Be clean with your feedback


Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 15, we had the pleasure of speaking with Michael McNab, the founder and managing director of McNab.

Since it was founded in 1996, McNab has grown to become one of the largest private construction companies in Queensland, with over 350 staff and four offices spread across Australia. The company is renowned for consistently delivering high-quality, award-winning developments for some of Australia’s most prestigious brands.

Michael is passionate about harnessing the absolute best in his employees because this leads to excellent customer service and satisfaction. For Michael, McNab is as much a people business as it is a construction business. Treating everyone with respect and honesty is essential for business success – and it’s also just the right way to act!

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Michael on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored By Michael McNab, Managing Director of McNab.

“Be clean with your feedback” is the motto I follow when managing my wonderful team of over 350 McNab employees. This motto is about being clean with the intention that governs your feedback. Clean feedback empowers people to be the best version of themselves and it’s the fuel that will allow your business to reach new heights.

To give clean feedback, I always ask myself why I want to give a person a particular piece of advice, and what I’m hoping will be achieved as a result. The intention that governs feedback is extremely important. It shapes what you say, how you say it, how the other person receives it, and how they take it onboard.

People make a business
Like most people, I’m certainly not all bright-eyed when I wake up each morning. But I’m very fortunate to have found a career that I’m wholeheartedly passionate about. The people I have the privilege of working with are a huge reason for this. I love surrounding myself with intelligent, motivated individuals who energise me. It allows me to constantly learn and grow.

People often ask me what my favourite building is. The truth is, I don’t have one. That’s not to say that I’m not passionate about the building side of my business. As someone with an engineering background, I enjoy a smart piece of craftsmanship just as much as the next person. But my favourite part about being the leader of McNab is helping people be the best version of themselves. Whether it’s seeing a young apprentice become a site manager or a cadet become a project manager, I love watching people live out their potential – it’s rewarding. You can’t come to work if you don’t enjoy the people you work with. Work occupies such a big portion of our week, so you’ll quickly experience burnout if you do not love what you’re doing.

As leaders, our job is to help people give their best effort and reach their full potential. I believe that company culture is a two-way street. Yes, it starts from the top, but it also needs to come from the base up. Everyone is a team player and has an active role in shaping the environment they work in. When we don’t tend to a company’s culture, that culture will soon start to manage you.

I don’t believe that there’s a right or wrong culture, or that any company is necessarily the best when it comes to creating an effective working environment. Each company has its own unique culture, and this culture should reflect what is right for the business. However, even though every workplace culture is different, they all still need to be respected and nurtured. I’ve learnt from experience that if we fall out of alignment with our company culture, things don’t function as well as they normally would.

So, what can we do to get a company’s culture back on track? Empathy is key here. Everyone makes mistakes but, from my experience, most people don’t come to work with the intention of creating errors. I strive to keep this in mind whenever I’m giving feedback. Failure can be a prerequisite for growth if we approach it from a constructive, solutions-focused standpoint. In a Gallup workplace study, only a third of the participants said the feedback they receive is helpful. Why is that?

Well, to answer that question, we should first ask what constitutes unhelpful feedback? From my experience, unhelpful feedback occurs when the person giving the feedback is not being clear about what they want to see change, they’re being too personal, or they’re not delivering the feedback when it needs to be delivered.

A central tenant of giving clean feedback is being clear when errors arise. This ensures that they’re corrected in a timely fashion and that the person responsible can learn from their mistake. As leaders, we can’t always pat people on the back. Sometimes we need to have hard conversations with our employees. But, if we allow honesty and empathy to guide our interactions, our feedback is more likely to be well-received and help encourage its recipient.

Knowing when to reset expectations
I’m not going to pretend that working in construction is without challenges. Especially during COVID-19, there are constraints around supply chain logistics, meaning our ability to plan and price has never been more difficult. Capability capacity is definitely being tested. Everyone who works in construction has been forced to reset expectations and modify their business operations.

During difficult times like this, we should never become fixated on blaming ourselves. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by high performers, but I feel concerned when I see them be very hard on themselves because they cannot deliver their usual high standards. Be it border controls or evolving public health measures, there are a multitude of factors outside our control. I know that everyone is doing everything they can to make the best of the situation. Reminding people of this can go a long way when it comes to enhancing morale in a workplace.

Accountability goes a long way
In the event of a crisis, a good manager starts by looking in the mirror. According to a global leadership study, only 72% of people believe that leadership accountability is essential to their organisation. This is not enough. In an ideal world, 100% of businesses would regard accountability as an essential aspect of their organisation. Why? It’s because accountability builds trust, cultivates respect and sets an example for the rest of the business. Conversely, an absence of accountability breeds resentment, obliterates trust and aggravates dysfunction.

Thinking that a mistake exclusively sits on the shoulders of a single employee is far from the truth. As a leader, we will always be part of the problem. We’re responsible for explaining what we expect and how we want our teams to behave. Exercising transparency around this helps every business function more cohesively as a team.

Leading through fear is old-school and outdated – and workplaces are better off without this leadership style. People don’t respond too well to fear-based leadership. It causes them to lose heart in the business. So, instead of adopting a fear-based leadership style, set clear expectations and support people to fulfil them. Let them know if they’re not performing at the level you want or if something they’re doing isn’t working. But, most importantly, let them know that you believe they’re capable of getting there too.

Giving clean feedback is a learned skill
As someone who used to be terrible at giving feedback, I can confidently say that the ability to give clean feedback is a learned skill. No matter who you are, what mistakes you’ve made, or how you naturally operate, the ability to give clean feedback is something we all need to practice.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt is not to have a three-way conversation. If you find yourself talking to someone about a person who is not in the room, something needs to change in your workplace. If you have an issue with the way someone is performing, you need to address your concerns with that person directly. Talking behind people’s backs is of no benefit to anyone. You get eaten up, the person you’re talking to gets agitated and the person you’re talking about lacks the benefit of constructive criticism.

As a rule of thumb, I believe there should be no three-way conversations unless there are three people in the room. The only exception to this rule is when you’re talking to someone about how you can help support another person or what a good job someone else has done.

Delivering feedback that empowers people to be their best is essential for business prosperity. I don’t believe any situation is ever completely black or white. No one is ever solely right or wrong. So, the next time you need to give someone feedback, ask yourself: is the feedback clean?