A Story About How I Learned The Value Of Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback leads to personal development and helps to produce an overall better end result.

The Story

Three years of college and a few internships completed, I strolled into Business Strategy MB 349—not with an ego—but naively feeling that the challenges behind me were far greater than the ones that I’d be presented with in my final year. Business Strategy was the senior capstone course for the business major at Skidmore College. The professor was a taller, well experienced woman with arms that dangled far down her legs. Feeling her presence right away, I listened closely to her as she reviewed the design of the course. She mentioned this undergraduate capstone course is taught like a Harvard Business School graduate course. She was one of the first women to attend HBS back in the day and was a strong believer in the case style teaching method.

Just when I thought my college had thrown everything at me that it could, Business Strategy MB 349 hit me square in the face. We were demanded to read one HBS case for every class and asked to prepare for a highly active class discussion. We read about modern tech giants like Apple, Google and Best Buy but also went back in time to learn about the history of Kodak and Walt Disney Company.

We were asked to write three business strategy case write-ups throughout the semester. Case write-ups followed a smooth format where we take on the role of strategic consultants writing a letter to the CEO of the business we were writing about. The flow was as follows:

  • Executive Summary
  • Very brief overview of the problem
  • Goals & Objectives for your strategy
  • A tight Porter’s 5 Forces Industry Analysis
  • Analysis of the options with pros and cons of each
  • Chosen option with an implementation plan and financial projections

The first case write-up was Best Buy and it was fall 2012 right at the peak show rooming. A handful of media outlets were covering it.

Because I naively thought Skidmore had thrown every academic challenge it could have at me already, I went into the case write up for the Best Buy believing that I could spend Sunday putting it together for its Tuesday delivery date. I think I even tried reading the fifteen page case write up and writing the strategic plan in one sitting that Sunday.

The course was fully electronic, so the day it was due I scanned it over quick, opened my email, and sent it over to the professor. Case write-ups were graded from 1 to 10, 10 being the best.

It came back with the grade: 3/10.

Along with the grade, were tons of comments in track changes:

  • “This is not an analysis.”
  • “This is not even an option why did you write this?”
  • “The CEO of Best Buy is well aware of what show rooming is by now”
  • “Where are your financial projections”
  • “This analysis is not that of a senior business major”

That only scratched the surface of the feedback. The professor ripped me apart (rightfully so). But she allowed the entire class to submit a re-write, and point is – had she not ripped my awful paper and me apart, I never would have learned as much as I did.

Looking back, I approached the re-write exactly how I should have done the first draft. First I read every comment she made—two times over—to get completely comfortable with what she was asking of me. Then I focused on analyzing the problem, coming up with a realistic goal for the strategy, and the three options I’d present. To flesh out my ideas, I phoned my old man and ran everything by him. I practiced verbally speaking what I was trying to write about so that when I went to write, I had already talked about it. I also forced myself to dive into excel and project revenue and costs for my revised strategy.

What I Learned:

Two major developments happened.

  1. I grew as person and became more self aware of how I operate. I am not someone who can bang out a large deliverable in one sitting, at least not when it is my first time doing it.
  2. The quality of my work improved.

Final Thought

This is exactly what constructive feedback does for us; it helps us to grow as humans and deliver better work. Now removed from the classroom for a few months, I am learning that companies move quickly. I hope that we continue to give and receive constructive feedback so that we can accelerate overall human progress.

FYI – I found the final draft of my Best Buy case write-up and will publish it later this week.

  • wilreynolds

    Dude, really enjoyed this! I think in this specific instance you were being challenged to create a more consultative framework to your problems. Also did you share this with your professor?? I bet she’d enjoy this read.

    • bjcottam

      Good call, Wil. Sending it over to her now!

      And I definitely agree. I was pushed to think more like a consultant in this situation. Even though I struggled in the beginning, I enjoyed it overall. This was one of the signs (in addition to others) that helped me see that a consulting role would be a rewarding career fit.