As a board member in the SME sector: When owners do not give feedback

"I just don't get any feedback. Yesterday I had - at my urgent request - the first feedback meeting in years. I had to pull the words out of his nose and ask specifically: 'What would you like me to do differently?' And even then, the answers were very nicely packaged. I still don't know where I stand," reports the COO at the beginning of his executive coaching day.

"What exactly do you mean by very nicely packaged?" I ask. "My boss, the owner of the company, is just not explicit and says bluntly, 'here's what I wish was different.' Instead, he says sentences like: 'If I reflect that, then you would also have ...' or 'I was surprised that you haven't thought about that yet.' Then I have to read between the lines what he might mean. It's been going on for years."

"What would be helpful for you?" I want to know from him. "Regular, concrete feedback sessions - that would help me. It makes me feel good - I know where I stand."

The solution for my client is to lead upwards. If the supervisor does not give feedback, then the employee has the opportunity to demand input at any time by "leading upwards".

"What would be the first step you can take?" "I could ask for concrete feedback and tell him - as I learned from you - with the four quadrant model, what is going on in my backstage - that is, what makes me tick."

Concrete implementation

"How would you implement this concretely?"

"By saying what the facts are - so, that in my world we have feedback conversations too rarely and, that the last one - even though I would have liked more clarity - did me good. And that it gives me self-confidence and that this very clarity is so important to me, so I'm asking him to have regular feedback conversations from now on."

"What could that look like in concrete terms?" "We have regular jour fixes. From now on, I will always include a feedback part and inform him accordingly beforehand."

The 6-fold business added value of a good feedback culture

This short coaching session shows how important feedback conversations are for top-level managers. Many owners and entrepreneurs still underestimate this. Yet the pure business added value of a strong feedback culture has long been proven:

  1. Regular feedback on behaviour and impact in everyday work leads to more transparency and strengthens the culture of trust.
  2. When problems are addressed openly, stagnation is prevented, and energy is released.
  3. Faster learning and optimisation loops in processes are made possible.
  4. Staff self-confidence is strengthened and grows continuously.
  5. Employees become co-creators and co-thinkers - instead of followers.
  6. The attractiveness as an employer increases.

There are numerous feedback instruments - from 360 degrees to classic appraisal interviews, digital feedback questionnaires and upward feedback. Bosses specifically ask employees how they perceive them as managers and what they would like to see from them. Entrepreneurs should by no means conduct such feedback discussions between door and door. On the contrary, good preparation is essential for the entrepreneur and the employee, who - like my client - should think about it beforehand. The opportunity for upward feedback exists, for example, in annual staff appraisals or - as in my client's case - in regular jour fixe meetings, if the discussion is advertised accordingly. My client clearly expressed the effect of upward feedback during the coaching session: "I feel valued when my boss cares about my opinion. That feels so good!"

It cannot be said (or rather written) "loud enough": strategically applied and sensibly placed feedback by managers is enormously valued and, in the opinion of most managers, may be given more frequently. Conversely, casual feedback of any kind has little influence on satisfaction. It is worthwhile for companies to invest top-down in sustainable, strategic forms of feedback and to develop individual feedback instruments.

[Translate to English:] | Black Salmon