Changing feedback style can improve employee productivity

Would you rather be feared or loved? For three years, Dan O’Malley opted for the latter—and every day, he says, he failed his employees a little more.

As Inc. reports, the founder and CEO of Numerated stumbled onto that epiphany by accident: The 4-year-old Boston-based startup, which helps banks and credit unions automate their processes, went into crisis mode in March 2020, when the Small Business Administration launched the Paycheck Protection Program. It turns out, when your entire 55-person team is working 20-hour days for weeks on end (to help banks process roughly $250 million in forgivable small business loans per hour), you don’t have time to mince words.

“I didn’t have the time to be worried about how people would take the feedback. I just had to give it,” O’Malley says. But brutal honesty can be jarring, and can elicit defensive reactions, so he added a personal twist. He’d start with a short warning: “This is probably going to come off rough, and I don’t mean it that way.” And after detailing exactly what went wrong, he’d ask: How can I help? What do you need to fix it?  

O’Malley says that choosing to be more open and changing his demeanor wasn’t a conscious decision. But Numerated’s employees noticed the new tone immediately. 

Numerated’s crisis period is over, but O’Malley’s newfound feedback style is here to stay: Eliminating the passivity (while maintaining the humanity) has caused the startup’s leaders, employees, and even clients to communicate significantly more efficiently with one another. And the company’s annual revenue grew to $28 million in 2020, up from roughly $1.8 million in 2019. Read the full story.