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Is constructive feedback a path to better business development?

Woman pointing at a flipchart and inviting comments from people watching with raised hands.

In my work with firms in the Professional & Financial Services sectors, I have had many conversations about the value of constructive feedback. It’s certainly an area that prompts debate, with Managing Partners at both ends of the spectrum – from those who believe feedback and review is a time-wasting exercise to those who put significant weight on the result of formal feedback programmes.

As someone who specialises in working with firms on enhancing technical skills with ‘soft skills’, it isn’t surprising that I think constructive feedback is important. In fact, I think it is critical to a firm’s ongoing commercial success, because constructive feedback results in a better service to clients and that in turn can positively impact your business development.


What is constructive feedback?

The CIPD believes that general performance feedback should be a positive method for improving performance. Giving constructive feedback is critical to ensuring that individuals feel they have been treated fairly, that their feedback is given in a way that is relevant to their role and progress, and that the manager giving the feedback is informed and engaged. The CIPD says:

“Good-quality feedback should include information that is specific, relevant to the job, constructive, credible and unbiased. The quality of feedback is much more important than the amount, frequency or ‘timeliness’ of feedback. Employees should be able to see that the information that informs feedback was gathered in a reasonable and reliable way, draws on credible sources and is unbiased. They should also be able to respond to feedback, so that it is a two-way consultative process.”

The purpose of giving feedback at all is to help an individual to understand how their performance is viewed by others. This includes the skills they already have, the results they have achieved and the areas where they may benefit from development – in skills, experience or both.

The importance of giving this feedback in a constructive way cannot be understated. It allows for:

  • each individual to be able to develop and achieve as needed;

  • each individual to feel fulfilled in their role and understand their progression opportunities within the firm;

  • improved employee retention, because individuals feel the employer is invested in their success;

  • increased productivity and engagement with the business and the role.

  • Improved service levels, leading to increased business from existing clients and referrals to new prospects – where relevant.

Firms that put a constructive feedback programme in place are demonstrating that they value their people and that they are prepared to invest time into developing them and helping them to build skills and experience. They also benefit from significant business development opportunities and improved retention.


Feedback and culture go hand-in-hand

As a general rule, I’ve found that those firms with a good constructive feedback programme also have a good overall culture. Managers who understand that having clear, honest two-way conversations with their people are more likely to operate a positive culture where people feel they can raise concerns, ask about further training and development, admit when things have gone wrong and are committed to doing the best for the business.

Why does this matter? It matters because people in the Professional & Financial Services sectors are interested in career development – they want to work in specific areas, gain the right promotions and move up the career ladder. If they feel these ambitions are not supported by the culture of their current firm – or even the attitude of their current manager – they will move on. You lose a potentially valuable member of your team, and you have the expense in both money and time of recruiting a replacement.

For example, a report by the Thomson Reuters Institute and the Centre on Ethics and Legal Profession at Georgetown Law surveyed more than 900 lawyers in the US to find out why they moved firms.

“Those who said they were less likely to leave their firms cited the ‘firm culture, the people they work with, and work-life balance’ as more important than money as a reason to stay,” the report said.

A legal recruitment expert consulted for the report said that she had been working with large numbers of associates who wanted to move from big law firms to smaller practices.

“These lawyers felt ‘mentorship and training were lacking, like they were on their own island’, she said.“


Creating the right environment for constructive feedback

Constructive feedback works best when it is given in the right setting and with a clear context. Few of us like to hear about our shortcomings, so the way the feedback is given, the support that runs alongside it and the setting and reviewing of goals to help achieve the development areas is all important.

My advice to firms who are either introducing constructive feedback or updating their current programme includes:

  • Make sure formal reviews are thorough and happen on time.

  • Provide informal feedback throughout the year – including feedback from clients or external partners.

  • Remember to include feedback about successes, goals reached and things done well.

  • Make sure individuals understand the feedback and how it will help them develop.

  • Be clear about next steps, including any training, mentoring and reviews.


Reviewing your feedback process

What formal or informal feedback programmes do you currently have in place? Do your employees understand the process and how it can help them progress? How good are your people at sharing their feedback – and receiving it?

The start of the year marks the employee review period for many firms. Are you sure you are getting the best from your current programme? Do your partners and managers know how to conduct these reviews positive and deliver feedback constructively? If not, please get in touch to see how I can support you and your firm to deliver constructive feedback that makes a commercial impact.