The definition of “feedback” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: “the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process…” As auditors, we should be great at this. We constantly give and receive feedback on our work through review notes. We should be masters of feedback!
But are we?
It doesn’t take much searching on the internet to find articles related to the latest and greatest team members in offices across the United States. Individuals from the Millennial and “Gen Z” demographics make up a growing percentage of the workforce, and research suggests that they want more feedback from their employers.
They aren’t alone. Lately, it seems that everyone would like more feedback. As a result, human resource departments have developed new strategies, such as upward, downward, anonymous and 360-degree performance feedback.
But employees don’t just want to receive more feedback; they also want it to be timely and constructive. To assist companies in meeting these expectations, HR software companies offer tools designed to generate feedback in real-time. For example, after giving a presentation, their systems allow you to send a request for immediate feedback using an app!
Many of us in leadership positions are expected to attend classes about how to give feedback, how to receive feedback and how to be candid with team members. In these classes we are taught opening phrases like: “Is now a good time for me to give you feedback?” We’re also told to “mirror” what we hear when we receive feedback by asking questions like: “Did I hear you say that I need to work on my communication skills?”
There are a plethora of books, articles and business journals full of information about better ways to give feedback. You may have picked up books along the way to help you have “Crucial Conversations,” maintain “The Growth Mindset” to fulfill your potential or discover how “The Feedback Imperative” will speed up your team’s success. These books provide specific tools to improve communication, stay open-minded and build resilience that is essential for living up to our potential. This is just a small sample of the resources available on this topic.
The 2017 State of the Global Workplace report by Gallup lists six broad changes that organizations need to make to attract and retain the newest U.S. workforce generation. Two of these focus on feedback and emphasize the need to transition from a “boss” to a “coach” and from having “an annual review” to holding “ongoing conversations.”
Not long ago, a “60 Minutes” episode featured Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, which was founded by Ray Dalio. Mr. Dalio decided to build his company around a commitment to “radical transparency.” His book, “Principles,” is centered around this idea and offers 210 prescriptions for work and life. He believes that the way to be successful is to see the world clearly, no matter how positive or negative the reality is.
Every meeting at Bridgewater is videotaped and archived. These tapes are made available for all team members in the company to view in their “Transparency Library.” Employees are also able to score their colleagues in real time on an iPad after calls, meetings or other interactions. Bridgewater calls these real-time ratings a “baseball card.” Its intent is to hold each individual accountable for who they really are.
Because of his organization’s extreme stance on feedback, Dalio admitted that 30 percent of new hires leave within 18 months. But those who value the transparency and honesty stay.
Since research indicates that people want more frequent and robust feedback, then as the individuals responsible for employee engagement, our job is to help our team members get better at giving and receiving feedback.
At Stinnett, we’ve been focused on culture and employee engagement since 2014. We focus on building the culture that our team members want at work. Creating core values, guiding principles and a “why” statement that are authentic to who we are has required significant effort. Our culture was not manufactured by top leadership, but was created organically, by the team and for the team. This has allowed us to build a safe environment that encourages individuals to join and stay with the organization. This year, we were thrilled to earn a spot on the Great Place to Work’s Best Workplaces in Consulting and Professional Services. 
STRENGTHS – We know our team members want opportunities to learn and grow. We also understand that an individual’s greatest opportunity for growth and success is in their areas of strength, not weakness. Providing strength-based feedback inspires next-level performance.
As auditors, we are hardwired to review for errors. When we are reviewing the work of others, our first instinct is to look for mistakes and opportunities for improvement. Typical feedback also attempts to correct any negative behaviors or weaknesses. But research indicates that focusing on employee weaknesses doesn’t improve performance. Yes, critical feedback is sometimes necessary, but performance will be improved when feedback focuses on strengths as well as constructive criticism.
TRUST – We believe that no matter how many books you read or what software your organization invests in, feedback is only received well when managers first build trust. If you want to influence performance, people need to know you are interested in their development as a person. There is a quote, often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, that we reference frequently when thinking about feedback: “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Building trust begins with clarifying expectations. Each employee should be aware of their role and goals on the team or on the project, including discussions of appreciation for the employee’s strengths and the development opportunities the project brings. Once the project begins, the supervisor should check in with the employee frequently to stay abreast of their short-term priorities. This helps them see that the supervisor is invested in their day-to-day reality. Once or twice a month, managers should have a more in-depth conversation that focuses on short-term and long-term goals and priorities. This conversation deepens trust, as it is a frequent reminder that the supervisor is invested in the employee’s development and ensures that the goals set in the expectations discussion are being addressed.
ACCOUNTABILITY – What accountability looks like in feedback is the creation of agreements. If the manager has developed trust with the employee and provided clear expectations and ongoing communication, there is an agreement made that the employee will fulfill their obligations or communicate when they can’t. When these agreements are broken, either due to lack of clear communication or unfulfilled responsibilities, both parties must acknowledge their role in the broken agreement and agree to move forward. The underlying element of trust in the relationship allows each party to move on without blame.
RECOGNITION – In Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s latest book, “Nine Lies about Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World,” they dispel many of the accepted truths of the workplace today. Their fifth lie in the book is titled: “People Need Feedback.” Here, they argue against the theory that all people need feedback. Their research suggests that there are three theories related to feedback that are untrue. While we can’t hash out those three false beliefs in this article, they do reveal the truth that people need attention. Yes, feedback is attention. But Buckingham and Goodall argue that positive attention is 30 times more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance. The end goal should be to pay attention to what is working and help people build on it. Giving recognition and appreciation might be the most underused tool for increasing engagement and wellbeing.
Based on Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, employees in today’s workforce expect their managers to coach them. If you want employees who are engaged and high performing, we challenge you to utilize the STAR approach to feedback. Know and understand your employee’s STRENGTHS to create a field of inclusion and celebrate differences. Ensure you provide an environment of TRUST. Use ACCOUNTABILITY to promote a culture of reliability, and provide appropriate positive RECOGNITION and appreciation to increase positive energy across your entire team.
- “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” by Kerry Patterson, et al.
- “The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success,” by Anna Carroll
- “The Growth Mindset: A Guide to Professional and Personal Growth,” by Joshua Moore and Helen Glasgow
- “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World,” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
- “Principles: Life and Work,” by Ray Dalio
- “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” by Tom Rath
 “Feedback.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feedback. Accessed 22 Jun. 2021.
 Gallup. State of the Global Workplace. Gallup Press, December 2017.
 Great Place to Work. “Working at Stinnett & Associates.” (Certified Oct 2020-Oct 2021 USA). Great Place to Work®, www.greatplacetowork.com/certified-company/7022171
Published with permission from the Association of College and University Auditors after appearing in the ACUA’s journal, College & University Auditor.
About the Authors
Chrissy McKeown, CIA, CPA is the Senior Manager of Audit Quality with Stinnett and has over 20 years of significant internal controls expertise.
Jennifer Roberson is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, CIA and Senior Manager of Employee Engagement with Stinnett. She holds 15 years of internal audit experience.