Talk through your thought process. There’s nothing more frustrating than receiving feedback and not understanding how that person got there. It’s why when I’m giving feedback on a document, I have it up between us. I’m directly showing the person where I’m looking, and I’m saying: I thought this, I got confused by this, I didn’t understand here…
As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Perkins.
Emily is the Chief Brand Officer at Epro and bestselling author. A storyteller almost from birth, Emily has worked with some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Samsung, Beats, B&O Play, and many more. She leads Marketing and Branding at Epro, a clinically-led digital solution for healthcare professionals and organizations.
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?
Hello! I’m a writer and brand expert from the UK, and I’ve loved telling stories from since before I can remember. No, really: my Mum found her diary from when I was about three years old recently, and sent me a photo of one of the entries, in which I demanded she ‘make me a book’ which I then proudly wrote in and presented to my parents later that day.
My dual loves of language and people make storytelling an obvious fit for me. I love the way words can concoct plots, reimagine worlds, bring lovers together and either lead us towards or save us from wars. And I love people! I’m a natural extrovert and have never met a person I didn’t find genuinely fascinating.
We as humans are just products of our stories: the tales we tell ourselves, the truths others tell us, the lies we tell which shape our stories. What I love to do is capture those stories, whether that be at work, when I share how healthcare technology is advancing, or as an author when I delve into the past and try to tell completely different stories.
I have pursued writing and storytelling as a career while I was still studying at university, and in Jane Austen’s words, have ‘lived by my pen’ ever since.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Bizarrely, I think one of the things that makes Epro stand out is that we don’t shout about ourselves that often! We have a company culture of doing our best because of personal integrity and passion, so much of the outstanding work we deliver to our NHS Trusts goes by unnoticed. Like most software as a service, it’s only when things go wrong that anyone notices!
Here at Epro, we empower NHS Trusts to transform their systems. Our digital healthcare transformation services run right to the root of what clinicians and patients want: a smoother and paperlite experience so that the focus can be on the patient, rather than the paperwork.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Ohh, that’s a hard one! I don’t really have a specific story for this one, it’s more that I have been fortunate enough to work with some real giants in the tech space — Sony, Beats, Samsung — as well as some of the challenger innovators — deep tech such as AI, cloud, robotics, 5G. I never thought I would have a behind the scenes view of these sorts of advancements, and I’ve learned a huge amount from the people who are creating the future we’ll all be living in.
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?
I think probably the most dramatic thing that has happened was when I was working on the agency side, on an account that had an amazing story about death and AI chatbots. Backed up by a YouGov survey, a great report, and some hard-hitting facts, this was the perfect story to land on the BBC, the Guardian — you name it, we had it targeted. It was a six-week campaign before launch, and I was so excited.
Just hours after sending out the press release, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, announced that they were expecting a baby.
Our story got completely swallowed, and that was the end of six weeks of work. At the time it was devastating, but looking back, I’m able to laugh. Gazumped by a baby!
What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout isn’t a sickness, it’s a symptom. It’s the last resort at the end of a very long journey. If your team is getting burned out, then what signals have you missed along the way?
“I’ll get that done, even if I stay late.”
“No matter what happens, that report will be on your desk.”
“Yeah, I haven’t taken a lunch break in weeks!”
These are warning signs, and if you’re missing them, then you’re missing out on opportunities to put the brakes on that burnout and slow things down. Even if your employees aren’t doing it consciously, they are trying to tell you that things aren’t right.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
A leader is someone whose goal is to empower others. The very worst leaders are people who can’t delegate, can’t lift others up, can’t praise someone for their work. Everything has to be about them, the spotlight can never leave them. No one wants to work around someone like that for long, and they certainly don’t inspire.
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?
If I’m stressed about the outcomes of a meeting, talk, or decision, I used to do something that is probably quite counter-intuitive: I considered the worst-case scenario! What is the worst that can happen from this? Usually, that immediately puts things into perspective. I lose face, I get laughed at, I feel embarrassed.
Now, I have never worked in sales, I’m not a rocket scientist, I’m not a brain surgeon. Not everyone can use that tactic! But one of my old bosses always used to say something if we had a bad day, and it’s always stuck with me.
“Yeah, it’s been tough. But no one died today.”
That approach has always grounded me, and at Epro, that has been completely turned on its head. Yeah, if I tweet something with a spelling mistake, no one is going to die. But if we as Epro, as a whole unit, don’t do our jobs, people could die. And that makes that preparation has now been absolutely key. If I don’t turn up to a meeting with an agenda, a few notes about my views on each agenda item, notes on things I want to ensure I get across, and a glass of water by my laptop, then I’m not ready for that meeting.
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?
I moved into leadership early. After freelancing and consulting for a few years, I joined a consumer tech firm as a copywriter and created the role of Senior Communications Executive for myself within six months. The need was there, but no one had thought to fill it.
I managed four others within that team, and when I moved to the agency side, I helped the owner run and manage the business as well as managed the team directly. It was much faster paced, with greater challenges around recruitment, personal development, and wellbeing in the workplace.
Now at Epro, I technically have half a person in my team! I share Dan with Sales, leveraging his insight into the market and our product, but I am also responsible for leading our internal culture so in a way, I have a leadership role across the whole company.
Giving feedback is never fun, especially at the outset when you’re a relatively new manager. I had the additional challenge of always (to date) having at least one person under my supervisory care who is older than me, and that’s been a delicate balance in some cases. As humans we naturally don’t like doing what we’re told!
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?
It all comes back to what I was talking about before: empowerment. If you as a leader are constantly just correcting mistakes and not feeding those errors back to your team member, they’ll never be empowered to grow and advance.
One of the most frustrating things I found as a consultant was vague feedback, evidently couched to ensure the client didn’t hurt my feelings.
“It’s almost there, but not quite.” (Okay…)
“I like some of it but the rest has to go.” (Which rest of it?)
“You know, we’ll take it from here.” (You’ll be back…)
It’s why direct feedback — not to be confused with rude criticism — is crucial.
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.
- Talk through your thought process. There’s nothing more frustrating than receiving feedback and not understanding how that person got there. It’s why when I’m giving feedback on a document, I have it up between us. I’m directly showing the person where I’m looking, and I’m saying: I thought this, I got confused by this, I didn’t understand here…
- Remind yourself to be kind. For all you know, this could be the first time they’ve received this feedback. It could be hard to swallow. They haven’t had a chance to learn and adapt yet. Ask yourself, would I speak to my mother like this?
- Smile. Body language, even through a remote call or video chat, makes a huge difference to your tone, inflections, and word choice. It will also change how what you are saying is coming across to your teammate. Remember, 80% of communication is not verbal.
- Offer to repeat. I hate it when feedback is rushed. How is anyone meant to absorb new information at speed? When you’ve finished giving your feedback, make sure to ask, with a smile, “Is there a bit you’d like me to go over again? I’m happy to.” That last phrase reiterates that you’re not trying to rush off to your next task.
- Ask them to share their thoughts. Ask them to share what they would do differently next time. Ask which bit of feedback made the most sense. Ask how they’d approach explaining the task to another person. This will help enforce the learning, and is a great way to ensure that they’ve fully understood your feedback.
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?
Pick up the phone! I know that sounds flippant, but in the modern day world, there are so many options available to you. FaceTime, WhatsApp call, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts…there are so many ways to connect, and it doesn’t have to be a big long calendar event. Ping them a link and say: “Hey, I’d like to run through my thoughts on this document. Join me on this link when you have a moment.”
Making it as natural as stopping by someone’s desk and having a chat.
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?
It really depends on what you’re giving feedback on, and who you’re giving feedback to.
If you’re feeding back on a piece of work, then I recommend giving it a day after the person sent it to you. Sometimes, just twenty four hours away from a project can give someone perspective and help them to see your point of view.
If you’re feeding back on an action, however, I’d always recommend stepping in. Muscle memory is powerful stuff, and if you want to teach someone how to improve, you need them to immediately perform the correct version of that action.
Knowing your staff means you should know when their minds are most active, and most able to take in new information. For example, I’m a morning person. That’s when I’m most creative and most strategic. If you want to show me something new, or cram a load of information into my head, before lunch is the best time to do that.
How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?
What a question! I think a great boss is actually someone who is different with each person that they manage.
I don’t mean that they are two faced, or completely change their personality, but instead that they take into account the personality of the individual they are with. Some people are comfortable with their boss being really direct, others need a softer touch. Some want to hear bad news straight away, others need to be led to it. Some want their bosses to ask about their personal lives — some want to keep work and home completely separate!
A great boss is someone who knows that, and who attenuates their support correspondingly.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like governments to be held to account just as private businesses are. If a company makes a statement that they know to be false, because it will benefit their position in the marketplace, they are penalised for that. You can’t lie to your customers in the hope that they’ll keep you as your supplier, or keep purchasing products from you. And yet many governments act in that precise way. I’d like there to be more accountability.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Mind how you go.” It’s a family favourite, with connotations about love, care, journeys, travel, adventures, and of course, returning home.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.