James River Capital

Update: James River Capital and the Importance of Feedback

Updated: 9/16/20

Receiving Feedback as a Leader

Successful managers should be able to receive feedback as well as provide it. Getting feedback from superiors or from employees can be stressful, but it makes a manager a stronger leader.

Paul Sanders, CEO and chairman of James River Capital, has more than 30 years of experience in the financial sector. In his years of leadership, he has learned that giving good feedback is incredibly valuable, but receiving feedback might be even more important for strong managers. 

Receiving feedback proves that you, the manager, are a team player and that you truly care about your team’s input. This can help build and maintain a healthy relationship, making yourself and your team more open and transparent in the workplace, which leads to better productivity and output. Receiving constructive and respectful feedback can also empower you to face weaknesses head-on, and grow as a leader and a part of the team. Everyone has their flaws but it takes a  well-rounded, respectful manager to be able to accept their employees’ feedback for what needs to change and actively work to improve in that area.

Receiving feedback as a manager can be difficult, but Paul Sanders stresses the importance of managers keeping their emotions in check when the feedback may include things you, the manager, may not agree with, or take lightly.

If the feedback isn’t entirely clear, be sure to ask your team to elaborate with examples. As a leader you can only improve if you know exactly what your team wants you to work on. Then you can create a specific, actionable plan for incorporating the feedback into your work.

How to Get More Honest Feedback from Your Employees

Management is a tricky position as more often than not, and it’s on the leaders to have difficult conversations. But it’s easy to shy away from giving feedback because nobody wants to give critical feedback to their team. Fortunately, with the right culture in place, you can encourage a healthy environment where feedback isn’t dreaded but welcomed. 

Everyone needs feedback to be better at their job, including managers. As a leader, you have to master the delicate art of giving feedback if you want a motivated, successful team. It’s tempting to avoid conflict and just limp along without any difficult conversations, but you’re a manager. You’re a leader, and leaders have to do hard things to get results. 

In this article, we’ll discuss why James River Capital founder Paul Sanders values employee feedback so much—and how to solicit it from your own employees. 

About Paul Sanders & James River Capital

James River Capital

Paul Sanders and his business partner acquired James River Capital in 1995. Paul has worked as JRC’s Chairman and CEO since that time, putting his 30 years of experience in alternative investments to work.

James River Capital is now operating out of Richmond, Virginia. The company pursues investment programs for its clients, targeting many asset classes within the alternative asset space. Thanks to its specialization in alternative investments, JRC can provide more diversification in its investment programs. 

With 25 years of experience at James River Capital, Paul has had his share of difficult conversations. However, Paul believes those conversations have made him a better leader. Learn why feedback is so critical to growing a successful business and how you can encourage a feedback culture at your own organization. 

Why Feedback Matters so Much

Leaders treat the word “feedback” like it’s a four-letter word, but feedback is basically a manager’s entire job description. In other words, feedback should be central to your role as a leader. If it’s not, you’ve got room to improve. 

Still not sure why feedback has a place in your business? When you start confronting hard situations with healthy feedback procedures, five benefits are sure to follow: 

Build a Better Business

Who doesn’t want to build a better business? When you embrace feedback at every level of your organization, you’re building a stronger foundation for your business to grow. For example, if you’re brainstorming a new product with your employees, you want their feedback. But if they don’t feel supported, employees won’t contribute their honest opinion.

You’re paying for your employees’ feedback, and that feedback is critical to designing bulletproof products that will succeed in the market. Don’t pump your resources into solutions that don’t work; solicit honest feedback from the start and build a more valuable, competitive business in the process. 

Grow Your Team’s Skills

If you want to get more mileage out of your employees’ work, feedback helps them get even better. Don’t expect employees to read your mind. Boost employee satisfaction, work quality, and turnaround times by giving people constructive feedback. That includes both praising and correcting behavior. Everybody wins when you give employees the correct type of feedback.

Become a Stronger Leader

James River Capital

Leadership isn’t just about dishing out feedback. You have to invite and accept it, too. Don’t spend thousands of dollars training your company’s managers. You can get better results for a fraction of the cost by soliciting feedback from employees about your leadership style. 

Remember, feedback is a two-way conversation. Honest conversation, though tough, makes you a better leader. When you ask your team, “How can I better serve you?”, you’ll deliver on employee expectations, becoming a more effective leader. 

Retain Your Staff

You lose thousands of dollars every time an employee leaves your company. The number-one reason people leave their jobs isn’t the company itself, but their direct supervisor. 75% of employees who leave a business do so because of their manager. 

Constructive feedback strengthens the relationship between your employees and their managers. Plus, feedback gives employees clear goals and paths to improvement. The clarity alone gives employees peace of mind and more motivation to dig deeper into their roles. When you create a feedback culture, it does wonders for morale and business results. 

Boost Profitability

That’s right: feedback can make your business more profitable. Gallup found that managers who give healthy feedback are 9% more profitable, which makes a lot of sense. When people work better, they make better products and with better products, you can increase sales. Feedback culture has a synergistic effect across your organization.

5 tips to Encourage the Right Kind of Workplace Feedback

Feedback culture affects every aspect of your business. But how do you go from an organization with zero feedback and into a feedback powerhouse? Use these 5 tips to get your company across the finish line. 

Focus on Constructive Conversations

There’s a fine line between feedback and venting. The goal of feedback is to create a constructive dialogue with a resolution. Venting, on the other hand, is emotional rambling that makes everyone feel worse. It’s the job of a good manager to steer conversations away from venting and toward actionable feedback.

After all, it’s not useful for an employee to say, “I hate working here.” That’s venting. Feedback would be, “It’s challenging to work here because our hours are too long. Can we hire more people on our team?” That’s a constructive approach that focuses not on the problem, but a solution. 

Tackle problems not from an antagonistic perspective, but a collaborative one. It should be a problem you are both trying to solve. We have taken this approach at James River Capital and it has helped us cultivate the culture we’re looking for.

Create a culture that focuses on solutions. If employees feel frustrated, encourage them to brainstorm solutions to their problems. Or, if they can’t think of any solutions, create systems for them to bring issues to the team or to management for collaboration. 

But remember, when an employee comes to you with a problem and potential solutions, it’s your job to engage with them. Nothing demotivates an employee more quickly than a checked-out manager. Employees need to see you taking action on their feedback. That signals that their contributions are meaningful and worthwhile, which will only encourage them to share more often. 

Suspend Judgment

Nobody likes to think of themselves as a judgmental person, but managers are trained to make fast decisions. Sometimes that means accidentally making snap judgments that discourage feedback. To encourage feedback within your team, don’t judge them. If they sense you’re going to talk over them or derail the conversation, they will be less comfortable and therefore less likely to offer feedback. Control your emotions and practice your best poker face. 

Practice Active Listening

Listening can make or break a feedback culture. Don’t be quick to butt in and add your two cents to an employee’s feedback. Let them get their whole message out. What are they trying to tell you? Is there anything that’s left unsaid? Are they emotional? 

Active listening means absorbing and processing before speaking. Instead of planning your next rebuttal or comment, take in what your employee is telling you. That’s the key to down-to-earth management that uses feedback in a constructive way. 

Follow Feedback Best Practices

Feedback isn’t easy. If everyone were a natural at giving feedback, the world would be a better place. But since we’re all flawed humans, it’s important to follow these feedback best practices: 

  • Create a formalized feedback process and document it in your employee handbook. 
  • Give feedback in a timely fashion. Don’t wait three months to mention areas of improvement; call things out in the moment (in a polite way, of course). 
  • Give feedback in person. Information and tone can be misconstrued over email or phone calls. Meet in person when you’re giving feedback so you can clarify the messaging. 
  • Have processes for anonymous reporting. Anonymous reports can be difficult to implement correctly, but they’re still necessary. Partner with a third-party to give employees anonymous reporting options that are safe and impartial. 

Connect with Your Team

Employees don’t always want to share feedback with their managers. This is the person who has control over their livelihood, and for that reason, employees don’t want to rock the boat. But when you connect with your team in person, they become more comfortable chatting with you. 

Be sure to schedule regular time with your team, whether it’s regular one-on-ones or team outings. Give them a chance to connect with you in a non-intimidating way. You can collect a huge amount of feedback from casual watercooler.

The Bottom Line

Leaders, like the ones at James River Capital, need to embrace challenging conversations. When you follow these five tips, you’ll create a more profitable, satisfying environment for your employees. But remember, feedback requires a cultural shift. All cultural changes have to start with the leadership. Prioritize feedback as part of your management style to bolster healthy relationships when you’re at work. Invest in your people, and they’ll invest back in the company.

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