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Embracing The F word: Why Feedback Is Good For You – And How To Get The Best From It

Do you know how you really come across to people, and what they think of you?  What are you actually like as a boss or colleague?  What is it about you that your staff find most inspiring, and which of your strengths do they value the most?  And do you ever behave in ways that frustrate or demotivate them?  In what areas do they think you should improve, and why?

Finally.. how many of these questions are you able to truthfully answer, without guesswork or assumptions?  Because the only way you can absolutely know the answers to questions like these is by asking your people, making it ok for them to tell you the truth and provide  you with good quality, honest feedback, and being prepared to listen and absorb it.

For many of us, receiving feedback isn’t something we particularly enjoy.  Being criticised, especially if the criticism is unexpected or seems unfair, is not usually pleasant.  And even when the message is positive, many people also feel uncomfortable receiving compliments or praise.  

But if you are able to get over the discomfort, it’s probably true to say that good, honest feedback is one of the most powerful gifts it’s possible to get from someone at work.  Feedback from other people is fundamental to knowing the reality of how you come across, the impact you have on them, and how well you approach your work, make decisions, manage pressure, communicate, collaborate and lead.  Becoming more self aware through feedback is the first step towards knowing what to improve in order to become more skilled as a leader, manager and colleague.

This all sounds great in theory I know – but being on the receiving end of critical feedback is still difficult and awkward a lot of the time.  So how can you overcome all this to really benefit from the feedback that comes your way?  

Make It Ok For People To Tell You The Truth

One of the biggest barriers to receiving critical feedback about ourselves is overcoming the natural reticence of people not wanting to hurt our feelings or saying something that might be career limiting for themselves.  So instead of suddenly hitting them with something like “I’ve called this meeting because I want you to give me feedback on my leadership.  Go!” which will elicit a few homogenous platitudes at best – give them some notice. Try “I’m serious about improving as a leader and in order to do that I want to understand what I’m good at and less good at. I need your help because you know me well, I trust your judgement, and I know I can rely on you to be honest with me about the things I am less good at, as well as the better stuff.  Please can you give this some thought over the coming week.  I’ll book some time with you next week, and what I’d like to hear from you is 2 things you think I am good at and 2 things you think I need to improve.  If you can think of any examples to help me fully understand, that would be even better.”

Remember You Are Human…

Just like everybody else.  You have enormous strengths and skills – otherwise you wouldn’t be where you are today, having achieved all that you have. However, in addition to this, none of us are perfect: we all have areas where we can improve.  So regard any critical feedback you are given as a chance for you to learn more about the improvements you can make, in order to be more effective in the future.

Allow Time For It To Sink In

When we receive information that’s significant but unexpected (positive, or negative) our immediate response – be it shock, disappointment, anger, elation or whatever – isn’t always the most appropriate or helpful. Let yourself experience the emotion, and then release it and try to accept what you have heard more calmly and rationally.   

Keep It In Perspective

It’s not unusual for people to allow one piece of negative feedback to overshadow all the great things that they do and forget the positive stuff about themselves. (Similarly, I have worked with some people who only paid attention to the praise and disregarded important corrective feedback they were given.) So allow the feedback to add to the psychological picture you already hold of yourself, rather than replace it or skew it.  Again, this sometimes takes time.

Show Interest And Ask Questions

You may need to explore the feedback in greater depth, assuming you can do this constructively, without being defensive or threatening. In what situations have they observed you behaving in this way?  What was the impact or consequences?  What would they like to see you doing instead?  

Look Below The Surface

In an ideal world, all corrective feedback would be wrapped up in tactful language, and delivered in a supportive tone by someone we believe has absolutely our best interests at heart.  But it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes feedback is clumsily expressed, or comes from someone we don’t particularly get on with (so they would say that, wouldn’t they), or sometimes we think even with the best will in the world, they are just plain wrong to think of us like that.  What then?  Well – with tactless comments, simply look beyond the language at the essence of the message: there may well be some truth there, perhaps expressed harshly, but still a helpful point.  With the feedback from the person you don’t like – again, they probably have an important point to make, so look beyond any relationship issues and focus on what you can learn from their feedback.  Finally with the feedback you simply don’t agree with – well, be honest with yourself first.  Is there not even a glimmer of truth in what they say?  If the answer is – sincerely – still no, then ok.  But they have a perception, and they have been brave enough to share it with you (if that’s what they’re thinking, you’d still rather know, surely?).  So while you might disagree with their view, you do have something to work with in terms of that person’s perception of your style and how you might manage your relationship with them going forward.  

Don’t Get Defensive Or Argue With The Feedback

Instead, try one of these: “thank you for letting me know, I wasn’t aware I did that and I can see how that would look from your perspective”, or “thank you for telling me that, could you please tell me some more about my tendency to behave in that way” or if you really believe they’ve got the wrong end of the stick try “thank you for sharing that with me, I wasn’t aware that’s how I can come across, can I just explain more about what’s going on for me in these situations..” although handle this last tactic with care.  

Reflect On What To Do Next

Once you have accepted that this is the view held by your colleague, you can decide what you want to do with the information.  Don’t be too quick to either dismiss it or take it to heart – do it justice by fully reflecting on it first.  When you’re ready you can decide whether you agree, partially agree or disagree with the feedback.  Whichever you decide, you do need to accept that this is the view held by your colleague, and acknowledge that it might not have been easy for them to share it with you, so thank them.


Being able to receive feedback constructively is a great skill.  Done properly, the benefits are like looking in a mirror: just as we take a look in the mirror in the morning before we leave the house – to check our hair’s ok and there’s no toothpaste down our shirt – feedback represents the truth of how we come across to those around us.  Knowing other peoples’ views of you and how you might improve is a hugely powerful lever to improve your effectiveness. Leading without feedback would be like going through your working life without ever checking the mirror.


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Photo Credit: Feedback by Dennis Skley

Lessons All SMEs Can Learn From The X Factor

As night follows day, so the tradition of releasing The X Factor winner’s single the week before Christmas comes to pass. This time it’s the turn of Louisa Johnson, a talented singer from Essex who won last night’s contest, who is ready and waiting to top up Simon Cowell’s coffers with next week’s top slot.

You might not even watch it (or perhaps be a passive watcher: pretending not to whilst it’s on in the room, but secretly checking in this mornings Metro who won…?). And it’s very easy to knock it. But whatever you think of Simon Cowell’s dress sense or how contrived you think the show is, you’ve got to hand it to the man who has managed to grab viewing figures of over 63% of the UK population as well as the coveted No.1 slot for every single one of the winners of his show since 2005. In commercial terms, if nothing else, it is success personified.

So in the spirit of focussing on positives and being a bit a tongue-in-cheek, here are some great lessons for your business which can be learnt from the unstoppable machine that is The X Factor:

  1. Game What You Present To The Outside World: Edit your ‘show’ to put your best foot forward. We all know that it’s impossible for all those contestants to sit in front of the panel and do their first auditions (as Ben Elton puts it in his hilarious and thinly veiled take-off of the show in his book ‘Dead Famous’  – “Just do the Maths!”). But no-one questions (or cares perhaps?) the physical impossibility of the judges carrying out all of these auditions….I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t lie if asked about it, but the producers are selective over the impression they give to their audience. And you can be too.
  2. Big Your Team Up: Listening to Reggie N Bollie talk about their ‘journey’ through the competition, you hear them saying that despite being kept in the competition time and again by the voters, the first moment they felt they could win the competition was when they got a public endorsement from the big man himself, Simon Cowell. Public (and private) praise instils belief and motivation in your team. So use it!
  3. Keep The Magic Alive: Do you think the production company owns up to the viewers and aspiring contestants that much of their ‘pipeline’ of talent comes from various scouts or those being managed already within the industry, rather than those who spent their days waiting tables and just wandered into an audition one day hoping to make it BIG? Of course not. They need to make the impossible seem possible but in doing so they don’t need to put every aspect of their process up for scrutiny. And neither do you. People buy into your product, service or company and what it can do for them. Not exactly how you do it. So sell to your team what they can get out of it.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid To Change Your Line Up: You would have thought that after dropping Cheryl Fernandez-Versini from his US line-up after 1 episode (the poor loves weren’t sure anyone would understand her Geordie accent) and her successfully suing them for unpaid earnings for the whole series to the tune of £1.4m, that this would be the end of this particular team of talent. But no, last year saw a return of Cheryl to the judges chairs in the UK and this year she only just missed out on bagging the winner herself. All of which served to keep ratings nice and healthy for Cowell. The lesson? No-one is ever too big to say sorry or bury the hatchet.
  5. Tell A Story: It’s not enough for us viewers to see raw talent (or not, as the case may be…) and respond accordingly. We’re greedy and want more than just a song. We want the story. Take another look and you’ll see that the singing part accounts for about 15% of the programme. The rest is spent building the back story and ‘why’ we should vote for each person. So focus on ‘why’ you are here and inspire your team’s dreams……

p.s In the writing of this article, I’d in particular like to thank my Mum for believing in me. My dog for showing such loyalty. And to say that I’ve grown so so much on this journey…..

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Photo Credit: X Factor Auditions by Beacon 

Performance Issues? Commit To Long-Term Change Today….

Christopher Reeve, 1952-2004, was an extraordinary man. An actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, author and activist. He successfully managed each career track despite his many on and off-screen roles and the life-changing injury that led to quadriplegia. He developed and funded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center to help people with spinal-cord injuries benefit from stem cell research – work which  has led to breakthroughs for 1 in 50 patients  through the use of epidural stimulation.

I love this quote from him, on how to get things every day. “I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us… If we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.”

But listening to that voice is only half the battle…

Committing To Consistent Habitual Change To Drive Performance Is Where The Hard Work Starts

The business of running a business is no small feat. There are multiple stakeholders: customers, suppliers, regulatory bodies, investors and shareholders – if you’re lucky. All of these groups want something from you and your business. And you need performance from your people, your suppliers and partners in order to satisfy and delight your current and would-be customers. But how can you drive it further?.

Routine Is Your Friend For Day-To-Day Success

In Alan Brache’s book “How Organizations Work” he shows how the key to achieving performance every day is to routinise the critical tasks that make your business successful.

Here are his five steps to ensuring performance is talked and walked every day:

Step 1. Creating strategic alignment allows you and the team focus on what IS the most important priorities.

Step 2. Refining business processes ensures that the important things get done in the way they are intended to work.

Step 3. Setting goals and measuring performance helps the whole team understand the speed and quality that work needs to be done. This allows each performer to give (and receive) accurate feedback on performance to every person in a meaningful way.

Step 4. Reframing culture will equip every person to see and model what happens when mistakes occur, the financial impact of what their actions leads to (or not?) in pursuit of the strategy, and how innovation gets embedded into every day activities.

Step 5. Managing the capabilities – your team, your partners and your own. This is where Christopher Reeve’s advice comes to bear. If you clearly understand the knowledge, skills and values/beliefs of each person as well as you know your own then it becomes possible to plan for and develop any gaps that the team possesses.

So if every person knows what to do, how they can make a positive difference in the business, then good performance will follow, right? Well, yes and no. Securing lasting commitment to any new routine needs something more to oil the wheels…..

Engagement Galvanises the Team Behind New Initiatives And Is The Key To Long Term Performance Improvement

The 10 drivers of engagement are:

  1. Management interested in employee wellbeing
  2. Skills and capabilities improved over the last year
  3. Reputation of organisation as a good employer
  4. Input into decision making in my team/department
  5. Compensation and benefit programmes generally met my needs
  6. Organisation focus on customer satisfaction
  7. My manager inspires enthusiasm for work
  8. Salary criteria are fair and consistent
  9. Opportunities to learn and develop new skills
  10. Employees understand how to satisfy customers

According to David Macleod and Chris Brady in “The Extra Mile: How to Engage Your People to Win” approximately 23% of the UK workforce is disengaged. If this a fair reflection of your business then your first port of call is to ensure all of these drivers are in place before you can expect the team to make any significant improvements to performance.

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Photo Credit: hard-ly at work by FrogStarB

HR Policies: Everything SMEs Need To Know

Writing policies and procedures can be a mine-field in this day and age. You could spend hours writing and tweaking policies for your business – whatever its size. Online you will find a plethora of policy templates. But as a small company you don’t necessarily need all of these. You should only put policies in place that are going to be used.  Having a policy for the sake of it is pointless!  Write policies which are meaningful and stand by them.

Legal Requirements

Surprisingly there are only 3 policies that are required by law.

These are:

Best Practice

There are also a number of policies that you should provide because they have legal minimum requirements.

These are:


Pay Legally you must pay your employees at least the National Minimum wage and ensure Equal Pay; you must also provide an itemised pay statement and not make any unauthorised deductions from employees pay
Equal Opportunities Legally you must not discriminate against staff or allow harassment and bullying and you must make reasonable adjustments for staff in the work-place if they are disabled
Working Hours and Overtime including rest-breaks and holidays Legally  you must comply with Working Time Regulations provisions for employees and workers
Sickness policy and unauthorised/authorised absence  Legally you must make statutory sick pay payments to employees and allow them time off for dependant emergencies, Jury Service etc.
Maternity, Adoption, Paternity Leave, Parental Leave and Shared Parental leave You must make statutory maternity / adoption / paternity payments to employees and give the appropriate leave
Flexible Working You must consider all employees flexible working requests


There are few other policies that you could  consider to ensure consistency within your business.

For example:

  • Personal e-mail / Internet Usage
  • Alcohol/Drugs In The Workplace
  • Dress Codes
  • Data Protection
  • Expenses
  • Smoking

There are no legal guidelines for these policies and they can be designed around the needs of your business. For example, no smoking (including e-cigarettes) other than during lunch hour.

Where Do I Start?

When it comes to writing policies copious content is not king.  There are millions of pages of policies & procedures rotting away completely unused in filing cabinets and shared network folders that will attest to this fact. Don’t get fooled into thinking that you need a policy for every eventuality – you don’t. And in fact, too many draconian policies can be restrictive to a small business that is growing.   

The types of policies that you need depend on your business type: If your employees operate heavy machinery then you should consider putting in a Drugs & Alcohol Usage Policy but if you are an accountancy firm then this policy is unlikely to be a priority for you.

It is essential to create realistic employment policies – and enforce them. Using a policy to pay lip service to health and safety or treating employees fairly is not enough. If the worst happens and a problem ends up in court or at an employment tribunal, you’ll need to be able to show that you put your company policies into practice.

Communication Is Key

Policies can be part of your employee/company handbook or you can set them out in a separate document. However, for your discipline and grievance policies, you must either set them out in a written statement of main terms and conditions of employment or refer in a written statement to a place where the employee can read them, such as the company intranet.

You should ensure that you make staff aware that your policies exist. The best time to do this is during the induction process (which doesn’t have to be a 3 day off site event but can be something as simple as a checklist to ensure that a new employee to your company has all the relevant information that they need). You should also make sure that employees can easily access policies if necessary, by having them pinned up on a noticeboard for example or, again, on the company intranet.

Contractual Or Not?

Policies generally aren’t contractually binding unless they expressly state otherwise.  However, the terms of some policies could be seen as contractually binding through custom and practice e.g. where employees follow certain working practices or receive certain benefits over a significant period of time. You need to  be conscious of this as ultimately it will be up to an Employment Tribunal to decide on the contractual nature of policies if a claim were ever to be brought against your company.

Never-Ending Updates

Policies are never finished and you must ensure that you regularly review your policies and procedures to ensure that they are up to date, reflect the needs of the business and reflect any legislative changes.

Effective Company Policies

Whatever your policies cover, you should follow 2 essential principles to make a company policy effective.

1 – Make sure any policy is clear

2 – Make sure that any policy is communicated to employees. Unless employees understand a policy it will not work.

You do not want to tie yourself or your managers up with too many rules as this will only prove to be restrictive to day to day operations.  Equally policies and procedures must be realistic, meaningful and be something that you and your management team are prepared to stand by. There is no point in stating that persistent lateness is a disciplinary offence and then not disciplining the one employee who is late every Monday morning. This type of approach will only lead employees to the conclusion that policies are meaningless, making them almost impossible for you to enforce.  

For further advice and support on policy implementation, sign up to theHRhub today.

Photo Credit: Resolution #4 – become more organised by Victoria Pickering


Happy Holiday Tips For Business Leaders

The weeks running up to Christmas can be manic – both personally and professionally. Enjoy the festivities knowing that you have everything under control when the holiday season arrives with my happy holiday tips:

Wrap Up Holiday Cover Now

Plan early to make sure you have enough staff to cover your business during the holiday period. Lay out clear areas of autonomy/responsibility for those manning the office as well as defined chains of communication should an emergency arise.

Call Time Early

Make the team’s Christmas wish come true and let them go home early on Christmas Eve/New Years Eve if you can. Productivity is unlikely to be at its highest at this time anyway and it’s a wonderful gesture of goodwill. Remember how you felt when your teacher said that school was shut unexpectedly?

Give The Perfect Secret Santa Gift

Deodorant. A stapler from the stationary cupboard. We’ve all have a disappointing work Secret Santa experience. So rather than spending a tenner on something likely to be regifted next year, do your bit for CSR and make a donation in your recipient’s name to their favourite charity. Personalised, worthy and needed far more than desk snooker.

Let It All Out

Don’t put off difficult conversations to the New Year (it won’t help). You’ll feel better having dealt with them. The holidays will give all parties involved time to mull things over and get a bit of perspective.

Out With The Old…

If you do have down time between Christmas and New Year, put it to good use and clear all that admin. Give your inbox a spring clean and start 2015 afresh.

And Make Sure You Get Some Respite

Not everyone is in the position to wind down in the run up to the holiday season. For many, Christmas is their busiest time of year. However, taking a few days break at some point during the festivities is important in order to rest both body and mind. But if you really can’t get away from your desk and it all gets too much, practice Yoga at work or install a punch bag in the office. Alternatively, if you’re not quite ready to don the Lycra in front of your colleagues, down tools, take a break and go and get some fresh air. And whatever your holiday plans, look after yourself. It’s important that you are refreshed, revitalized and ready to inspire the team when they get back in the New Year.

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Photo Credit: cozy christmas by Jessica Quinn