Why you should listen to critical feedback

by Brett Henebery24 Feb 2017
Honest feedback to management can be a powerful thing.

Just ask speaker, trainer and coach, Mark McPherson.

McPherson – who recently spoke at the Learning & Development Masterclass held in Sydney on 30 November – told L&D Professional about an enlightening experience he had with a departing employee who wasn’t shy about giving feedback.

“I took over a large team and was in the position about two months when one of the team got a job with another organisation,” he said, adding this wasn't a surprise because she told him that she was applying for the job and he was one of her referees.

“I was really sorry to see her go but unfortunately I wasn't able to offer her the sort of job she was after.”

McPherson said that before she left, the two of them had the classic 'exit interview', where feedback was exchanged.

“We had regular staff meetings and regular individual meetings so I thought it’d be just a general chat and she wouldn't say anything I didn't already know,” he said.

But he was wrong.

“She said I needed to let staff to be more adventurous when thinking of new projects and when implementing existing ones,” McPherson explained.

According to the departing employee, McPherson was “too risk averse” and needed to let staff stretch the boundaries more and try out new ideas.

“Now I won't lie to you, I didn't like hearing it. She was polite and sincere. And I have no doubt she had the best interests of her colleagues, the organisation and the general public at her heart,” he said.

“She had a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge - not only about her work, but also the organisation and what was best for it. But nonetheless, she told me I could be doing a better job and I guess no one really wants to hear that.”

However, the upshot was this: because the employee was polite and sincere, and McPherson had no doubt she really wanted to help, he took her advice.

“I gave staff the opportunity, at any time, to put forward ideas if they were a bit 'out there'. At first, and I'm going to be really honest here, I didn't particularly like it. I felt a bit worried that some of their ideas were a bit wild,” he said.

“But I started to listen more and more to the ideas and advice from the team. And I realise more and more just how clever they were and how dedicated they were.”

McPherson said that the outcomes of the organisation were improved in many ways.

“First, the staff were happier. They felt more respected and more in control of their own destiny [and I know this because I asked them]. Also, they seemed more enthusiastic,” he said.

“Secondly, we implemented lots more programs – not necessarily bigger ones but definitely more. And many of these programs were admired by similar organisations and two of them got special recognition in the form of awards.”

Third, McPherson said the organisation delivered improved outcomes because it was meeting the needs of the community more and more.

“And it's all because a staff member who was leaving, was given the opportunity to speak up and say what they believed. Yes, it would have been better if they'd said this earlier but as they say, better late than never.”

The next Learning & Development Masterclass will be held in Melbourne on 6 April. Find out more and register here.