Strike While the Iron's Hot: As an Entrepreneur, Are You Getting Enough Critical Feedback?
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Strike While the Iron’s Hot: As an Entrepreneur, Are You Getting Enough Critical Feedback?

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Guest post by Katie Kemple, producer of the Women Grow Business leadership series. With an extensive background in radio, television, and communications, she holds an Executive Master’s in Leadership from Georgetown University. Katie believes in the power of positive thinking (plus embracing failure as a path to success). She’s writing a memoir about being unemployed and a book on finding joy in leadership (with her blog at Love Your Layoff, where she can be reached).

Encouraging Critical Feedback
I got my undergraduate degree in creative writing. Not a likely background for most businesswomen. But, writing aside, I learned two key leadership skills in my classes: how to give and receive criticism.

Of course, the beauty of a writing workshop is that there’s a system for feedback.

By entering the class, you are asking others to review your work in the hopes that by doing so, you will improve.

That is, in fact, the entire value of taking the class.

But the work place is not a writing workshop. We do our jobs and there is often very little time reserved for critical feedback. If you’re an entrepreneur this is particularly true. You may or may not have employees, vendors, and clients who voluntarily provide feedback.

Chances are, if you as an entrepreneur don’t have a system in place, you’re missing a lot.

The problem: absent ways to vent

(image, Listen To Reason, by Jared Chapman)

If your contacts [and stakeholders in general] don’t have an opportunity to provide critical feedback, they will most likely vent their frustrations to others. That’s why I’m an advocate for creating systems to provide regular, constructive, and critical feedback.

Taking initiative
As a chief operating officer, I made a point to call all of our clients personally, at least twice a year to hear their feedback on our service. These calls surfaced valuable feedback on our strengths and weaknesses. They also provided useful information on the state of their business beyond our relationship.

Some conversations led to in-depth discussions about new technology. Others, to new ways for us to collaborate to solve problems previously off the radar.

And many conversations sparked internal discussions about how to improve our service. Furthermore, our clients genuinely appreciated the opportunity to have an honest discussion.

To get started:
Make a list of your stakeholders: employees, board members, clients, vendors, peers. For each group, ask yourself how much feedback you’re currently receiving. Is any of it critical? Next, determine how frequently and when to request feedback. Be flexible. An annual review is a start, but not always the best way to get critical feedback.

I like to strike while the iron’s hot, and ask for feedback immediately following a big project.

This not only yields insight at its peak, but also helps inform the next big initiative.

Several rules I suggest for the feedback process:

  • Rule #1: Encourage honesty by stating you want to improve your business and that you’re open to critical feedback.
  • Rule #2: Prepare a list of open ended questions.
  • Rule #3: Once a question is posed, listen without interrupting.
  • Rule #4: Don’t get defensive! Fighting feedback will not help you.
  • Rule #5: Ask follow up questions to fully understand the scope of a problem.
  • Rule #6: Ask for suggestions and identify action steps.
  • Rule #7: Thank the person providing feedback and tell them how they’ve helped you.
  • Rule #8: Follow up. Nothing shows understanding like action itself.

It is essential in feedback conversations to create a safe, open environment. I can’t stress that enough. The best way to do this is to show your employees, vendors and clients through daily interactions that you want to hear their thoughts.

Nothing kills critical feedback faster than a defensive boss.

Likewise, watch out for feedback bullies on your executive team. Ideally, you want every person you’re dealing with to feel comfortable speaking up — regardless of who else is in the room.

By nurturing an environment conducive to feedback, you will collect more useful and practical feedback to improve your business. It’s also a very sincere way to show people you care.

And when you listen to their thoughts and integrate them into your business, you give people a sense of shared ownership in the results.

That means more support on your road to success.

More on feedback:


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