In a recent article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail (05/27/13), leadership specialist Barbara Morris explains why effective leaders embrace their critics, and learn from this.
Many of us hope senior management of Tarion Warranty Corporation will read this article (link below).
As a “consumer protection” monopoly of the Ontario government, a private corporation exempt from the Auditor General’s and Ombudsman of Ontario’s oversight, Tarion has all the more reason to listen to consumers, whether they like the feedback or not. Especially important is feedback from consumers who didn’t benefit from the warranty protection Tarion says it provides.
The oversight Ministry, (“working with Tarion”) should also be responsive to consumer feedback, especially since there are very few ways to bring transparency to a monopoly whose current legislation doesn’t provide much. Tarion’s former Chair stated in a glowing report on his own 10-year term (Ottawa Citizen, 15/05/15) that there are advantages to Tarion’s current oversight model, “keeping the government’s nose out of doing things.” No doubt this is an advantage for senior executives. But that’s exactly the problem most consumers raise: lack of transparency and scrutiny of this monopoly, described as a “black box” by a former prominent MPP.
“Trust but verify” seems to make a lot of sense. Consumers want to trust Tarion, but is anyone in authority verifying?
Tarion attacking the credibility of consumers who take their own time and money to give valuable feedback is not helpful. Ignoring, distorting, or trivializing consumer questions is not helpful. Senior management saying “we’re not going to answer any questions which have already been asked”, or “I doubt I could say anything which could make YOU happy, madam” (Tarion Annual Public Meeting, 04/2014), comes across as imperious, ignoring the content of the question, brushing aside like flies those who ask inconvenient questions about policy and process.
This is a sign of managerial weakness, not strength.
Ms. Morris states in her article: “the most effective leaders listen to critics as a means of acquiring helpful feedback to improve their personal and organizational performance.” She adds: “when a leader is open to critics, it completely changes the dynamic – people feel relaxed and empowered and it makes for a more honest environment.”
“Value contrarians; learn from mistakes ” she advises.
How can a consumer organization develop up-to-date consumer policy if it shuns feedback, especially from those who’ve experienced problems with the warranty and ended up paying for shoddy builders’ work? Tarion is a complex, opaque organization, and anyone taking time to write to senior executives, meet with MPPs, attend the Legislature for tabling of new legislation, should be deserving of respect, not derision. Some of these consumers have persisted after 2, 4, or in some cases 10+ years, because they see injustices which still need to be fixed, and don’t want others to suffer as they have. Consumers who know the organization best often have the most valuable input for improvement.
Recently I put together as a volunteer a consumer focus group to provide feedback to a consultant hired by Tarion. All of the consumer participants did this on their own time, at their own expense. All of them provided thoughtful, detailed, reasoned feedback on Tarion’s “dispute resolution process”. This was done in a professional and helpful way, and I know many put aside their anger and frustration to focus on clear feedback and suggestions. I’m very proud of these consumers. I’m proud of all those who continue to fight for reforms as consumer volunteers. Tarion can learn a lot from this feedback. These consumers are well-meaning, articulate, very knowledgeable about Tarion, and want to help others avoid the hardship they’ve experienced. This is something to encourage, not brush aside.
In the words of both Tarion’s CEO and their former board chair: “(Tarion’s critics) “are a small handful of people who are relentless“. If that’s true, it should be turned into a positive. Through these people Tarion can gain relevant, up-to-date market intelligence for consumer policy deliberations. At present only lip service is being paid to real consumer input, as many experienced in the recent Builder Bulletin 20 “consultation”.
Criticism goes with the territory when you become a leader, especially when you’re running a government monopoly weak on public transparency.
Ms. Morris advises leaders in her article: “Actively and optimistically pursue new opportunities;” (…) “seek different perspectives; value contrarians”.
Consumers bring valuable feedback to the policy-making table. This can’t be done through behind-closed-door sessions, using anonymous participants with superficial knowledge of the warranty experience, or employees who may feel they have to give management the feedback it wants to hear.
Message to Tarion executives and board members: don’t stifle real consumer feedback, or delete, ignore, or distort consumer questions about your consumer policies. This is a job you are amply paid to do. Listening respectfully to consumers is a big part of a consumer protection organization’s first and foremost task.
Ms. Morris ends her article with this advice: embrace your critics, use criticism constructively, embrace opportunities for growth.
Tarion would do well to listen to this advice.