Why bosses should not sugar coat their comments

Yet again, the brilliant Luke Johnson’s Animal Spirits column strikes a chord with business owners. This week he discusses issues relating to staff motivation and constructive feedback – factors that are important to successful business growth.  We’re pleased to share this article with you, courtesy of the Sunday Times.

Is the carrot or stick a better device with which to motivate staff?

Of course, it is much easier to criticise than to praise — we can all see faults and focus on shortcomings — but constant moaning is not effective in motivating people. It can wear them down and eventually alienate them. Better to try to see the best in everyone when you can and pay tribute if it is deserved, and always try to praise in public — and criticise in private.

One golden rule is that if you dish it out, you must be able to take it. This is partly about fairness, and partly because you need to understand what a rap on the knuckles feels like. It’s extraordinary how sensitive very demanding bosses can be to the slightest hint of disapproval. Unfortunately, too many men in a position of power surround themselves with sycophants, and the leader becomes used to endless flattery, unable to cope with censure of any kind. Companies under that sort of command usually end up in trouble.

Nit-picking and disparagement are harmful when done for their own sake. Criticism should be constructive whenever possible — pointing out solutions and giving specific instructions and information, rather than just carping. Unfortunately, most of us are not good at receiving feedback; we tend to react emotionally and take everything personally. Curiously, writing a newspaper column like this gives one practice at taking both the good and the bad: while many readers make kind comments, others don’t hold back in delivering harsh views.

Bosses who admit their own failings are more likely to find acceptance when they deliver blunt opinions of others. Of course, it is always better to present such judgments in a diplomatic manner if the message is a painful one — even if this requires a patience that I tend to lack.

However, I always think it is better to be straightforward with people rather than devious. I have worked with partners who flatter you while simultaneously plotting your demise. I prefer someone who is tough but honest — then you know where you stand.

There is a widespread view that positive feedback and compliments are more powerful tools than negativity. Depending on the recipient, there is truth in this: many of the highest- achieving entrepreneurs I’ve known have been world-class at making their teams feel terrific. Endless congratulation wears thin, however. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote: “Praise undeserved is scandal in disguise.”

Moreover, those who strive for greatness in their organisation should not be satisfied with mediocrity. Improvements come from correcting errors, rather than ignoring them.

You cannot just tell managers how good they are; you also need to point out mistakes. If you give plaudits even for shoddy work, few members of your staff will stretch themselves. You should be relatively sparing and specific in your accolades, and mean it when you deliver one — intelligent employees will know if you are sincere. Make them feel more sought-after thanks to their relative scarcity, and they will strive harder to receive praise.

Workers like nice managers who never reprimand subordinates, even when they do a poor job, but avoiding conflict so that colleagues like you is not a recipe for personal or corporate success. Business is full of hard choices, and the best-performing companies typically adopt a philosophy of relentless change, striving and progress — a sense of being dissatisfied with the status quo. That is a difficult culture to adopt if the leaders are afraid to correct deficiencies.

I enjoy working with entrepreneurs who are robust about feedback. As long as they believe you know what you are doing, and that your interests are aligned, they can swallow their pride and may even change their ways. They come from backgrounds where there was vigorous and healthy disagreement and debate at home. Other entrepreneurs are eternal optimists, and cannot deal with bad news or disapproval. They lack the confidence to manage challenge and doubt. They feel rejected by anyone who is not a believer. I find this sort of personality is particularly prevalent in the media and arts sector, which is overburdened with needy and egotistical types overprecious about their “creativity”. Fragility is not an asset in the rough and tumble of commerce.

We all want to be appreciated for our efforts — but too much applause can be just as harmful as disparagement.


If you have any issues relating to business growth, including brainstorming new ways to get the best out of your team, we’d be delighted to help. Call us on 020 8530 0720 or email paula.w@nordens.co.uk.

Beyond Accountancy

At Nordens, we're more than just accountants - we're business experts who can help you achieve your biggest goals.

Nordens Strategic

Our specialist strategic division at Nordens boasts some of the leading entrepreneurial business minds in the country. We cater towards delivering consistent success stories, whilst helping businesses achieve above and beyond their initial goals.

Through highly-tailored guidance, coaching and advice, Nordens Strategic are able to define exactly how your business can reach new levels of success.

Regardless of how you define ‘success’ for your business, our strategic service is guaranteed to bring about real and lasting change. By partnering with some of the UK’s top business coaches, we’ll steer you along the path to a greater future.

Accounting 2 You

Every business, no matter how big or small, needs to make the right decisions, and how to best manage your accounts can put huge question marks over your business. Accounting2You is here to take that pressure off and provide you with all the answers you need.

Our bookkeeping branch offers a fully inclusive, comprehensive service that you can trust. Since 2005, our specialist bookkeepers have been successfully managing the accounting of both individuals and small businesses.

With experts in payroll analysis, credit control and financial recording, Accounting2You will lead your business efficiently, and with real purpose, towards a prosperous future.

Voted as EXCELLENT - 9.9 out of 10 based on 167 reviews

Chris Dyer

Director - Metro Bank

Nordens are always very easy to deal with and extremely professional and efficient. I would have no hesitation in recommending them to my clients for their accountancy needs, no matter how complex they may be.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Jamie Brown

Co-Founder - Chicmi Limited

Very good to work with - the team go above and beyond to make the accounts easy and efficient. They're all super friendly and a joy to work with.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Simon Rose

Director - Rose Opticians

I have been using Nordens Chartered Accountants for 5 years and very happy with the service provided. All members of the team are very knowledgeable and have a wealth of experience which has proved very beneficial to my organisation

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Rebecca Bossick

Founder & Director - Physio LDN

Very easy to contact and put me in touch with the right person whenever I need to ask any questions. Extremely knowledgeable and can help me manage my various businesses whenever I need.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

James Aconley

Principal - Pauline Quirke Academy

Great accountants, always available to offer advice. The team have transformed my business.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Christopher Wilce

Founder - Dataphone

Having worked with Nordens over the last 5 years, not only to look after my annual accounts but they have also provided outstanding professional advice. They have guided me through a Company share buyback with clear and objective advice. We have also been using Nordens strategic services for a couple of years, which has helped bring about significant improvements that exceeded my expectations. With experience of working with several local accountants over my 29 years in business, I’m very pleased with the service I have received from Nordens.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Dave Hodges

Director - Linekers

Trusted our business with Nordens for over 10 years now and watched the company grow into the successful innovative business it has become today. Deservedly so. Every aspect of financial advice we need is always given promptly and with a smile. We have total confidence in all aspects of advice Nordens give. If you are looking for accountants, its a no brainer!

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Tony Charles

Founder - Foundation Sports Limited

A fantastic, modern, vibrant firm that care about the clients and their staff in abundance. It is rare to find an Accountancy firm with such vibrance and focus and relationships. It is no wonder they win award after award in their field.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Peter Horlock

Managing Director - Prime Time Boilers

I have been with Nordens for many years now and they are a great accountants.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Simon Cushing

Founder - Vivid Finishes

We have used Nordens for the last 5 years and have had a great service throughout. The guys are very passionate about what they do and have played a part in the growth of our company, highly recommended.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Andrew Martin

Managing Director - AMD Interior Architecture

Great Service at Nordens from a friendly very approachable team Particularly Kirsty Willis and Joe Sword who have been helping us since we started the business in 2016.

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

James Robinson

Director - Forma London

Nordens provide a first class service. We moved to Nordens last year and have been impressed with the level of service provided. Keep up the good work!

Read more reviews on Trust Pilot

Latest News

We've always got our ears to the ground when it comes to interesting, useful and topical information relating to business and accountancy.

How To Navigate An…
A volatile or unstable nation’s economy ultimately affects every person in that particular location. As the UK finds itself in hot water amidst supply chain issues, energy price increases and post-pandemic uncertainties, there ...
The Autumn 2021 Budget…
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, will be carrying out his red briefcase and laying out his Autumn Budget plans on Wednesday 27th October 2021. The Autumn Budget doesn’t usually attract massive attention, however du...
Nordens TV

We love making videos that break down convoluted accountancy jargon into plain-talking, actionable and accessible facts.

Live Webinar – Time…
Watch our latest LIVE webinar titled ‘Time To Revive' that was held on Wednesday 3rd February 2021 at 4pm GMT hosted by our CEO Mitch Hahn. Last year was tough for all of us. Now is the time to see what 2021 brings and how we c...
Our Christmas Message To…
Merry Christmas to all!   Here we have Mitch Hahn, CEO of Nordens Chartered Accountants delivering our Christmas message to you. Click the video link or read the full transcript below.   As we enter the ho...
  Why I Founded Nordens
Accounting 2 You

In November 2002, having sold our other business interests off earlier in the year, I decided to set up Nordens Chartered Accountants. The easy part was knowing how to do it, as I had established and built a smaller practice a few years earlier. The difficult part, for me, was not following the traditional accountancy path. Having run businesses, both successfully and unsuccessfully, I wanted to help business owners resolve their short term problems and work with them to achieve their longer term goals. Business has always been my interest and I love that I can help business owners achieve what seems like the impossible every single working day.

Mark Norden Signature

Mark Norden

We're Professionally Certified

Our limited company accountants have a range of qualifications from The Institute Of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW) to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). We worry about the bye-laws, regulations and ethical guidelines of the ACCA so you don’t have to! That makes us an ACCA-accredited employer as well as a Professional Passport-accredited one!