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Jasmijn Bol: “Leadership is all about listening and connecting to your team”

Early in my career, I did not realize the importance of considering an individual’s national cultural background when providing feedback. I am from the Netherlands and we are, in general, very direct. Sure we also talk about the things that are going well, but we quickly dive into a direct and honest conversation about what […]

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Early in my career, I did not realize the importance of considering an individual’s national cultural background when providing feedback. I am from the Netherlands and we are, in general, very direct. Sure we also talk about the things that are going well, but we quickly dive into a direct and honest conversation about what needs to improve. This is different from what is expected in the U.S. Here the expectation is more the hamburger approach: You start with what is going well, then you provide the negative feedback but end the conversation with some more positive news.

I have definitely “shocked” some team members with my directness in my early years. I now adjust the balance between positive and negative feedback, as well as, the directness of the feedback to the cultural background of the team member.


As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jasmijn Bol.

Professor Jasmijn Bol represents the international focus at the Tulane University A.B. Freeman School of Business.

Professor Bol’s research focuses on subjectivity in compensation contracting, and she has authored and co-authored several articles that have appeared in prestigious scholarly journals. She has also earned awards for her teaching and research.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have authored numerous articles that have appeared in prestigious scholarly journals including The Accounting Review, Journal of Accounting Research, Contemporary Accounting Research and Accounting, Organizations & Society. My research has significantly impacted the Accounting and Business community. I am ranked 5th in the Managerial Accounting Research category based on publication in top journals and my research has also been highly cited, including being ranked 9th in the category Managerial Experimental Accounting Research. I have presented my research at over 50 national and international academic institutions and conferences, including serving as a keynote speaker and a panelist. I have received accolades for my research, among which the 2015 Notable Contribution to Management Accounting Literature Award presented by the American Accounting Association and her recognition as the Best Early-Career Researcher in Management Accounting, also awarded by the American Accounting Association. My research has also been funded by several prestigious institutions like the IMA, CIMA and FAR.

I have taught several managerial accounting courses and developed a course in control systems for which I have created a variety of teaching materials, among them two Harvard Business School Case. I was an honor to be recognized for teaching by my students and colleagues when I received an Award for Excellence in Accountancy Education from the Accountancy Department of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I have also received the Alumni Association Excellence-in-Teaching Award for Undergraduate Teaching from the College of Business of the University of Illinois.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, originally the College of Commerce and Business Administration, was established in 1914 and is a founding member of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the premier accrediting body for collegiate schools of business. Today, the Freeman School is a leading internationally recognized business school with nearly 3,000 students in programs spanning the globe. With innovative curricula that combine outstanding classroom instruction with distinctive experiential learning opportunities, the Freeman School is dedicated to preparing current and future business leaders to contribute positively to their organizations and their communities.

In its Essential Science Indicators index, Thomson Scientific ranks the Freeman School in the top 1 percent of institutions based on citations in business and economics between January 2000 and April 2010, with 197 faculty papers collectively cited 1,864 times. Among institutions that produced at least 100 indexed papers in the field during that period, Freeman’s impact score of 9.46 cites per paper places it at №70 of the 181 institutions in the top 1 percent.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I did not realize the importance of considering an individual’s national cultural background when providing feedback. I am from the Netherlands and we are, in general, very direct. Sure we also talk about the things that are going well, but we quickly dive into a direct and honest conversation about what needs to improve. This is different from what is expected in the U.S. Here the expectation is more the hamburger approach: You start with what is going well, then you provide the negative feedback but end the conversation with some more positive news.

I have definitely “shocked” some team members with my directness in my early years.

I now adjust the balance between positive and negative feedback, as well as, the directness of the feedback to the cultural background of the team member.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

You need to listen to your employees. If they tell you they can’t handle the load you need to respect that. Just because you are able to handle a certain work/life-load, doesn’t mean others will. Especially if an employee has always been motivated and hard-working, if they tell you they can’t do more, pushing for more will only have negative consequences. Let them take a breath and they will ‘repay’ you with loyalty and increased motivation in the future.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is all about listening and connecting to your team. It is not just important to listen to their problems and help them find solutions, employees also often have creative ideas and suggestions, and if they feel you are not listening, they will not share their thoughts. A great leader is able to get the most out of his/her employees

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Sleep! I have never been a believer in studying through the night or preparing to the last moment if that comes at the cost of good night’s sleep. In the past because of young children I have to operate on too little sleep, the adrenaline will get you through but it just isn’t the same.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

Feedback is critical for managing a team, not just because it provides the employee with information and knowledge about how to better perform a task but also because it allows the supervisor to connect with the employee. The supervisor can show appreciation for the work and the commitment the employee has provided and reinforce the culture of the organization.

Both positive and negative feedback are critical to the organization’s success. Negative feedback is often hard and uncomfortable to provide. Positive feedback is not, but nevertheless most leaders do not spend enough time doing it. As the leader of your organization, you want to build a culture that motivates its supervisors but also employees to provide positive feedback. Using technology that facilitates providing feedback in a simple and timely matter is also important.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

When providing negative feedback, it is critical that feedback provides a clear picture of what is going on and direct enough to be understood. When there is a problem and negative feedback is necessary, it is important that the feedback results in change and without being honest and direct that will likely not happen.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

There is no one best way to give feedback, the way you give feedback depends on the situation.

When an employee is not performing satisfactory, the first thing that you should consider before diving into a conversation is: does the employee know there is a problem?

When the employee is aware that there is a problem, it is fine to just state the problem and then quickly move on to what needs to be changed and how you can offer help. Spending too much time going over the problem can be unnecessarily hurtful. Take for example an employee that has had a hard time personally and fell behind on work. Just establish the situation you are in and focus the conversation on how you can together improve the situation, for example, by allowing more flexible hours.

It is different when the employee thinks that everything is going well, or at least ok, while you as supervisor do not. In that situation, it is important that there first is a common understanding of the situation. If you dance around the problem, you might end up having to have the conversation again in a couple of weeks because nothing changes. In explaining the problem to the employee try to be factual and give concrete examples of the problem. Through questions and body langue try to cage when the employee understands and accepts that there is a performance problem, even if he/she does not explicitly acknowledge it. Only then can you focus on what needs to be done to change the situation.

Another factor that is critical is the driver of the problem: What is the reason the outcome is not satisfactory. Specifically, distinguish between an effort problem and a capability problem.

If it is the latter, it is important to acknowledge the effort and provide potential ways that the capability problem can be solved. For example, if you have a hard-working employee that is having problems with working with the new technology. You can tell him/her that you have seen him/her work very hard and you want to help them turn their effort more effectively into outcome for example with training. It is easier to be honest about the problem if the main focus of the conversation is about how you can help the employee improve their capabilities. The support that you are offering will turn the conversation more positive.

The situation is different when the problem of a specific employee is effort. The ownership of change now needs to lay more with the employee in this situation. You want to listen to the employee and facilitate the discussion but you cannot tell the employee how he/she can be more motivated. The employee needs to take more responsibility in the case.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

You do not want to give negative feedback by email unless you can keep it factual. It is, for example, fine toemail and ask to add some more statistics to a marketing report. You do not, however, want to send an email with feedback on an employee’s motivation or general attitude. These are conversations that need to be done personally, whether that is online or in person.

Positive feedback, on the other, can be provided through email without a problem.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Again it depends on the circumstances. When you think the employee does not realize something is not done correctly, or he/she is focusing on the right things, the sooner you can provide feedback the better. Nothing is more frustrating than your boss telling you not only that you are doing it wrong, but also that you have been doing it wrong for a long time.

It is different, however, when there is no immediate solution to the problem. Imagine an employee who knows his/her outcome is unsatisfactory but it is caused by uncontrollable circumstances. If there are no direct solutions or changes that can improve the outcomes, it can be unnecessarily frustrating when a supervisor immediately provides a negative assessment. This type of feedback is better discussed in set intervals like quarterly meetings.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://business.tulane.edu/faculty-research/faculty-profile.php?idkey=235

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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