Monthly Archives: June 2011

I Can Manage, Thank You!

Scattered across the globe are various examples where greater self-management in the workplace has been realised: flat structures, peer-reviews, team accountabilities; localised decision-making; & team reward structures created by and managed by the team.

But these examples are still few and far between. It seems that our love of management means that we keep coming back to its top-down model. We just can’t help ourselves.

Being managed by others is neither inherently wrong, nor inherently good. Sometimes it is appropriate and other times it is not, but we don’t always seem clear about that distinction.

Self-management may not always be the answer, but wouldn’t it be great if we could top up our employees’ facility for managing themselves more at work? Maybe it’s time to give them more credit?

Surely, we can help people to help themselves just a little bit more…even if that means giving up a bit of our management authority.

I don’t mean to suggest that hierarchical management structures have served their time and now need to be done away with. This isn’t a call to arms, or a revolutionary battle cry.

But it seems sensible to look at how we might re-engage employees so that they bring more of themselves to work.


The Management Bug

Some people believe that employees NEED managing and closely controlling. They fear that we might go off the rails if we aren’t kept in check and pointed in the right direction. They basically don’t trust us to do a good job without them.

I don’t know when we all suddenly become incapable of thinking for ourselves, talking to our colleagues, and planning our activities, but at some point in our corporate history it seems to have been decided that people in general cannot be left unsupervised.

I can see that they might have a point. After all, give some people enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.

But this isn’t true of everyone, is it? Some people given enough rope can weave masterpieces.

But once this notion of helpless or incapable or untrustworthy employees got a grip, it didn’t seem to want to let go.

And so, in some cases we’re left with management activities that are little more than baby-sitting, or controlling and dictatorial.

When people are free to make their own decisions: when people feel that they are trusted by their leaders; when people feel that they can drive and steer the work they do; and when people feel they have the authority to change things that aren’t working, remarkable thing start to happen to them. They:

  •  start taking managed risks
  • start being creative
  • develop confidence
  • get excited about what they are doing
  • develop ambition
  • feel a sense of ownership and accountability

People who are too closely managed typically show the reverse.

Generation X(pectations)

Whatever the circumstances that have created this dependency on being managed, it seems that we have a different breed of employee these days.

People born during the 60’s and 70’s (often referred to as Generation X) appear to be more sceptical of leaders and more determined to have control over their lives.

These are not the same employee of old who accepted a natural deference for hierarchy and who were happy to doff their cap to the factory owner.

Generation X employees have very different expectations of their work and how it is managed. They want to be more involved in resolving their own issues and exercising their own judgement. And they are less tolerant of poor management.

Here’s a response I got from an experienced manager who received an article of mine on Absence Management.

“When I saw the title ‘Absence Management’ I thought it was going to explain the almost non-existent management style that one or two of our remote managers have towards their local employees”.

The issue here is that even when companies create tiers of management, managers are often invisible.

But Generation X employees are more savvy: if they have a manager, they want their manager to do something. They want them to manage. And they know when they aren’t managing. And when this happens, they invariably ask, “what’s the point of them anyway, can’t we manage ourselves?”

Are We Helpless?

For some, it’s an argument still to be won that people are perfectly capable of managing themselves.

But let’s look at some of the evidence.

  • When you get up in the morning, who decides what you will wear? 
  • When you go shopping, who decides what you will buy? 
  • When you plan your holiday, who works out the itinerary? 
  • When you are sorting out your household utility providers, who tells you where to do your research? 
  • When you realise you need to learn something new, who goes about planning how to get it? 
  • When you are taking money out of the bank, who sets a limit on how much you withdraw? 
  • When you need to replace your vehicle, who gives you permission? 
  • When you start a relationship, who chooses your partner for you? 
  • When you are making arrangements to meet friends for a social get-together, who tells you that you can go? 
  • When you realise that your hair is getting long, who is it that tells you to get it cut?

I’d hazard a guess that the answer to all these questions was ‘You’, even though some of you might also have added “my other half”. But there’s not a manager in sight (unless that’s the type of relationship you have with your other half, in which case you might be in trouble!).

If you were at work, it is likely that someone else determined your dress code, someone else worked out who you could buy from, someone else was managing your diary, someone else was setting your budgets and telling you what you could spend, and someone else was managing your development.

I believe that people are very good at making decisions that allow them to manage their finances, and their lives. Occasionally they mess it up and they need help; often they find they can’t do it alone and need a partner or friends; sometimes they need to bring in some ‘experts’, and it’s always helpful to get some feedback. But on the whole they manage perfectly well. They may well need to negotiate with others, since few of us actually live in a vacuum. But they seem to manage this ok without falling over too often.

So why should we expect them to hang up their adeptness, their judgement and their proficiency at managing themselves as soon as they walk through the company door?

A recent survey conducted by Gallup asked “Do you feel you are able to utilise your strengths every day at work?” Only 20% of respondents said “yes”. The figure was even lower the higher up the greasy pole they shimmied.

So people who manage household budgets, complex travel plans, complicated social calendars, school runs, cooking and shopping, dealing with family crises as they arise: are equipped with a vast array of skills that they are commonly not required to exercise at work.

These skills are surplus to requirements because, supposedly, a manager exists to do those things for them!

That’s crazy, isn’t it?

Conditions Attached

If we can create the right conditions, it is possible that people will be able to use all their strengths to manage themselves at work more effectively, and possibly free themselves from the apron strings of managers.

This might actually free up managers to become better leaders, by allowing them to develop more strategic capability.

I think that’s a goal worth exploring, whether you pursue a full-blown strategy of Self-Managed Work teams, or whether you simply want to encourage greater individual self-management.

What are some of these conditions?

  • Leadership : A Vision & Strategy
  • Resources: A place to work and the tools to do the job
  • Sponsors: Strong and powerful promoters and door-openers
  • Specialists: offering expertise and extra support



Not all managers are leaders. They typically spend their time controlling, organising, planning and reviewing within parameters set by their leaders.

But if employees could take on many of these responsibilities and activities, it becomes possible for managers to up their game by developing leadership skills such as communication, strategy setting, vision creating, company promotion, new market exploration, etc.

Most people, once they are clear about the direction they should be heading in, are capable of setting their own milestones and managing their time and workload to get them to their destination. A properly constructed team, with the right set of diverse skills, should be able to accommodate this. Key roles and responsibilities can be handed out to individual members of the team, based on their strengths (whether that’s communication, planning, finance, quality, etc.)

Only if they are struggling do they need to reach out for support from their leaders. It’s management (or co-management) by exception.

Moving to this model requires careful planning. It would be unwise to suddenly hand over all responsibility to a team without first assessing their capability and providing them with the necessary training and support.


No matter how good you or your team are, you won’t get far if you don’t have the basic resources to do your work.

I’m talking about:

  •  Communication & information systems
  • A physical space to operate
  • A budget
  • Equipment

Once these are in place, raw materials purchasing can be managed by the team; how the budget is spent to meet the financial targets set by leaders can be left to the team to agree; whether home-working is or isn’t allowed could be determined by the team; performance monitoring can be done by the team.

Looking at the list above, we’ve got to keep asking ourselves, “Why not?” And “Why not take on even more stuff?”


It’s good to have a powerful friend, and teams are no exception.

Where teams have a senior, credible, influential person within the organisation, someone who is on their side and fighting their corner, they become capable of achieving so much more than if they stand alone and friendless.

Projects have sponsors, so why shouldn’t teams? After all, a team delivers multiple projects.

The role of a team sponsor is a vital yet often neglected one. Team members often look to their manager to be the sponsor, but the role is distinctly different.

An effective sponsor should look and feel like this:

  •  Someone with a high profile whose endorsement of your team carries real weight
  • A trusted ally
  • An introducer to an advantageous network
  • Someone who can promote and publicise the work of your team
  • Someone who is interested in the work of your team
  • Someone who considers your team whenever they are involved in activities that could benefit (or harm) the team
  • Someone who has access to resources that you would otherwise have difficulty securing
  • Someone who is proud to be associated with your team
  • Someone who you could approach in confidence, knowing that they have your best interests at heart
  • Preferably someone who does not have hierarchical authority over the team – and is therefore a neutral force

Just imagine how strong you could be if you had one of these on your side.


No team will be equipped to accommodate every eventuality. Teams can’t afford to carry people who may only be required intermittently for their specialist input. I don’t have a plumber locked away in the cellar just in case I get a burst pipe!

Therefore, an appropriate support network needs to be established, where teams can go to access the expertise they need when they need it.

Occasionally this will be purchased externally, and the team might even manage its own budget in order to pay for it. Perhaps more commonly, it will be provided by the organisation and they can even charge internal teams for using it.

Whether made available internally or externally, the key thing will be ensuring that it is available at the point of need.

Just as we have our own private list of trade’s people in case of home emergencies, teams need their own directory of trusted and reliable specialist suppliers.

Top Down or Top Up?

We can do our companies and our people a great disservice by not allowing employees more room to manage themselves.

We’ve assumed for too long that hierarchies are the answer. In some cases this has led to a population explosion of managers: layers-upon-layers of them, each standing on each other’s shoulders, holding up decision-making, suppressing the creativity and drive of the people below them.

Some institutions (such as the NHS or the BBC) have begun to feel like management schools. All the effort and much of the cash going into propping up the management structure, whilst people on the front line are desperately trying to provide a service that is worth having.

Management isn’t intrinsically bad. Much of it is great. There is definitely a role for it. So, you don’t have to abandon management. You don’t have to go the whole hog and create self-managed work teams. You don’t even have to stop doing some of the things you currently do as managers.

But maybe you should give your employees more credit for what they can achieve for themselves, without you.


Under the Influence – Power, Influence and Relationships

Dear Auntie,

 I like a drink. I won’t deny it. But it’s all about moderation.

When I’m flat on my face in a gutter having consumed half a cellar full of strong ale and a wee snifter of Talisker, I know that I don’t command the respect of my colleagues or have any positive influence over them.

But if I’ve had a small glass of chardonnay with a meal, my balance isn’t impaired and I can function well.

It’s not comfortable being under the influence of anything, whether it’s alcohol or someone else. To be under the influence means to be out of control, and studies show that people who don’t feel in control are more prone to serious illness.

So my ambition is to have influence but to find a way to use it wisely. I don’t want to exert my influence at the expense of others. I really don’t want my colleagues to feel out of control. I just want to find a way to stop feeling so useless.

What can you suggest?


 Address withheld.

Dear Reader

Your dilemma is prescient, and your ambition is laudable.

In a world where the stated ambition of many organisations is to reduce tiers of management; where we seem to demand more individual accountability; and where the more common form of working is through a matrix rather than a formal hierarchy; we have to find better ways of persuading and influencing others to join with us.

Perhaps it was easier in the ‘good old days’. Everyone knew where they stood. You doffed your cap to your manager; you prostrated yourself at the feet of the Chairman of the Board; you expected to be told what to do by those with higher levels of authority: after all that’s why they got paid so much more than you.

Power, authority, influence: these used to be the preserve of the elder. A condition of social infrastructure based on natural deference to more senior generations meant that benefits could be bestowed on you by virtue of seniority alone and often formalised by promotion in rank. It’s still like this in some parts of the world, but less so.

Just look at some of the titles our lords and masters held (or hold).

  • Fore-man
  • Super-visor
  • Team Leader
  • Prime Minister
  • Chief Operating officer

The name is tantamount to saying, “You’re top dog”, “You’re now better than the rest”.  After all, you can only be in the lead if you’re out in front.

So it’s an easy leap to make that having been afforded this privilege, you might now consider yourself better than others; it’s implied that you will make better decisions, you will be more valuable and significant, and that people should listen to you…and do what you say. The role has given you that right. You’ve earned it.

This is a flawed old model in so many ways, not least from a philosophical and moral perspective. But even without these flaws, it simply doesn’t work in practice anymore: because having the Power of Position isn’t enough to get the job done, and it has nothing to do with age.

There are some persistent pockets of people across western economies who continue to hanker for the clarity of old that provided a simple template for their interactions at work. But these pockets have grown smaller and the holes in them bigger. Now it is only really possible to hold on to this dream by clenching your fists in defiance as you stubbornly sink them further into those retreating pockets.

FORMAL AUTHORITY: not all it’s cracked up to be

It is true that people by virtue of hierarchy, are still afforded a level of Formal Authority or Power. This power is the right, through position or status, to make decisions, and is conferred on them by higher management: the higher in the hierarchy, the greater the decision-making authority.

This power is not in contention here, nor is the right to it. But power resulting from formal authority is seldom sufficient on its own.

Power depends on seniors, juniors and peers accepting your right and ability to take control, and we are unlikely to accept this on the basis of formal authority alone. Wearing a badge saying, ‘I’m a manager, I’ve got power’ won’t cut much ice with most of us unless we see some real substance behind it.

So other types of power need to be drawn upon.

Most people who obviously have a high status or position prefer to use a combination of different types of power bases.  They recognise that relying solely on Formal Authority is rather like the Parent who relies on the ‘because I say so’ method of persuasion. For those of us who are parents we probably share the same view as to how effective that is! I.e. Not very!

We all have power, if we want to use it.

The good news is that most of us (if not all of us) have some power in one form or another within our working lives. Organisational power-politics is seldom a one-way street.

 Understanding what these other power-bases are can be a liberating experience, because suddenly we find ourselves in a position of strength and influence.

I am not talking about having power over people here. This isn’t about getting one up on someone else, or about elevating your status at the expense of others. This isn’t a competition.

Instead, I believe we all have ‘power in-relation to people.’  That is, our power-base is formed by the way we relate to others and is dependent on the flow of power coming back to us from them. That means it is a power that can be held by anyone and everyone without the need to be appointed to a senior position.

If this is true, there’s a lot more potential to be realised in our organisations, and in the way people work and interact with each other.

The Cards You Can Play

Think for a moment about why people might follow you or listen to you or take you seriously.

  •  They might follow you because they have to (Power by Position), probably because they are afraid or feel helpless.
  • They might follow you because they want to (Power by Consent); because life is easier that way or they want to give you a chance.
  • They might follow you because of what you have done for the organisation (Power earned through Productivity) which suggests that you might know what you are doing.
  • They might follow you for what you have done for them (Power earned through People Development), which builds loyalty and gratitude.
  • They might follow you because of who you are and what you represent (Power flowing from Character), because they basically like you.

On this last note, it’s worth recalling a story that Lee Iacocca tells about his time and ignominious departure from Ford.

He was a very successful CEO of Ford, steering the company from being a poor performing operation to a $2 billion operating profit. As such, he was highly regarded (Power earned through Productivity & Position)

Technically and intellectually he was gifted, bright, and confident and he delivered. He was passionate, determined, straight talking, direct, he got things done – he knew how to make an organisation very successful …and did so.

In his 1984 autobiography (Iacocca-An Autobiography) he wrote of the hard lesson he learned when he was surprisingly fired by Henry Ford. Given his huge success in the role he asked why he was being sacked. He was told, “We just don’t like you anymore”

Even though Iacocca defended his position, quoting facts and figures to illustrate what he had achieved, Henry Ford replied “Lee you are absolutely right, but you forget I am the boss and I just don’t like you anymore”

He didn’t have the Power of Consent or the Power of Character, and these turned out to be more important that all the rest, (except for Henry Ford in this case who relied on good old-fashioned Power by Position!)

So think about what cards you can play. What do you have within your make-up and within your role that affords you some of the power which you can use to:

  • increase your influence
  •  generate better relationships
  • maximise your potential
  • and allow you to have more meaningful interactions with all your colleagues irrespective of where they sit in the hierarchy

How many of the following cards do you have or could you obtain?


Expertise: I’m good at what I do and people need my skills

Resource Control: I have access to things and information that people might need

Communication Skills: People find me interesting, friendly & articulate; and they want to do business with me.

Many of us have a combination of types of power flowing in both directions.  Even if we hold apparently lowly positions, we can have strong influence and a powerful role to play in our manager’s ability to deliver, and in the way we conduct business with our stakeholders.

Review yourself against these three Ace cards. Are you playing with a full deck?


This is the specialist knowledge, skills and understanding, which you have acquired through professional training either inside or outside the organisation. For example, the company lawyer or accountant can acquire power and influence because there are few others who can do what they do.

By becoming a specialist (expert) at what you do within the organisation, be it IT, Teaching, Customer Service, Sales or any other line of work, you gain power because you have something that is precious to others.

Ask Yourself: What expertise do you have and what new expertise could you develop?


This power is the control of physical, financial or information resources of the organisation, and what’s interesting here is that people in relatively low formal authority positions can have considerable resource control.

One of the most powerful people in an organisation is the switchboard operator or receptionist, or a PA, or the person who allocates car parking spaces. The most power however, goes to those who control the most valued resources – particularly money and information.

Ask yourself: What resource control do you have, and who has resource control in relation to you?


This power flows from your ability to build and develop good relationships; the ability to influence, to persuade, to communicate well, to motivate yourself and others, to delegate effectively, to negotiate fairly, to be assertive, to anticipate and tackle problems before they can damage the organisation and the people, to show compassion. This power doesn’t only depend on personal flair and innate suaveness. It can also be developed through training and practice.

Ask yourself: What personal skills do you already have, and what personal skills do you wish to develop?

So Dear Reader…

We are all happier when we can achieve a balance of power, and problems can be starkly highlighted when you observe an imbalance.

Look at the balance of power in different relationships you have and you will see that the relationships which cause you grief are the ones where there is an imbalance. These are the relationships where you feel less in relation them; where you feel undermined, undervalued, and irrelevant.

By contrast, the relationships you value are the ones where you feel a sense of equality, respect, shared understanding or interest, and a right to be there.

People need you as much as you need them, and by relying on the whole gamut of resources that you have in your armoury, you will be able to re-balance. The result can be less wobbling and dizziness from being under the influence, and more equilibrium from having influence.

Power might afford privileges but even more so, it comes with responsibilities. We can choose to use this power to make ourselves strong (like Lee Iacocca, maybe) or to make others weak.

But much better to use all your power in relation to others wisely, in a way that makes everyone a balanced contributor.

Feed Me, Don’t Devour Me!

I like a good meal, especially with a nice glass of chilled Viognier.

I really look forward to those long lazy Sunday lunches or Christmas dinners. I feel energised by a hearty homemade broth on a winter’s day. I relish Thursday because it’s ‘Hurry for a Curry’ night.

I enjoy my food, and I choose it carefully. I choose how much I want and where to get it. I decide who I want to have it with. I make sure it’s good for me and I try not to overdo it. That’s a recipe for contentment, nourishment and growth.

What I don’t do, is stuff my face three or four times a day with rich foods, piled high on my plate, washed down with copious amounts of alcohol. I’m not like the cat, Six Dinners Sid, who visits six houses, one after the other, for a slap-up meal at each. And I don’t starve myself all week, so that I can go to an ‘eat all you can’ banquet on a Friday night.

There’s a reason for that. I’m not a glutton for punishment. I know that overeating is bad for me and binging makes me ill.

So my mantra is little and often, regular and nourishing, healthy and wholesome, varied and satisfying.

That’s what I want my feedback to be.

I believe that feedback is a powerful instrument for good. Used well, it has the capacity to transform people and the companies within which they work. Yet I am continually frustrated each time I visit a new company by the realisation that it isn’t used at all, or it isn’t used wisely.

So, I think we’re missing a trick. What’s it going to take to get fed, instead of getting fed-up?

Feed Me!! 

 The clue is in the title. Feedback should be like food for the soul; it should nourish and sustain us; it should enable us to grow.


But often our experience is anything but. Too often it’s more like:

  • A feeding frenzy as each colleague dives in for another bite of the kill
  • Starvation rations
  • Cutting you down to size
  • A weak insipid soup
  • A drunken orgy of mutual adoration

I don’t wish to be unkind, but most people who have ever tried to give me feedback seem to have confused the whole sordid event as an opportunity to get a few things off their chest. They’ve often left me feeling like I’ve been covered in phlegm.

I can’t be too hard on them, because when did we ever learn to give each other feedback? I certainly don’t remember anyone teaching me how to do it, so like most other people I stumbled through the process, trying to work out how to do it myself.

It’s not easy, especially if you’ve never been taught, and you don’t get much practice.

That’s the first problem.

Then we don’t make it any easier for ourselves by our own response to feedback when we do get it.

Typically, whenever anyone tries to give us feedback we respond in one of the following ways:

  1. Run away
  2. Get embarrassed
  3. Dismiss it
  4. Take it personally and start beating ourselves up
  5. Take it personally and start beating them up
  6. Argue
  7. Feel sick/go off sick

So the problem of giving feedback is often compounded by our apparent inability to digest it.

But there’s a third problem, which is not knowing how to ask for it in the first place.

Some people are courageous enough to ask for feedback, but many people choose not to or don’t know how to broach the subject.

So now we have a triple whammy:

  1. We don’t know how to ask for it
  2. We don’t know how to give it
  3. We don’t know what to do with it when we get it!

To get feedback on the company menu, we have to look at the three problems separately. It’s like putting together a healthy three course meal.

We have to learn:

    1.  How to Ask for it
    2. How to Give it
    3. How to Receive it

 Asking For It!

 We can’t react to feedback if we’re not getting it, so first we have to take practical measures to make it possible for people to give it to us.

The trouble is people are often afraid of giving us feedback because they don’t know how they will receive the feedback and respond to it. [Or maybe they know EXACTLY how we will respond!]

But maybe most of all, we are reluctant to give people feedback because we don’t know they want it.

I’m talking about formal, face-to-face feedback here, but in reality, we’re getting and giving feedback all the time. It’s just that we don’t always see it as that.

These are all ways that people let us know what they think of us.

But it’s unsatisfactory; it’s too subtle, covert or indirect. We need to find a way that brings feedback into the open.

So the best way to make people feel comfortable about giving you feedback is to ask them for it.

We have to let them know that we want it. Without an invitation, they don’t know whether they have a right to offer it.

That’s the easy bit. The tough bits are:

  • Asking with an open and enquiring mind
  • Signalling what it is you actually want by asking the question
  • Being prepared for what you might hear

Let’s go back to the question we used earlier:

“Do you think I look alright in this dress?”

 Is this person really asking for constructive feedback or do they simply want to know that you’re paying attention? Do they really want a detailed critique of the way the fabric hangs, how the colour does or doesn’t complement their skin tones, or whether it matches their shoes? Probably not. But how would you know?

It’s possible that they simply want reassurance before walking out of the door. Maybe they want to force a compliment. Maybe it’s just a habitual phrase that simply requires a cursory nod. But how would you know? Many a good relationship gets damaged by not knowing what you’re being asked for!

I recognise that intimate relationships have slightly different rules to the ones we have at work.

At home, we are expected to be highly intuitive of each other, to be able to read each other’s minds. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to tell our partners how fabulous they look without being asked!

But at work, we do need to ask, if only because we haven’t yet become used to giving feedback to each other.

So, at work, the next time you think you want feedback from another person think carefully about how you will ask for it. Think first, what is it I actually want?

  1. a.      Do I want praise and recognition?
  2. b.      Do I want reassurance?
  3. c.       Do I want to genuinely discover something new?
  4. d.      Am I looking for ways in which I can be even better?
  5. e.      Do I just want to check that my view of myself matches the view of my peers?
  6. f.       Do I want to be fed?
  7. g.      Do I want help?

Asking “does my bum look big in this?” is a valid question, because you can’t see your own bum without the aid of strategically placed mirrors. It’s a question that could be designed to uncover a blind spot.

 These are all legitimate wants, but unless you signal this to your colleague, you might get much more or much less than you bargained for.


“I really want to learn from this experience and I’d like your help in clarifying some of the areas where you think I could have done things better or differently”…

…will get you a vastly different response than asking …

“Please tell me I did alright?”

 And not asking at all will leave you guessing and relying on your ability to read all the subtle signs that are out there.


Giving It

 If your colleague won’t feel richer or benefit in some way as a result of receiving your feedback, don’t give it? Or don’t call it feedback.

A ‘thank you’ or a pat on the back is nice and I wouldn’t choose to reject it. But it’s not the type of feedback I’m talking about. It’s recognition that might momentarily make me feel better, but there’s not much I can do with it.

I want to my feedback to go deeper. I want to know what I might be able to do to further capitalise on this quality that I have demonstrated and which has been spotted by someone else. That’s real feedback. That’s exciting. Now I’m being fed.

 Because the purpose of feedback is to feed: it should always have a constructive developmental element to it. Otherwise it’s purely information – it’s just a light snack.

That doesn’t mean you can only say nice things, and ignore all the tricky stuff. Sometimes we choose to eat certain foods because we know they are good for us, not because we like them (who really likes broccoli?) So, constructive feedback can involve some pretty tough messages.

However, if you signal your intention clearly, and reassure your colleague that you wish to support them through the feedback and development process, they will find the tough messages easier to swallow.

It’s also worth reminding ourselves that no matter how much truth hurts, lies hurt more.

When we take our car in for a service or an MOT, we want the mechanic to tell us if there’s a problem with it.

We don’t want them to pass it, knowing that it could break down at any moment. We don’t want them to tell us that it’s in perfect condition when it isn’t. We do want them to tell us that it’s in good order if it is, and possibly give us some tips about how to treat it better.

Even though knowing the truth might cost us, it could cost us a whole lot more if we are left to find out later. And so it is with feedback. We do people a disservice, by not being honest with them.

However, honesty can be a blunt instrument, and we are dealing with a fellow human being who is bound to have an emotional response to the feedback we give. Therefore, we have a responsibility to communicate it in a manner that will:

  • Demonstrate our positive intent
  • Show our desire to work with them
  • Afford them respect and dignity
  • Help them absorb what we are saying
  • Make it clear that the feedback is based on our own observations
  • Indicate that there are things they can do to address the situation
  • Give them the freedom to accept or reject

If we can do this, the recipient will be able to gain sustenance from the feedback. It will genuinely feel like a learning process, of which we are a key part.

It means that you can comment on someone’s great qualities and successes whilst not being afraid to explore how these can be further utilised; and it means that you can address qualities and behaviours that are inhibiting success, because your intention is to support the person to make the required changes…and they know that.

 Receiving It

 It’s hard for people to give us feedback if we signal very clearly that we don’t want it or we respond very negatively when we get it.

It’s true that we might hear some things that we don’t like. They might shock us. They might embarrass us. We might not believe them.

But the alternative, as we have heard before, is that people only tell us what we want to hear or what we know already. Or, they don’t tell us anything at all.

So the way we respond when someone offers us feedback is critical to achieving a satisfying outcome.


Whenever I receive feedback I find it helpful to remind myself of three things:

Feedback is a gift.

Without it we are destined to pursue activities, goals and behaviours that will fail to meet our own requirements or the requirements of people and organisations around us. This is true even if we hear things we don’t like


Feedback is a mirror.

It gives us clearer insight (and often confirmation) about the way we are, and how we are perceived by others.


Feedback is an opportunity.

It’s a chance to take active steps towards the achievement of meaningful and beneficial goals, through the development, correction and modification of certain strengths and behaviours. So I know that I can get something out of any feedback, no matter how badly it is given, and whether I have asked for it or not.

Even if it’s not a well cooked meal, it has nuggets of learning to chew on.

So don’t push the feedback away. Receive all feedback with grace, and do the following:

A)     Listen and attempt to understand what people are telling you.

B)      Evaluate the views that people have shared and seek to analyse why people might have these views.

C)      Seek further clarification if necessary.

D)     Consider your own behaviour in terms of how it has contributed to the views and opinions expressed by others.

E)      Decide which aspects of the feedback you can work with.

F)      Develop a meaningful development plan that will help to build on your existing strengths whilst addressing areas that may be causing concern in yourself and in others.

G)     Thank them for the feedback and ask them to help you.

Telling someone they did a great job can be as hard for us as telling them they did a poor job. This is sometimes due to the way they respond; sometimes due to the way we think they might respond; and sometimes due to the fact that we don’t really think it’s our place to do so.

We all have a right to give people feedback, but that right needs to be earned. We have to demonstrate that:

  • Our intention is to feed
  • Our feedback is freely given
  • We welcome their feedback to us
  • Our tips are generous!

If we can all get this right, we will begin to find our places of work more fulfilling and more enriching.