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Stay Humble – Feedback Will Help!


Ian Harragan

Director at i-confidential


As a new year takes shape, we will invariably find ourselves planning some changes or new activities for the months ahead. This presents an opportunity to challenge both ourselves and the status quo.

If we look to history, it’s apparent that today’s best practice can, on reflection, prove embarrassingly wrong. This is well illustrated in medicine. It used to be standard, for example, to cut open the veins of sick people and drain their blood as a form of healing.

We should always be testing conventional wisdom and majority opinion. Not because they are always wrong, but because sometimes they are. We shouldn’t be smug about our perceived intellectual and ethical achievements, as progress and the passage of time have a way of humbling us. The ancient philosopher Seneca thought he was superior to his fellow Romans because he treated his slaves kindly – a distinction we no longer give him much credit for.

In the workplace, year-end reviews are traditionally used to assess individual success and areas for development. They also fill many with dread – one study found they made 22 percent of all employees cry. Is this opportunity for self-assessment really worth it?

I recently came across an article about how a high percentage of working-age people in Generation Z were considering leaving their jobs. This brings into focus the potential negative impact of a year-end review. Gen Zers, at the start of their careers, will find these reviews a novel experience, and perhaps be even more unsettled by them as a result. What does that mean for staff attrition?

The article states what we all know, which is that reviews cannot just be a pat on the back. In any event, young people desire inclusiveness, engagement, and a chance to grow. A key management practice that comes to the fore is providing more frequent feedback and being honest. Of course Gen Zers want to be recognised for their accomplishments, but surely few of them would believe they’re doing everything right. The better the feedback, the greater the opportunity to help them develop. This is good for both the individual and the company.

The book No Rules Rules, by Brad Hastings and Erin Meyer, is based on the Netflix business story and the practices they introduced. One of the key themes that comes through is candour and the practice of giving and receiving feedback.

There was a strong push at Netflix to encourage employees to openly share their feelings with everyone on the team – superiors, colleagues, and subordinates – as long as they did it with positive intent, without attacking or hurting others. Frequent feedback became so ingrained in Netflix’s culture that not speaking up was considered an act of disloyalty, because it inhibited the company’s improvement.

My takeaway therefore is that we should be reflective and start this year with an open mind. Practice being humble, seek constructive feedback from others, and recognise that we don’t always possess the wisdom needed to be successful.


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