For entrepreneurs who are starting a new business, thinking about the culture they wish to develop is crucial. How we deliver and receive feedback plays a significant role in defining the culture.
You will know from experience that we all receive feedback on a regular basis. We are largely a product of how we have reacted to feedback throughout our lives. How we speak, dress, work, drive – these have all been informed by feedback from family, friends, teachers and colleagues. Considering how much this contributes to who we are and who we are becoming, it is surprising how little attention is paid to how effectively we deliver, receive and act on feedback.
Sincerely delivered, specific and supportive feedback helps identify previously unexplored areas for development, introduces new ideas and empowers people to pursue challenging goals. Feedback that is insincere, badly put together, or overly critical can demotivate individuals and damage relationships. This is why it is so important to consider feedback in the early stages of a start-up.
In my training on feedback delivery and implementation, I use an acronym called FAST. Effective feedback must comprise the following four elements:
- From the heart
I refer to these as the ‘four cornerstones of effective feedback’ because if just one is missing, the feedback falls down and loses all impact.
Let’s look at each aspect in turn so that you can use this approach in your start-up and develop an empowering culture in a strong and resilient business:
- From the Heart
People won’t listen to feedback and suggestions for change unless they believe the person delivering it cares about them. Empathy is at the root of all meaningful human communication; as soon as we show a genuine interest in the welfare of another person and are motivated by a desire to see them succeed, we open the door to another person’s life.
If you are delivering feedback, you must be courageous enough to ask yourself, “Do I really care about this individual’s progression, welfare, hopes and aspirations? Without an honest ‘Yes’, it is the wrong time – or you are the wrong person – to deliver feedback.
If you’re receiving feedback, remember the deliverer is also a person with imperfections. Be gracious. Don’t be confrontational. Take something that you can act on and politely discard anything that’s unhelpful.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll understand the need to inspire action. I recommend feedback with three distinct parts. First, offer praise on something they are doing well. Secondly, suggest an area of focus, something they need to do to move the work forward.
The third part of the feedback is the challenge. This is the invitation to act, to implement, to practise. A challenge might be: “When you’re demonstrating our product to a potential client, make it clear that you have listened to them. You can do this by showing them the aspects that are most important to them first. Remember to finish by returning to the one thing that sparked their interest most during your demonstration. This will make ending of your demonstration memorable.” That will drive forward the progress of their skill building and hold them accountable for implementing the feedback given.
Rather than the classic feedback sandwich (praise, suggested improvements, more praise) the three stage ‘praise, recommendation and challenge’ is more powerful. Embed this approach in your start-up from the beginning. After all, in a start-up, everyone must be ready to take on challenges!
Feedback that lacks specificity also lacks power.
For example, imagine an entrepreneur telling a team member “As you’ve said you’d like to improve your sales skills, I recommend you go to a class.” This is actionable, but not specific. If that same person said, “Take the sales skills class at our local college. It runs from 6-9pm on Wednesdays for 10 weeks and you can sign up this week,” then that changes everything. Specificity is the key to progress because it empowers the other person to act.
The more time that elapses between the event and feedback, the less impact it will have. Timeliness is key. If a detailed evaluation is not feasible immediately after the event has taken place, then a small verbal affirmation will help provide the necessary assurance and boost confidence.
If feedback is late or rushed, it is likely to lack sufficient detail or sensitivity to have any real impact. At worst, the lack of care shown can be damaging to the other person.
If you are delivering feedback, be prompt. If you are receiving it, turn up on time and be prepared to chase up someone when feedback is not being received promptly.
Successful entrepreneurs will guide and support team members. Ask them questions and then deliver your feedback from the heart. If you are a colleague receiving feedback from someone with more experience, be respectful of this and seek to learn from them.
Always give feedback from the heart and ensure it is actionable, specific and timely. This F.A.S.T. feedback will be a key factor in the quality of relationships, productivity and the culture you and your team enjoy in your successful start-up.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Day is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org