Feedback and business stakeholders
This is our series of three “shortpieces” focused on feedback for compliance, risk and internal audit professionals working in in-house roles.
Through this series we will examine and offer tips on:
- Receiving feedback from business stakeholders
- Giving feedback to business stakeholders
- Giving and receiving feedback within your team
Post 1. Receiving feedback from business stakeholders
‘Stakeholder engagement’ is regularly identified as a top priority for professionals working in in-house roles. But what does it really mean? A ‘stakeholder’ is ‘a person with an interest or concern in something’ and ‘engagement’ implies a level of participation or involvement. Fundamentally, we are here to offer advice or give independent assurance; but we would also like to add value to the business and be a trusted partner of management. All three of these rely on stakeholder engagement.
Our business stakeholders probably use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to track their engagement with their customers. This is good business practice, and one we should replicate in our functional teams (at least with a personal or team spreadsheet or equivalent). But this is the process, which as professionals with deep technical skills, is probably within our comfort zone. What we need to focus on is the human element. Before we can reach the hallowed ‘trusted partner’ status, we need to build actual relationships with actual people.
TIP #1: ASK for feedback on working with your team.
Let’s not spend hours within our function trying to work out what best practice looks like and how we might tick the stakeholder engagement box. We should do what the business does and ask our ‘customer’:
- If your function does not already conduct a regular stakeholder survey, now would be a good time to introduce one.
- If you have not had a feedback conversation with your key stakeholders about what is going well in your working relationship and what you could improve on, today could be the day.
- If you dare, request some 3600 feedback and include your key stakeholders in the list of respondents.
TIP #2: SHUT UP and listen to the answer.
This may sound harsh, but it is ultimately fair. We have to approach this as a listening exercise, not a defensive play. We must REALLY want to understand how our stakeholders feel. Remember, two ears one mouth, or the warning sign ‘W.A.I.T.’ (Why Am I Talking?). It doesn’t matter which personal prompt you use to remind yourself to be quiet and listen, it just matters that you do it.
We acknowledge our stakeholders have a different perspective and that their priorities will be different from ours. Good practice is to be clear that you want to start by listening and state that you will take time to reflect on the feedback before responding – there is no need to come up with solutions in the moment. Thank your stakeholder for sharing their feedback and try and remove emotion from your response.
TIP #3: Pick 3 THINGS you can do differently and commit to change.
Avoid a long list of actions in response to your stakeholder’s feedback. Instead, identify two or three things that will make a difference and commit to change. This may include some process steps that you can diarise (more regular communication, more time invested to understand their business), but it is also likely to include some relationship actions (how we approach working with stakeholders, how we build trust).
Invest time and energy to engage with your business stakeholders:
- understand their priorities;
- ask them what they value;
- listen to the answer; and
- act on the feedback.
Post 2. Giving feedback to business stakeholders
Let’s assume you have completed your advisory or assurance work and need to start discussing your findings with management, or you have identified something that you think management should be aware of to help them in their role as risk owners. Either way, you have something of value you want to share. The question is where do you start?
The answer is about six months ago. Sorry, this is not what you wanted to hear, but it is reality. If in-house professionals want to add value to the business, we need our views to be heard by business stakeholders. And if we want our views to be heard, we need to establish a certain level of trust. Building trust takes time.
TIP #1: Develop a TRUSTED RELATIONSHIP first
You have to invest time to get to know your stakeholders:
- time to sit back in the chair and listen to what is on their mind;
- time think about things from their perspective not just your own;
- time to go the extra mile for them; and
- time to get to know them as a person beyond the work colleague.
A compliance, risk or internal audit professional’s role may be about providing independent advice or assurance, but to deliver this to stakeholders effectively, time must be invested in relationships too.
Sharing difficult feedback…
We are all aware of the adage that trust takes years to build and seconds to break. If the feedback you wish to share with your stakeholder has the potential to be difficult, then however strong your relationships is, it is essential that you start the conversation by explicitly stating your shared purpose. For example: “we both want to work in partnership to manage risk more effectively”. The tone needs to be ‘how do we address this together?’, not ‘I’ve got some bad news for you’ and yet at the same time we must avoid sugar coating the message.
TIP #2: Base your feedback on OBJECTIVE FACTS
When sharing feedback with stakeholders, we must always go armed with the facts. That is the raw facts, the testing that was completed, the data that was analysed, the documentation that was reviewed, the results that were processed. These facts should be shared with your stakeholder objectively: try to remove any emotion from the way you communicate them. Let’s be clear, that does not mean remove any emotion from the conversation (we are trying to build a human connection), but avoid weighting the facts with our judgement of the outcome. If you can table the facts objectively, then you and your stakeholder can work together to interpret them and agree next steps.
TIP #3: Walk in your STAKEHOLDER’S SHOES
As well as presenting our own interpretation, it is important we pause and try to see the world from our stakeholder’s perspective. What are their priorities? As business leaders, our stakeholders are likely to be focused on managing client relationships, driving sales, improving profitability and leading their teams. We need to recognise that issues raised by us might make them feel nervous, defensive, protective, or even inexplicably uneasy. We can combat this by empathising with them and working hard to see their view of the facts. The purpose of walking in our stakeholders’ shoes is not to undermine our independence, but to work together to get to the best outcome for the business.
Invest time and energy to build trust with your business stakeholders:
- take care to share difficult feedback without destroying trust;
- base your feedback on fact-based evidence; and
- walk in your stakeholder’s shoes to understand their view.
Post 3. Giving and receiving feedback within your team
Performance management is changing in many organisations. Annual appraisals are being replaced (or at least supplemented) with online and real-time feedback. There is a long overdue push for people to share information in the here and now rather than storing it up for a formal performance review meeting.
Professionals are generally comfortable giving feedback on the technical aspects of their role, but can be less confident about giving and receiving feedback on their interpersonal effectiveness. Yet it is these skills that equip us with the impact and influence to succeed in our relationships with stakeholders and it is these skills that make the difference as our careers progress.
TIP #1: Be clear WHY feedback is important
In many ways feedback is now more present in our lives than ever before. We read online reviews when deciding what to buy or where to stay. In our personal lives we think feedback is a good thing, but at work we tend to avoid giving feedback at all costs. Perhaps we have a fear that interpersonal feedback will not be well received or that in reverse we will be told something we do not wish to hear.
We need to recognise feedback is a gift – it helps us change, develop and grow.
TIP #2: Ensure feedback is CONSTRUCTIVE not evaluative
So ‘What’ are we supposed to feedback? The key here is to be constructive, not evaluative. Not ‘you are aggressive’ but ‘I felt you responded to his challenge quite aggressively, perhaps next time you could take time to reflect before responding’.
To ensure your feedback is constructive, check it addresses these three elements:
- Observe: explain what you have observed in a fact-based way
- Impact: talk tentatively to avoid a defensive reaction, but own the message
- Different: rather than ‘telling’ someone what to do differently next time, try asking what the person receiving the feedback thinks
TIP #3: Follow the 4Ps to deliver feedback
‘How’ should we deliver feedback? After every stakeholder meeting or interaction, get into the routine of sharing feedback within your colleagues. Keep the feedback brief and follow the 4Ps:
Seek permission to share feedback in a way that recognises shared purpose: Would it be helpful for me to share some feedback with you?
Always start with something positive. We are not talking about the ill-advised feedback ‘sandwich’, we are talking about reinforcing strengths. What did you observe that was good? What was the impact of this? How can this strength be leveraged?
- Performance Improvement
Identify what your colleague might do to improve their performance next time. Follow the Observe-Impact-Different triad to ensure your feedback is constructive, but also take care in how you deliver the feedback (be aware of your non-verbal communication and where and when you are delivering the feedback).
Ask the question: What have you heard? This is particularly important when sharing feedback with a colleague who you know will focus on the development points as ‘negatives’ and hardly hear a word of the positive feedback. Remember, we need to build on our strengths to be successful.
Invest time and energy to share interpersonal feedback with your colleagues:
- give and receive feedback recognising it is a gift to help you develop; and
- work hard to ensure the feedback you share is constructive and delivered effectively.
Louise Fleming, Partner, Aretai LLP
- Financial Services
- Professional Services