Who's best – critical Craig or level-headed Len? Photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock.com

Thursday 26th November 2015

Strictly best practice

According to feedback gurus, who’s the top judge?

So, who are the most influential people in the country when it comes to delivering feedback?

You’d be hard pushed to look beyond the judges of Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC1 flagship show that boasts audiences of more than ten million. (Sir Alan Sugar’s feedback on The Apprentice is only seen by about six million, and don’t even think about the ruin that is the once-great X Factor.)

The Strictly judges – Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli – are pretty much household names.

But the big question for HR is: are they actually any good at what they do? And what can we learn from their influential feedback styles?

We asked a number of experts for their opinions: Mike Greatwood, executive coach, member of the British Psychological Society and CEO of The Dream Manager Program; Jon Covey, the inspirational business speaker and mentor; and Nigel Botterill, the founder of the Entrepreneurs Circle Training Academy.

So what did they think? Which judges are fab-u-lous, and which – ahem – are cha-cha-charlatans?

Critical Craig

Craig Revel Horwood

Craig splits the experts right down the middle.

For the uninitiated, he’s the dour one at the end who’s quick to criticise. In doing so, he dreams up some striking allusions. This series he notably referred to the gangly Jeremy Vine as dancing like a ‘stork struck by lightning’.

Mike Greatwood says that, looked at from a transactional analysis perspective, Craig plays the role of a critical parent.

‘He’s in the ‘I’m OK but you’re not OK’ quadrant, where feedback is based on his need to feel superior and with little more than a passing interest in how other people are motivated,’ Greatwood says.

‘This can lead to contestants becoming over-sensitive but left with very little useful information. It’s unlikely he would survive as a coach or line manager in today’s workplace,’ he adds.

Jon Covey isn’t a big fan, either. ‘There’s no doubt the advice given by Craig has value,’ he says. ‘Unfortunately, the minute it turns to insult, this nullifies the comment and most people will tune out.

‘Generally people turn on the insult switch when they’re incapable of convincingly getting across their point. The deeper cause behind the insult is often frustration and anger. I’d take a guess that Craig might earn the least of the judges.’

Nigel Botterill, however, has more time for the acerbic Australian. ‘I speak to business owners all the time. The truth is, the more straight talking and brutal I am the more they like it and the more impact it has.

‘If you’re looking for those qualities, you’d go to Craig every time. When he praises you it means more than praise from any of the others. And when he criticises, he is almost always right.’

Given the difference of opinions, we reckon Craig deserves a five.

Strengths-based Darcey

Darcey Bussell

‘People don’t pay attention to Darcey Bussell in the same way because she sits on the fence all the time,’ Botterill continues.

‘She was a great dancer and has all the technical knowledge, but she doesn’t like to criticise. That wouldn’t make her a great manager’.

Mike Greatwood sees more merit in Bussell’s approach. ‘She has high emotional intelligence,’ he asserts. ‘She recognises the difficulties the performers face and is focused on giving positive and constructive feedback.

‘She is reluctant to give negative feedback and when she does, she justifies the need and reduces its impact by using soft language. Her coaching style is strengths based – she builds people up so they feel good and want to achieve more.’

Covey suggests Bussell should be admired for her understanding of the power of a positive response. ‘Darcey is a cool cat, and really understands the true power of development,’ he says. ‘She’s all business. True hustlers understand that positive feedback, which people can easily understand, will return ten times the results.’

A good performance from Darcey, generally – probably worth an 8.

Chairman Len

Len Goodman

Len Goodman is arguably the most distant of the four – and that can be a boon and a drawback, the experts suggest.

‘Len Goodman is the elder statesman,’ says Botterill. ‘In a business context, he would be the chairman of the board, but quite detached from the day-to-day business. He wouldn’t be down in the office getting the sales team pumping or driving a new marketing campaign.’

However, with detachment can come clarity. Covey says: ‘He just gets what you’re doing, and what you’re going through. The quality here is an unshakeable certainty.’

‘He has the quiet confidence of having lots of experience without contestants being left to feel too negative about their performances,’ volunteers Greatwood.

But Greatwood does recognise one failing with Goodman – a desire to be ‘Mr Soundbite’. ‘He likes to hear himself being funny,’ he adds.

Reliable, then, but no great shakes. What could we give Len other than a – wait for it – sev-errrnn!

Eager Bruno

World Premiere Of Walt Disney Pictures' "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - Red Carpet
Bruno Tonioli

The judge the experts like the most appears to be Bruno Tonioli, the Italian ex-dancer who spends most of the time on his feet.

‘Bruno just loves what he does, and a mentor with these traits is wonderful to be around,’ says Covey. ‘High energy, focused, and driven to help you really ‘get it’.’

‘Bruno Tonioli is the eager child – enthusiast, very spirited, expressive and emotional,’ says Greatwood. ‘He is keen to connect everything with feelings and appears to have a high attachment to his emotional self.

‘He is very physically expressive, and may be a visual learner. This is evidenced by the way he uses imagery to explain himself – painting a word picture.

‘It is a great technique if the person being coached is familiar with the imagery too, and akin to cognitive behavioural coaching, whereby a thought is converted into a feeling and then into an action.’

‘Bruno is the boss,’ says Botterill. ‘You know that he cares. That comes across in the way he gets on his feet, gesticulates, tries to show the contestants how to perform a move better.paddle-9

‘There’s a comic effect, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he gives an honest assessment of the contestants. It’s the same honesty that Craig delivers, but people respond to it better.’

Looks like Bruno is topping the leadership. He gets a 9. Bravo, Bruno!

The Votes Are In

Bruno, then, ticks a lot of boxes. But what about the show generally? Is there anything that we, or our people, could learn from the judges?

‘In one sense, yes,’ says Botterill. ‘Feedback should be immediate if it’s to be effective. But in another sense, no. You should praise in public but bawl someone out in private. I don’t believe in humiliating people in front of their colleagues. It’s not the best way of getting a response.’

Greatwood’s challenge is with the rigid consistency of the feedback style. ‘Overall, each of the judges has one major failing,’ he says. ‘They don’t adapt the way they give feedback.

‘Great feedback is about tailoring it to the recipient and being able to understand how they are motivated and how the feedback provided is likely to affect them.

‘All four judges give their feedback in the same way each time, whereas in reality a good coach would be able to quickly establish how the person they are coaching is motivated and adapt their feedback accordingly.’

Covey believes the key take-out is to listen to Tonioli and Bussell and focus on the positive. ‘Supportive, high energy, and positive feedback produces the greater results,’ he says.

‘Sure, you can be tough and you can challenge people. But true champions don’t criticise the person, because people need to feel valued and supported.

‘If you need to, you criticise the method instead.’

About the author

Andrew Baird

Andrew is the CEO of HRville. He is also Employer Brand Director of Blackbridge Communications, Editorial Director of Professionals in Law and an associate of The Smarty Train. Previously, he was the MD of TCS Advertising.