group that is led by a trained expert facilitator who will make sure the group stays on track.  Groups following either the Estrada Strategies model or the Peerspectives Model (created by Edward Lowe Foundation), offer great peer dynamics within a structure that is proven and time tested in multiple industries and with different business sizes.

I also agree that engaging a coach yourself is a great option.  Well trained and experienced coaches have the skills needed to help you examine your issues and concerns in ways that are often impossible to approach without that external support.  It is important, however, to make sure the coach you select matches your need and your goals.  Coaches have different training, background, and skill sets just as most other professionals do.  If your goal is to work on your personal strengths and weaknesses, seek out a coach who is skilled as a life coach or perhaps trained in counseling as well as coaching.  If you want to improve leadership and/or business skills, look for a coach who has a background in business and leadership and can bring a real world perspective to the conversation.  Either way, make sure you select a coach who can demonstrate their experience and achievements.  

As a final note, I don't believe it is impossible to get good, honest feedback from your senior managers.  Getting there, though, requires that you build a great culture based on honesty and trust.  To do that, you will need to adopt a leadership style that allows for open communication and engages every member of the team.