The Jolt – Harsh AND Effective

May 16, 2024. By Lori Brewer Collins

A lightning bolt touching ground with the stars behind

Last week I was working with a senior management team. Their executive VP made an appearance mid-way through our session to get an update on key initiatives. The team provided concise summaries. And then the VP stood to make her observations and comments. She delivered what I call “The Jolt” – a powerfully worded message of disappointment.

Not what the team expected.

And she did not mince words. It was a lot for this team of seasoned professionals to take in. They’ve been working tirelessly to steer their function through a large organization-wide transformation effort. And this was the feedback they were receiving after all that work. Ouch.

Yet, what’s remarkable is how this team responded to her comments. They recognized the underlying truth in what she said. In the debrief we held after she left, each of the managers conveyed their commitment to regaining her trust through improved performance. They quickly recognized that her input, “The Jolt,” will ultimately be the gift that will elevate them as leaders and the professionalism of their whole department.

This could so easily have gone in another direction! It could have turned into a downward spiral of victimhood filled with defense and excuses.

But they didn’t go there. They took in “The Jolt.” They considered the merits of what they’d heard. And they are determined to step up their game.

I find their response inspiring, and I have every reason to believe they will address the specific concerns she pointed out to meet the high bar that’s been set before them. In the process, they’ll elevate their entire function.

Here are key factors that made “The Jolt” effective rather than harmful:

1. Clear and Direct

There was no ambiguity in what the VP said. She was blunt – no sugarcoating. She also provided specific examples that made her expectations crystal clear and pointed to necessary actions to close the performance gap.

2. Respectful

Even though the message felt harsh, she was careful to keep it away from becoming a personal attack. She conveyed respect for the leaders in the room and their team members. She noted what they’d been doing right without diluting her overarching message.

3. Supportive

She committed to being available to them for support. If they do their part, she will go to the wall for them. She meant it, and they could feel it.

4. Connected to Organizational Effectiveness

She made sure the team knew the criticality of their role and the impact their department has on the entire organization. They are the enablers for all other functions. What they do is not only important, she made sure they know that what they do transcends everyone in the room.

5. Future Focused

Lastly, she let them know they could live up to her high expectations going forward. She focused on the future and the resulting opportunities that would come with upping their performance game. As she looked across the room at each of them, she ended her visit with a slight nod and a smile, and said, “Yes, this is a good team. You can do this.”

They were jolted into it, but this team is now highly motivated to address the gaps she pointed out and to regain her confidence. I’m looking forward to witnessing their wins as they do it.

Let me know what you think:

  • When have you received a jolt that led to positive action?
  • What other factors do you think made this particular situation effective?
  • What do you think would have caused it to be counter-productive?

Photo Credit: Angela Yuriko Smith / Pixabay

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