July 24, 2018 7:00:00 AM EDT  |  Leadership and Leadership Development

Struggling with Negative Feedback

A few years ago, my wife made a particularly astute observation about our firm. “Markon is weird, everyone is so nice and sincere! People just don’t have hidden agendas. That’s very unusual in your world.”

She’s mostly right! Markon is a highly collaborative company with a strong corporate culture. We generally don’t tolerate folks that don’t fit into our team-oriented mindset. It starts with our recruiting process and gets reinforced in most interactions.

Time for feedback written on a poster with drawings of charts during a brainstormIn all of this “niceness,” it can be tough providing constructive feedback. We are great at positive feedback. Not too long ago, we adopted a software tool called iRevü, which allows for the ability to provide and receive frequent, rapid feedback. There are two types of feedback options in iRevü: ‘Accolade’ or ‘Constructive’. While adoption of the tool is going well, the feedback being given is overwhelmingly accolades while constructive feedback is rare.

So why could this be bad?

As leaders, we are limiting our teams if we do not provide constructive feedback. Feedback is critical, but if it is all positive, we leave much room for improvement on the table.

For leaders, providing constructive feedback can be a much harder conversation than providing accolades. But it is really important. On the other side of the coin, while it may not be easy to receive constructive feedback, it is critical to our continued growth and development.

Let's Look at Some Examples

In other professions, constructive feedback has been integrated into the culture.

What Have You Learned? road sign with sun backgroundWhen I was in the Air Force, I supported fighter pilots as an air battle manager. After each mission, there was an extensive de-brief with detailed constructive criticism. We viewed these de-briefs as critical – as they made us better and more effective at the job. In the case of flying, being good at your job could be a matter of life or death so learning from the feedback and acting on it was crucial. As constructive feedback was built into our culture, after what could be viewed as an intense constructive feedback session those involved would often end up sharing beers and comradery in the officer’s club - just another day at the office.

As another example, in competitive athletics, post-game film analysis and debrief is part of development and is not just limited to professionals. Film analysis and critique is important to college level athletics and it is even adopted in some high schools. Addressing and correcting smaller details of game time performance could be the difference between a win or a loss.  In ‘games of inches’, every little bit can count.

So how do we overcome the challenges of providing and receiving constructive feedback?  

While we may not all be pilots or elite athletes, as business leaders, constructive feedback certainly plays a role in our development and advancement. As a result, integrating constructive feedback into our positive and up-beat corporate culture is essential. It should start at the executive and leadership levels and permeate through the entire organization.

Together, we need to view this feedback as imperative to improvement, as individuals and as a company. We need to advance a culture in which individuals are comfortable soliciting constructive feedback from their peers and leaders, and in turn, we need to become comfortable telling them that they can improve and how to do it.

Constructive feedback can feel unpleasant, but it is our corporate responsibility to demand it. This will enable employees to enhance their career development while allowing the firm to benefit from all personnel growth and to continue to be successful in the marketplace.


About the Author

Steve Genn, PMP, BCC

Steve Genn, PMP, BCC

Steve leads client delivery and portfolio growth at the Department of Defense (DoD) for Markon. He is accountable for the team’s professional growth and development, client satisfaction, and the portfolio’s success. He has served clients across the DoD, Intelligence Community, federal civilian, and commercial healthcare markets. With a passion for developing the next generation of leaders, Steve co-developed and facilitates Markon’s Leadership Development Program. Prior to Markon, Steve supported clients for PwC, West Hudson/Cardinal Health, and several highly regarded management consulting firms. He received his MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a BA from Louisiana State University, where he was commissioned through Air Force ROTC. Steve's military career includes service as an active duty Air Force Air Battle Manager, during which he flew missions in Desert Storm. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force Reserves. Steve currently holds the Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential and is a Board Certified Executive Coach (BCC), as well as a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner.