Larry Cipolla
January 7, 2014

Feedback is the key to running a business successfully. Effectively managing and incorporating new information not only helps productivity and workplace relationships, it also boosts the bottom line and can increase profits. The value of that feedback, however, depends both on how it's delivered and how it's received. Modulating both of those criteria is the key to getting the most out of any leadership assessment tools that you use.

When delivering an assessment, it's important to consider the context. A stressed or otherwise busy manager is unlikely to be in a state receptive to criticism, even if the actual suggestions are useful. In addition, feedback is most valuable when it can be put into action: simply saying, "this plan didn't work" is unhelpful without an action plan that can implement the changes.

It's equally important to be receptive to criticism and know how to implement it. In one survey, 63 percent of senior HR executives cited an inability of management to incorporate difficult feedback as their biggest workplace challenge. Confronting this issue is a multi-step process, but one that will ultimately yield huge benefits.

It starts with knowing yourself. Understanding how you tend to respond to feedback is critical in improving that process. Note any patterns in your reception, and then work towards making any adjustments necessary.

It's also important to separate message and messenger. As long as the advice is useful, it shouldn't — and doesn't — matter where it comes from. Unfortunately, too many managers are unwilling to look past the source of their criticism and miss valuable insights. Setting personal relationships aside and being able to evaluate information objectively is crucial in using it most effectively. Determining what sort of feedback is being given is a big step: is it a simple evaluation, designed to rate you on a variety of criteria, or is directly coaching, with concrete takeaways? Both are important tools, but each requires a particular sort of listening ear.

However, not all feedback is valuable. Being able to disentangle everything that you've heard and extract what is actually valuable is a vital step in figuring out how best to use it. Figuring out what the criticism actually means, in practical terms, is an important step towards best using it.

Interact with the critique. Instead of just listening, nodding and then making a decision, search for clarifications to make sure both you and the person evaluating you are on the same page. It might also yield further advice that you can use to bolster your response and get more out of the whole discussion.

Finally, it's important to implement the criticism judiciously. Before you change everything about a particular process or workflow, consider trying smaller experiments to test out how it will work best. A pilot run of a new idea can help separate suggestions that just seem good in theory from ones that are actually practical. It could wind up saving you the need to make a lot of costly wholesale changes, and will also allow employees to get used to whatever changes you might promote.