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Why Being Sincerely Honest Is Key When Giving Feedback 

Personal Growth


December 2, 2019

August 26, 2020

No feedback, no growth. Providing your employees with proper feedback matters a big deal to your company and its culture. Wendy van Ierschot – CEO of VIE People – tells you exactly how to do it.

No one likes to be criticized. In fact, a 2017 working paper from Harvard Business School found that employees who received negative feedback sometimes go so far as to reshape their social network in the office – only to avoid the people that criticized them. Unsurprisingly, this lowers their performance. 

This is such as waste, because creating a culture in which risk-taking and feedback is encouraged  is essential to scaling up your company – and keeping that innovative edge.  A top performing culture can’t do without it.

Receiving feedback – yes, even negative feedback – should be inspiring, says VIE’s Wendy van Ierschot. ‘It’s possible, as long as feedback is offered graciously and constructively. At VIE People, we call this being sincerely honest.’ 

Sincere honesty does not mean that you simply overload your employees with harsh criticism. There’s an art to giving honest feedback.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Always link feedback to your employee’s goal

Wendy: ‘Let’s say you’ve noticed that your employee always bounces back in a room with a strongly opinionated client. He or she rarely manages to impress this specific type of person.’ 

Instead of just saying ‘you should be more assertive’ or ‘come on, put up a fight’, Wendy says, link your feedback to the goal you know your employee wants to achieve. That way, your criticism focuses on your employee’s personal growth, not so much on his or her personality. It enables you to be frank and direct. 

Wendy: ‘In this case you could say: I’ve noticed you get intimidated by people with strong opinions. I get it, but if you really want to become a CEO yourself one day, try not to shrink back next time.’ 

Roleplay can be really effective. ‘It’s a great exercise to learn how to respond differently in the future,’ says Wendy. ‘In this case, I’d advise my team member to act as a tree: just let the wind blow, wait till the wind dies down and make your point. Time is on your side.’ 

Only give feedback if you truly believe the person can improve his or her behavior, she adds. ‘If you’re not convinced yourself, people will immediately sense that and their unconscious protection mechanisms will thrive.’ 

Make a real connection

Sharp criticism only works if you make a true connection with your employee, says Wendy. 

If you notice that your employee finds it difficult to deal with your feedback, give him or her a little space. ‘Emphasize that you understand that receiving feedback can be difficult, that we’ve all been there, that all you want is for him or her to grow and get closer to their goal,’ says Wendy. Another important point when giving feedback, is saying that your employee is not obliged to listen to you.  ‘We are all blessed with many observation biases, so we can never be sure if we are really right.’

Emphasize that you’re just trying to help, Wendy says. ‘I always say: you don’t have to eat with cutlery if you’re having dinner with the queen – it’s up to you. But if you want her to take you seriously, it would probably be a good idea.’ 

In fact, Wendy regularly asks for feedback herself. ‘Don’t get me wrong: I don’t enjoy receiving sharp criticism, but I know it’s good for me. It keeps me humble and in the learning mode.’ 

Be consistent 

Needless to say, always stay consistent when giving feedback. 

Wendy: ‘You lose your credibility if you send a different message to different employees. And if you find yourself in the tricky situation of giving feedback to someone on something you’re not too good at it yourself, always mention that you’re aware of that – that you’re in the process of learning as well. Or even better, ask a colleague that is a pro on this to deliver the feedback.’ 

In conclusion: in a truly innovative company culture, making mistakes should be encouraged, as long as CEOs and employees are able and willing to give and receive proper feedback. 

Wendy: ‘It’s the only way to grow – as an employee and as a company. Scaling up is all about trial and error.’ 

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