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Over the last several months, we’ve seen one client use this tool to great effect. Brief-Backs are rather simple management tools that are still in favor in some parts of the military. Essentially, they are employee visits to their senior management or leadership to brief them back on their operational status. Here are some guidelines regarding Brief-Backs.

  • Use them sparingly. Only do them for the most important events such as when a big regulatory inspection is about to occur. Frequent use destroys their gravitas.
  • Do them to understand the ‘readiness’ of the inspectable team/department/division.
  • The higher the better. What we have found is that the greater the ‘status’ difference between the parties, the more effective they are. For instance, we witnessed a Site Vice President call in the front-line supervisors of a large maintenance department. The impact would have been muted if it were a Brief-Back to a Manager as opposed to the Site Vice President.
  • Keep them formal, short, and HIGHLY intrusive. Brief-Backs should have some level of formality. We’ve seen examples where the reporting group stands, and the senior executive/leader sits. Maybe the most important characteristic of a strong Brief-Back is asking highly engaged and intrusive questions as in the following examples.
    • Where will this inspection fail?
    • What question am I not asking?
    • What should keep me up at night about the visit that is about to happen to your team?
    • What aren’t you telling me that I should know?
    • What does success look like? Do you know what ‘good’ looks like?
    • Before you leave, give me one thing that you will do differently or better for this upcoming visit or inspection.
    • How do you know you are ready?
    • Have you done a rehearsal?
    • Does everyone know how important this is? How do you know?

Brief-Backs are a good way to communicate the essence of accountability. When used properly, they can serve as tune-up before some big event such as a regulatory inspection. For more on Brief-Backs and other simple, high-impact management tools, reach out to Robin Bichy, one of ELP’s original partners at 703.999.5676 or at

Several years ago, we were lucky enough to work with an unparalleled leader. The type that others point to and say, “I want to be like him.” The three ELP partners studied his behavior and noticed a special and simple tool that this leader deployed to unlock tremendous performance gains and organizational learning. Actually, its simplicity might appear too good to be true. It isn’t. We saw his gift work without fail time and again—guaranteed.

When one of his followers would convey some data or information to him, he would simply ask, “How do you know?” It was beautiful and elegant in its simplicity. At its core, he was testing for the depth and range of knowledge about the situation. And he was using some of our five senses to arrive at his conclusion. People responded in a variety of ways. Mostly, leaders would respond that they were told these ‘truths’ by their ‘people’, and that’s how they knew. That response usually failed to meet the desired standard, as it wasn’t verifiable fact. Rather, it was just hearsay. The best form of knowing, and which his followers quickly learned, was to see it and maybe even feel it.

One time, he asked a Maintenance Manager if there was an extra set of fittings. The Maintenance Manager replied, ‘Yes’. Our leader-in-the-spotlight then asked, “How do you know?” Early on the Maintenance Manager replied, “That’s what corporate told me….” Or, “That’s what Rick said when I saw him in the hall.” Or “That’s what the computer said.” Two months later, the answer offered much more validity. When asked the question, the Maintenance Manager remarked that he had been to the warehouse and saw and felt the spare fittings—and that there were two more sets of spares!

This remarkable leader didn’t always ask this question because you don’t want your subordinate leaders always walking to the warehouse. Not only is it not efficient, it isn’t even feasible. So, he asked this question when it counted.

Try it out. It works. When you want a more engaged, intrusive set of followers, ask them the occasional, “How do you know?” That four word question will cause a variety of positive and exacting behaviors.

By the way, “How do you know that ELP can make an immediate difference in your organization?” Call Robin Bichy today at 703.999.5676.

Over the last several decades, we’ve observed and worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of leaders. When it comes to feedback, we’ve come up with a taxonomy—an organizing principle—that seems to apply across leaders and across settings. And it involves feedback.

Leaders seem to embrace feedback along one of three distinct lines. The first, and the worst, is the defensive orientation. A leader with this orientation never solicits feedback directly. And when he/she does get unsolicited feedback, they become defensive, angry, and blaming. They hunker down, and they don’t get better. Predictably, they get worse. The next step on the evolutionary feedback hierarchy is those that hold, what we call, a passive but welcoming feedback orientation. Leaders with this orientation, never ask for feedback. They are never proactive about pulling in ways to get better. But when they do get constructive, yet unsolicited, feedback, they tend to embrace it; and they get better from it. By far, the most advanced orientation, and the one that holds the most appeal, is what we call Feedback Seekers. These types of leaders play offense. They are always on the move, asking intrusive questions about their performance and behaviors. To these hard chargers, every piece of feedback is a unique opportunity to learn and to improve. Of course, this demands huge stores of humility along with, ironically, confidence. Confidence is required to put yourself out there with the chance that you may not like what you see or hear.

So, here’s our Leadership-In-Action assignment for you. Sometime this week, approach two personnel that you lead, and ask them for two things that you could do differently or better to be even more effective. They may be shocked—especially if you've never done this before. Or, worse, they may not feel safe giving you the feedback. We encourage you to press while ensuring their safety. So, don’t let them off the hook. They can email it to you, tell you to your face, and you can even give them time to think and reflect. But, just don’t let them get a pass. Just as we, as leaders, need to build the habit of receiving feedback, equally important is developing the skill in our subordinates to deliver feedback.

Here’s some feedback now. Call or email Robin Bichy today, one of the founders and principals at ELP, to better understand how to leverage this pioneering feedback perspective in your organization.