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Maule: Mastering the art of feedback pays dividends

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Mastering the art of giving effective feedback is a tremendous skill both personally and professionally.

Good business is the art of building strong relationships, and feedback is an essential aspect of trust in a relationship. To make feedback both effective and meaningful, spend time honing this critical skill. Meaningful feedback builds trust, motivates self-improvement and provides the foundation for a strong organization whether you represent a large institution or an independent business owner.

Feedback is generally thought of as a tool for management of personnel, but as a independent owner operator, who provides your performance review? Asking for feedback from your customers and vendors is a tremendous opportunity to develop open and honest communication and provides insight on ways to best serve your customers. Inviting feedback is a bittersweet exercise. Receiving feedback requires that you be vulnerable and humble. Inviting honest feedback when it comes to areas of possible growth is not always easy, but it can save you money, customers and lost opportunities. 

One of the more common mistakes regarding feedback is timing. Providing feedback only when performance is below expectation or something is wrong is reactive. Often small business owners hear from their customers only when they have failed to meet their deadlines, quality expectations or value proposition. Negative feedback without having a discussion about ways to improve or how you can remove barriers that are impeding success is frustrating, but it is more challenging if there is no foundational relationship.

You may be surprised to hear that studies show performance management techniques for effective companies and less effective companies are not very different. What makes the difference is what leaders do to respond to the information and support the process. For the small business owner, performance is directly tied to compensation.

If you are not responsive to the needs, wants and feedback of your customers, you send a clear message about the value of the relationship. It is unlikely they will invest in coaching you to improve; instead they will fire you and find a new company to serve their needs. 

Now what? Intentional self-evaluation is a critical element to growth. What can I do differently? How can I think differently? Can they control the outcome? Ask yourself, is the outcome the result of effort or luck? Specifically, can you perform poorly on purpose? If yes, then the outcome is the result of skill, not luck. Feedback is only helpful if it refers to a behavior that can be changed and within your control. 

But self-evaluation can only go so far. We all have blind spots and you can guarantee there are opportunities that are obvious to others that we fail to see. Intentional feedback invites the growth opportunities, customer service improvements and builds strong working relationships.  

Let me model the way. How am I doing? If you were me, what would you differently? I look forward to your feedback at

• Mary Margaret Maule is the president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce. Reach her at 815-459-1300.

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