Listen up: feedback flows many ways

John Steedman
By John Steedman | 17 March 2015

I have always believed you should never try to cover up mistakes and that a secret between three people is a public announcement. Simply admit you screwed up and set about fixing those mistakes and, most importantly, learning from them.

In business, that means being honest with your staff, first and foremost. People are always the most important asset of any business, but particularly so in tough times as it’s your employees and the culture of your business that will pull you through challenges and on to the other side, stronger and better than ever before.

When I talk to the rising stars within our business, and the industry at large, I stress the importance of being authentic. As Oscar Wilde famously said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” That’s something that resonates with us as Australians, because we appreciate straight shooters.

But, as a business, you also have to be a good listener and have the ability to connect. For us, that means listening to our people, our clients, media owners and everyone we work with.

Part of being a good listener is being able to provide, and receive, valuable feedback. In business, feedback is simply sharing observations about job performance or work-related behaviours.

Feedback is not an appraisal once a year; it should be provided on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, for many people the word feedback has taken on negative connotations so that it is viewed as negative or passing judgement. If judgement comes into it, you’re doing it wrong.

You can give feedback up to your managers, down to those you manage, and laterally to your colleagues. And you may receive feedback from any direction. That’s the beauty of it – it flows in all directions and facilitates organisational learning.

The goal of positive feedback is to reinforce preferred behaviours or patterns of problem solving. And this is an important aspect in your organisational culture, too.

The timing of feedback is also important. It’s easy to pick the right timing if you’re providing feedback on a job well done, a successful project or recognising resourceful behaviour. If the feedback relates to an area of improvement, you may want to pause long enough to gather all the necessary information before discussing an issue. And give people (including yourself) time to cool off if you’re responding to an upsetting behaviour.

If you are trying to improve an employee’s performance, make sure the feedback is future focused – be constructive, not critical, and offer suggestions of improvement. Corrective feedback can be more challenging to accept and act on. As our Aspire trainers say: 'Feedback is a gift.' Take it that way.

Every company has a vision of where it wants to go. This also applies to individuals. So don’t just set goals for your business; help your people set individual goals as well, and then help them achieve those goals. Once you reach your vision and achieve your goals – whether as a business or an individual – set another goal.

And remember: in good or challenging times, the best approach is to act ethically, transparently, honestly, authentically and with integrity.

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