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Tamara, head of engineering for a small software company, swept into her office, feeling pleased. “That went even better than I expected,” she exclaimed to herself. “I got my idea across brilliantly. Everyone was speechless! Sometimes, I even impress myself.”

Just then, she heard a knock on her door. Looking up, she saw Barbara, one of her principal engineers, tentatively peeking around the doorway. “Come on in,” Tamara invited. “What’s on your mind?”

“Are you open to some feedback?” Barbara asked.

“Sure,” Tamara responded. “I’m always happy to hear from my team.”

“How do you think your presentation went?” Barbara asked.

“Fantastic!” Tamara answered.

“Well, I’ve been talking with the teams. Or, rather, they’ve been talking with me. We’re all pretty peeved about your ‘bold new plan,’ as you called it,” Barbara said.

Tamara gaped. This was not the feedback she was expecting. She was so good at reading people. How could she be so wrong?

Everyone is meaning to be helpful, Tamara reminded herself. Everyone. I want to know the truth, even if it’s painful. She took a deep breath, held it a second, then let it out. “Please tell me more.”

“Your plan is great,” Barbara said. “We all understand how it sets us on a bold new path. And, we each have lots of ideas for making it even better. We’re also used to being part of the process. Instead, you stood up and laid out this plan in minute detail. Some of us are angry at being told what to do. Some of us are unhappy that you’re telling us how to do our jobs. Most of us are pretty certain that your schedule is unrealistic. And most of all, we feel like you no longer trust us.”

Tamara leaned back, stunned. She had gotten her idea across. Maybe not so brilliantly. And all or most of the speechlessness from her staff was anger, resentment, and certainty that she was off her rocker. Wow.

Everyone is meaning to be helpful, Tamara told herself again. Okay. So, ask for help.

“Thank you for this feedback,” Tamara told Barbara. “I appreciate you telling me. I imagine it may not have felt so comfortable giving it to me. I got so caught up in my vision that I forgot to ask for help. Let me do that now: how do I change this?”

Barbara blew out a sigh of relief. She had hoped Tamara would react this way. She had asked each person who had talked with her a similar question: what did they want Tamara to do? “I have some suggestions to pass along,” Barbara said. “First, though, I have one of my own: let everyone know you hear their feedback. Apologize. Then, tell them what you’re doing about it.”

“That’s a great first step,” Tamara agreed. “Thank you for the suggestion. How do you recommend I do this? Call everyone back in for another meeting?”

“A message in our all-team chat is fine,” Barbara said. “We apologize there all the time. It gives the affected parties time to cool off and decide how to respond. It shows we are willing to be vulnerable in front of everyone. And it reminds us that we could just as easily be the one apologizing.”

“Great,” Tamara said. “I’ll do that as soon as we finish. Which brings us to the suggestions you’re forwarding from the team. What do they want me to do?”

“First, downgrade this from ‘what we are doing’ to ‘a proposal.’ That signals you want our input.”

“Reframe as a proposal,” Tamara made a note. “Got it. What else?”

“Invite feedback. Posting a document and requesting comments would be okay. What we’d really appreciate, however, is you more actively engaging us. Meet with each team and gather their input. Set aside specific times for people to drop in and talk one-on-one with you. Maybe have a few workshops to work through the details with everyone interested.”

Tamara felt herself getting defensive. This would be a lot of work and take a lot of time. Plus, this was her baby. She felt like it was being ripped out of her grip. Everyone is meaning to be helpful, she reminded herself. Ask for help.

“Thank you for these suggestions. I really want to involve everyone. At the same time, we need to act now to make the most of this opportunity. And, I don’t want to distract you all from the work you’re already doing. Do you have any ideas for balancing these conflicting requirements?”

Barbara bit her lip, thinking. “Well, involving us in the planning and scheduling is the best way to move fast. We know way more than you about what will be involved in actually building this and getting it out the door. Everyone will appreciate your desire to let us focus on what’s already on our plates. So, how about this? Set up an afternoon early next week to work through the high-level requirements with everyone. Then, another half day a few days later to break those down into user stories. Also, set up a dedicated chat channel for feedback. That gives you a single place to monitor while giving the rest of us a way to ask you and each other questions. Teams can work together to assign the stories and coordinate the more detailed planning. We can probably have a fifty-percent-confidence estimate for you a few days later. Then, you can decide how to proceed from there.”

“That’s taking you all offline for at least a week,” Tamara said worriedly. “How is that going to affect your schedules?”

“Well, today is already a writeoff for many of us,” Barbara said. “Some of the engineers are really steamed. They will take a while to calm down, and helping them do that will take some of the rest of us. Which leaves the rest of the rest of us picking up the slack. But, it’s already after lunch and we’re near the end of our sprint. So, while some things may slip, the fallout probably won’t be too bad. Then, we can dedicate our next sprint to working through this with you. Now, I’ll ask you the same question: how will that affect your plans?”

“I’ll have to review the schedule to be sure. Marketing will be grumpy that we’re changing release schedules, and Support will have to find a way to continue taking care of customers while also participating in this planning. I guess that will be true for Marketing and Sales and probably everyone else too. Let me check with the execs. Maybe it’s better to push planning out a bit.”

“That’s why you get paid the big bucks,” Barbara said with a smile.

“It’s why I have the title, anyway,” Tamara laughed in return. Between having a tentative plan and having time for her emotions to dissipate a bit, she was starting to feel calmer, and even heading back to excitement again. “Thank you, Barbara, for giving me this feedback and helping me find a way to fix what I have done. Please let the teams know I appreciate it.”

“I will. And, they’ll appreciate your appreciation even more if you tell them yourself.”

“That’s a great idea. I’ll include that in my apology.”

“That’d be great,” Barbara agreed. “And, thank you for accepting and acting on our feedback. That means a lot to us.”

“You are welcome.” As Barbara left, Tamara turned to her computer and wiggled her fingers over her keyboard. And now, for the apology. How to start…?

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