Change Management

Today I want to put my corporate stooge hat on and talk a little about change management, process improvement, and how easy it is to sabotage efforts before they’ve even begun.

That said, corporate talk has a habit of sounding a little condescending since best practice is to always present as if you’re speaking to somebody brand spanking new, so if this isn’t your cup of tea, I recommend skipping this.

I’ll start with a little background on the differences between feedback, criticism, and complaint – the sparks that light a fire under most processes or policy.

Feedback is a reaction to a product (generally bought or consumed) or to a person’s performance with the intent to be used as a basis for improvement. It’s a favorite c-suite term that builds the foundation of process or policy improvement. There’s positive, negative, and general feedback, but those descriptions don’t necessarily matter. All feedback will inform how and when change should be applied.

Fun fact: I do process/policy improvement for a living – feedback is my life, which is a little sad, but it pays the bills.

Moving on.

Criticism is generally an expression disapproval or the analysis and judgement of work.

We really love using this word for ALL types of reactions – especially in lieu of the word feedback when it would be more appropriate. Not exactly feedback – more like a component, and I’m not entirely convinced of that but can see how some would view it that way.

Lastly, there’s a complaint. That’s literally a statement of dissatisfaction. No meat. Just the gut reaction. It can also inform feedback but isn’t feedback just yet.

Feedback is essential for any organization to grow. It provides a basis for project managers and product managers to perform work that improves conditions or process to the point that either increases customer satisfaction or provides cost savings that would in turn fund efforts to ultimately increase customer satisfaction.

This is because customer satisfaction is the name of the game. A person pays for services or goods rendered and they want it as presented. Now, yes, a TON of work goes on behind the scenes to get the customer the product, BUT the only work that matters to a customer is the output. All that effort to produce? To define? To measure? That’s HOW the sausage is made, not how it tastes. Are there aspects of process that could essentially be useful for customers to be aware of? Absolutely, but the truth is in the final output.

That makes most feedback – even if it’s a single, anecdotal case – worth listening to. There may be evidence found that some feedback doesn’t require action, but it never pays to cherry pick.

Quite often we see marginalized creators voice their feedback about problems in our industry. Ultimately, we are all “customers” in the sense that specific output, let’s say in this situation actual representation is the output, is deeply important to us. When the output is lacking (and it is) feedback is voiced and said feedback is voiced by the population.

Our problem lately is that there are times where that basis for improvement is either treated as criticism or as complaint. This is the very first step of demeaning the feedback.

The second step of demeaning the feedback is in cherry picking which feedback counts by using the first step as the basis for action. This is the creation of “valued opinion” – more or less, a biased view of how best to improve that doesn’t necessarily concern itself with output or customer point of view.

By demoting feedback into a complaint (or at least the perception of a complaint), now you can decide which feedback warrants your attention with bias. In this instance, it’s SUPER easy to ignore a complaint from someone you don’t fear or someone whose opinion you do not value because their opinion is of no benefit to you. This makes it easier to only listen to the feedback from that “valued opinion” pool that can tend to lean towards the benefit of the manager meant to act on the feedback. This means less work, less change, and less result. This also means that the less valued sources need to work harder to provide that feedback for no reason.

By demeaning the feedback, the idea is to turn the tables and now make the person providing a basis for improvement into the producer. You make yourself the customer and now are relieved of all responsibility. It’s a shitty tactic and often you’ll see this happen in the corporate world when folks who don’t want to buy into business improvements try to sabotage efforts. Change is scary. Maybe change means more work. Maybe change means less money. Maybe change leads to a spotlight on a problem nobody wants a spotlight on.

I understand that not everything is corporate, but I think this is relevant in the case of recent feedback on representation in fiction.

Let me give a brief example. Let’s say I work for a year on launching a customer-facing platform to order bread or something. We launch and get a few emails from folks saying there’s an issue with our product offerings; we keep showing pumpernickel as being out of stock or something. This feedback rolls up to the folks who managed and worked on the project.

Two things can happen here, 1) we take stock of the feedback, examine the issue, and we treat it however we can or 2) the project lead sits back, takes umbrage on the customer for insinuating we don’t know what we’re doing or that we’re lazy, and we change the subject of the conversation to whether or not people are right or working hard enough.

In scenario 2 not a damn thing gets done, does it?

Feedback is not a personal attack. It is not a tool to make others suffer. It is again, the basis of process or policy improvement. So, when people take feedback and turn it around to attack the marginalized, it doesn’t do much to resolve the issue or improve the process.

This is self-defeating since said improvement tends to lead to more revenue and less churn. It leads to higher satisfaction and increased customer base. To ignore those factors means you either don’t give a damn about money or about an easier means of production.

Ultimately, we’re left with minimal effort to improve issues that marginalized folk bring with their feedback while the use of valued opinions from a select few also doubles as a shield from further feedback and justified criticism.

Put yourself in that position. A new creator who sees something they’re not comfortable with from an output they pay for. They voice that feedback and that demotion of feedback happens. The creator is shooed away. Now here comes the “valued” opinion. A creator whose dissatisfaction would immediately hurt the bottom-line. Action occurs to satisfy the single piece of feedback at bare minimum but not the feedback from what could be a larger and more impactful customer base.

What happens then? Will there be duplicate work? A large base of dissatisfied creators moving to another output? Have resources been wasted on a quick patch up that could have been more effectively used to just overhaul the damn thing?

This doesn’t factor in the what-if scenarios either, but those tend to muddy the waters to begin with and it’s almost always impossible to be proactive against the what-ifs. It’s probably more beneficial to tackle those when they show up, if at all.

It’s been a tough couple of years. We must learn to listen to each other and we must value feedback with the intent of improvement. We lose that ability and we stagnate; the infrastructure breaks down then we’re left with rebuilding when all we needed was a tweak.

I’m pretty sure we can do it too. I know we can.

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