Feedback the key to improvement in sport and business

August 9, 2017

I spoke to two organisations in the past week about leadership, behaviour and culture, and both had the same challenges.

Feedback — how to give it and how it should be received — is important. My first point I made very clear. If you are a leader and not prepared to communicate and be honest, you are not taking your responsibility seriously.

As a leader you can always surround yourself with people who have technical expertise.

Staff can also complement you, and perhaps operate slightly differently and have different personalities.

What you cannot do is abrogate your responsibility to hold people accountable and drive your culture. You must do this by honest, open and direct communication.

There is no doubt that coaching a football team demands communication skills, and constantly making deadlines.

Football clubs are made up of people and people drive the business. They do not have a product or a service; they have 44 players who represent the club each week and winning football games is their business.

They do not have the luxury of putting off a deadline. You simply cannot ring up the AFL and say, “Sorry, we are not ready for the 2.10pm game on Saturday. Can we push it back a couple of days?”

Here are the keys to giving feedback to staff:

1. Don’t think of your business as selling cars, insurance, light bulbs, etc. Look at your business as a group of people trying to get the best out of themselves and each other.

2. Be really clear on what your behaviours/values are. If possible get your staff involved in the decision-making and make sure that everyone understands them and agrees with them.

3. Meet regularly, not to talk about the product but to openly discuss how people are tracking. Don’t see this time as an impediment to your business. Just because you are not directly selling, setting budgets, or writing marketing strategies doesn’t mean you are not having a positive impact on the bottom line.

4. Mastering feedback takes time. It is like any skill: it needs to be practised. If you are clear on your values, all your feedback should relate directly to these ­values.

5. Understand people’s personalities. How do they best like to receive feedback? You must invest in relationships to fully understand your staff, and take time to get to know people in your organisation.

6. Use your leadership group to lean on each other and help each other. You don’t have to give the feedback yourself. If you feel someone else will have better success with that particular person than let them do it.

7. Make sure you give positive feedback as much as possible. People will feel good about themselves and others will look at that positive behaviour and want to reproduce it. Everyone wants to feel values and positive feedback will drive positive behaviour.

8. Try not to give the feedback when you’re angry or emotional.

Let yourself calm down. Then you are more rational and able to articulate the message more ­clearly.

Finally, the two most important points to remember when giving feedback:

9. You can’t control how people receive the feedback.

You can only control how you give it.

I have no doubt that many people don’t give the feedback because they are terrified about how the recipients will respond.

10. Always give feedback because you want to help the person improve. Above all, you are doing it to improve your team and ultimately your organisation. If it is done for any other reason, it is personal, selfish and unnecessary.

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