No one likes to be reminded of all the things that are wrong with their business. For many of us, accepting feedback, particularly criticism, can be extremely difficult. In today’s episode, Cameron discusses how he finally learned to accept feedback for what it is – a learning opportunity. He’ll discuss the reasons why he used to get confrontational and why feedback was so hard for him to accept. He’ll also share lessons he wishes he’d known at a much younger age.
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
- What happens when you have support from people who understand the problem.
- The importance of asking the right questions of your team.
- How to create a no-blame environment where people don’t fail, systems fail.
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Do you hate being told about all the stuff that’s going wrong in your business? Is it hard for you to accept feedback or criticism? I get it. Me too. In this episode, I’m going to tell you how I finally turned the corner on these issues. I’ll talk about why I used to get confrontational and why feedback was so hard for me. I’m going to cover a bunch of lessons I wish I’d known at a much younger age, but only because of years and decades of leading people have I learned them. These secrets will change you. I hope you love this episode as much as I did making it for you.
I get so confrontational. I don’t know why I get confrontational. Somebody earlier said that feedback is great or feedback is whatever. I hated feedback because I was always working so hard. I took feedback as intense criticism of myself as a human being. Remember who you’re looking at. You’re looking at the kid who every day in school was told, “You’re a 62% student.” I was running businesses in Grade 5 and Grade 7. I had two employees when I was in Grade 6. For real, two employees. I had 12 employees when I was 20 years old. I’d go to class and in every single class, I was getting a D-minus. I can show you my transcript. D-minus, D, D+-plus, withdrawn, C-plus. C-plus was like, “Whoa.”
I was being told by the system for eighteen years from kindergarten until the end of university that I was stupid and that I wasn’t smart. Anytime anyone told me that I could have done better, that memo could be better, the report could look better, or the marketing could be better, I took it intensely personal. I took everything as arguing. I then had to learn that if it’s okay for me to tell someone they did something wrong, why am I taking it so personally? I had to learn to slow down, let it sink in, and say thank you. Half the time now when people give me something that I could do better or whatever, I go, “Thank you.” They go, “You’re welcome. You’re killing it on this. Good.” It’s weird.
I also had to remember that at the end of the day, none of this matters for all of our employees. This is just what they do to make money and they’re trying their best. There’s probably something happening at home with their spouse, partner, dog, condo, parents, or the economy. Maybe this stress is building up in them and I can slow it down and be more empathetic as a human with them. Maybe I don’t have to be so confrontational with them as well. Maybe I can be more understanding and know what’s happening in their life, then all the other stuff starts to not even matter as much. I realize I can help them with it instead.
I was part of an organization called EO, which is the Entrepreneur’s Organization. We were in a forum group where every month, these eight entrepreneurs would meet. We would share the most vulnerable and scary and nervous parts of our business and lives with each other. We’re supposed to put it all out there. The benefit of that is you have support from these people who understand. The problem is that loose lips sink ships.
If you don’t want a secret to get out, you can’t share it. You can’t share it inside of your company all the time either. What happens is as humans, we need someone to gut check, “Did we give the right support?” I could tell Brian, “Here’s something that I’m worried about and I don’t want you to tell anybody.” He’s like, “I won’t tell anybody,” but then he goes home and he needs to tell his wife Lisa. He’s like, “Cameron told me this thing. You can’t tell anybody. Did I give him the right feedback? I’m worried that I told him the wrong thing.” She goes, “I think you handled it well. It’s good.”
She then has to go tell her friend Kelly, “By the way, Brian came home and he was worried he didn’t tell Cameron this thing and I supported him, but he’s scared. Should I give my husband more support on this stuff?” She goes, “No, it’s good.” Guess what Kelly does? Kelly knows my CFO that I’m firing. Lisa didn’t know that she knew. Loose lips sink ships.
As a leader, when you get into these senior roles, at times, you have to be very careful with the stuff that you get out. I’m helping four clients right now sell their companies. It’s a real art to be able to continue running a company and continue managing a leadership team, and only have 1 or 2 people on that team actually know that you’re working for an exit because the rest of the people will be panicked. You have to be very careful when you get into those situations.
Nine hundred employees and I got an email one day from our CFO. This was around probably January 2000 or February 2000. It was right when stuff was starting to get a little nervous with the stock market. We knew we had to do a layoff. We got an email from our CFO and she said, “Take every business area and rank the employees in each business area by order of importance or order of impact, from highest impact to lowest impact for every area.”
I was in the C-suite, so we all did it for all of our business areas. We sent it back to the CFO and it was an auto-reply a minute later, “Fire the bottom 30%. Tomorrow, have 150 people off this list.” That was 15%. “Have 150 of these people. Give them this letter and tell them to come down to the building at 411 Jackson in Seattle. Come down to this office for a meeting. They’re all going to be terminated.”
I had this one girl, Jennifer. She’s like, “How come I didn’t get a letter? I want to go to the meeting.” I’m like, “Shut up, sit down.” The 150 people go and they get fired. We then spend a week and a half managing the collateral damage, the worry, and the fear. We get an email from the CFO two weeks later, “Please rank your 750 employees by business area.” I’m like, “Are you kidding?” We had to do it again, 150 more people. The 150 people, the second time was 10 times worse than it was the first time. If we were going to do 150 and 150, we should have done 300 or 400 on day one. It’s like ripping off the band-aid.
When you rip off the band-aid one tiny little hair at a time, you just rip the sucker off. You need to cut deep and cut once. You need to look across the organization. If you’re firing one person, do a full review of every single person and see if there’s anybody else that has to let go, and do them both on the same day. Do them with integrity. Do them like you’re firing your mom and your dad, or whatever. You have to cut deep, cut once because each firing is like an earthquake with an aftershock or a tremor. It’s the aftershocks that freak everybody out. The one earthquake, they got over quickly. Every single aftershock for the next two days is, that’s where the PTSD comes in.
I was at a restaurant years ago and I had this CEO of a company that I was eating lunch with. The waitress came up to take our order. He was looking down and looking at me and he goes, “No, we’re good.” He was talking to me and he goes, “No.” She’s here. He didn’t even look at her. I was like, “Wow, what a dick.” I realized that that’s probably the way he is inside his business as well. It’s amazing how you can see people and the way that they treat their employees, the way they treat their teams when they’re in public around other people. Not necessarily at an event that they’re running, but when they’re going about their daily lives.
In all of my years of knowing Brian, I’ve known him now for 25 years. Brian is the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I told one of my kids this the other day, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to open a door for Brian. I open doors for people all the time. I told my son the other day that I don’t ever remember opening a door for Brian because Brian gets to the door first on purpose to open a door for everybody. He’s wired that way.
I had someone the other day come up to me and go, “Did you just pick up garbage here?” I was like, “Yes.” She was one of the staff for MindBell. She goes, “You don’t have to do that. We’ve got cleaners.” I’m like, “No, it’s good. It was right here. I just picked it up. It’s not a big deal. I’ll wash my hands later.” I’m hardwired to pick stuff up. Be a good person. Look for that.
Vision has an uncanny ability to hire great people. I met someone at the speaker’s dinner and she told me that he hired her at a cocktail party because she was dating one of his employees. He’s like, “I don’t even know the role that we can put you into yet, but we’ll figure something out.” You see the energy. You see the person. It’s not about understanding exactly the job. As Jim Collins said, “You get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and everybody in the right seats.” It’s that. You can notice that with those restaurant rules and how they go about their daily lives.
You’ll see leadership traits in people on their normal days just going to yoga. You’ll see leadership traits. You’ll see people that care. This was the one that I was going to skip to later. As leaders, we often don’t know how to ask the right questions of our team. One of my mentors was being groomed as the second in command at Starbucks. He was a real mentor. We had a one-hour call every month for two years, and then we would meet in person for a full day every quarter. One quarter, I would go down to Seattle to their head office. One quarter, he would come up to Vancouver to our head office. He was mentoring me for free for two years to help grow me. I picked him out as a mentor.
I was talking to Greg one day and I said, “Tell me one area that you grew at Starbucks.” He goes, “I’ll tell you something about how I grew the CEO.” He was working with me on leading up. I had to lead Brian, the CEO in some areas. He was working with me on the art of leading the CEO. I said, “What’s the example?” Howard Behar was at the time the CEO of Starbucks. We had Howard Schultz, Orin Smith, and Howard Behar. I think he’s the fourth now or I think Howard is actually back in Howard Schultz. Howard Behar was CEO. Howard Behar called Greg on his cell phone and he said, “Greg, why is the letter B on this sign at 50th in Wallingford in Seattle not working?”
I only use that example because that was the first Starbucks I ever went to in Seattle in 1993. Greg’s like, “I don’t care. That’s a terrible question.” Howard’s like, “Dude, why is the letter B not working?” Greg said, “Not a leadership question.” Howard said, “Okay.” At the time, I think they had 11,000 locations. Howard said, “What’s a leadership question?” Greg said, “What system do we have in place to ensure that every letter on every sign at all of our locations is always working?” He said, “That’s a question I’m going to answer, but I don’t give a shit why the letter B on that sign is not working.” Howard goes, “Touche”.
As leaders, we don’t have to find out why something got broken. Why did that not happen? Why did this not happen? That’s not the question. The question is what system do we have in place to ensure those things never happen again? It does actually stop with the CEO because you hired the people or had the systems in place that allowed people to come in. It can always go to some underlying system. What system is broken? “Create a no-blame environment where people don’t fail. Systems fail,” Michael Gerber of The E-Myth said that.
When you create that no-blame environment, people are going to be willing to say something is broken because they know they’re not going to get in trouble for it because you’re going to put an underlying system in place so that it doesn’t happen again. One of our COO Alliance members has been a member for six years. Their CEO is a good friend of mine. I found out that I’d referred something over to them. They’re in the medical space and one of their clients wasn’t very happy. Dave, who is one of my best friends, the CEO said, “It’s okay. I got it. I’ll fix the problem. I’ll talk to the customer. He’ll be all good.” I said, “No, Dave. You’re missing the point. I don’t care that John is unhappy with you. That’s not the point. What system can you put in place to ensure that your tens of thousands of customers going forward never have the issue John had.” Dave’s like, “You’re right.”
We go to that underlying what’s the broken system or fixed system that we can put in place, then your business scales. If you keep focusing on fixing the problem or that one thing or who did it wrong, you’re missing the whole point. The leadership questions are what system is broken or what system is missing, and then it creates this trust within your team. Bill Gates used to do what he called Think Week. He would go away twice a year and take all these books, and go without technology and just allow himself time to think.
Do you ever take time to think? No phone, no laptop. I talk about it in the Vivid Vision Quest about getting away from your laptop and away from your office and going somewhere to allow your mind to dream. What about just leaving your phone and going for a walk or leaving your phone and going for dinner or closing your laptop down for a week? Go on vacation. That doesn’t mean working while you’re there. It doesn’t mean checking email while you’re there. It means disconnecting. It’s okay.
Do you know that your grandparents used to go on vacation without technology and the business was there when they came home? For real. My grandfather taught me that. Both sets of my grandparents were entrepreneurs. One of my grandparents said, “When you go on the golf course, don’t let me ever see you have your phone.” I’m like, “I need to check.” He was like, “I built my business without a cell phone. I can go golfing for six hours or five hours.” I’m like, “You’re right. Makes sense.” Take the time to disconnect. Take the time to think.
I talked earlier a little bit about the criticism or the feedback. I had to learn to embrace the criticism. Learn to take that criticism and say thank you for that. Take it as a chance to grow and not see it as something that I’d done wrong or something that I had to do. You don’t have to take it personally. I look for that feedback now. I probably look for it too much. I’ll come off a stage and people are like, “You’re great.” “No, I could do this better or that better.” I’m okay now with taking the criticism in as a feedback loop of ways to improve. I look for a system that’s missing to help me get better at that.
Years ago, I was running a daily huddle at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I was pissed off about some stuff around time management. I felt like a lot of our employees were wasting time in meetings. I talked about in my book Meetings Suck around meetings, running highly efficient meetings, and booking meetings for half the time you first think about booking them, or how to get highly impactful meetings happening or phone calls.
We had 150 employees there. I decided to give them all crap for how much time they were wasting. It seemed appropriate at the time because I was manic, a little bit bipolar, and I was a little ADD. I just went for it and it was good. I cut them all down perfectly and destroyed the energy in the company for a solid two months. The recovery from that 30 seconds took two months for them to have trust and feel okay again.
I learned that negative public comments don’t actually help you. It’s that whole private criticism, public praise, and remembering that as CEO you’re the chief energizing officer. What are you doing to actually stir the Kool-Aid to get more energy? Be careful with anything you’re doing that lowers the energy of your team. It’s incredible how fast you can shift the energy in a room.
We talked about Esther Hicks and the movie The Secret. That’s so true in the business world. We had all of our employees watch the movie. We had all of our franchise partners watch the movie. We had all of our top franchise partners watch the movie twice to understand Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Physics and how to transfer that positive energy around. Not just the manifestation, but how to actually use energy in a positive way. Negative public comments destroy energy.
I also learned that anytime I told a secret to someone, it destroyed trust. I learned this because I talked to Tressa, who was my VP of Operations. She was literally packing my parachute every day. She was somebody who I would give the most important projects to. She could handle all that stuff for me perfectly. I was having problems with one of the other guys who worked for us, Alex. I decided to sit down with Tressa and talk to her about her peer, Alex, and what was pissing me off. I needed to bounce some ideas around and see what I was thinking. I told her about it and I said, “You can’t tell Alex this.” I thought I was doing something good.
A week later, Tressa came up to me and she goes, “I haven’t slept in five days.” I’m like, “Why?” She said, “I know that you needed to talk to me about Alex, but now I wonder who you’re talking to about me. I wonder who you’re going behind my back and asking questions about.” I was like, “No one.” She would never believe that. Do you follow where I’m going? Anytime you think that you’re doing a favor by doing that, you’re messing everything else up and you’re destroying your own trust in your own organization.
By the way, a blind carbon copy is destroying trust in your organization. If you blind CC to save your inbox, by the way, you don’t need to say that. We get it, like John BCC’d. We get it. You don’t need to say the rest of the whole sentence. When you blind CC and don’t tell people and you’re doing so, “Vision, I’m letting you know what I’m doing over here.” Vision is now wondering who I’m doing it to. Be very careful who you BCC on things or who you tell secrets to because it’s destroying the trust that they have in you as a leader. You need to find other outlets. You need to find peer groups, masterminds, coaches, or someone outside your organization, or you need to work through it on your own, but you can’t tell secrets inside the organization.