Cathy Atkins | Crain's Boston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Cathy Atkins


Cathy Atkins is a founding partner of Metis Communications, a public relations and strategic communications firm focused on fast-growth, business-to-business technology companies. The Boston-based company went fully remote in 2017 with employees working around the country and world. Atkins works remotely in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, providing the overall strategic direction for Metis.

The Mistake:

I was unprepared for critical feedback.

When we decided to become a remote company, my business partner and the majority of our team were in Boston, but we had team members spread throughout the country. I wasn’t prepared for the level of pushback I got in terms of going remote. I read and thought it was something we could do.

I was unprepared for the pushback I received from my team and advisors in terms of who thought the work would suffer and that we would lose touch with each other. It was a big sting that people thought the work and collaboration was a result of people sitting next to each other in the same office.

Taking that feedback forced me to look at the decisions we were making as an organization and the level of flexibility I wanted to bring to the team. I became a de facto expert on remote working. I read every book under the sun, spoke with CEOs and teams that were remote, researched technologies, HR policies, everything I could to make sure that we were in as good of a position as possible to make this move.

I took the feedback and internalized it the best way I could by educating myself and then going for it.

Critical feedback is not as bad as it seems. Take it, internalize it and lead with positive intent.

The Lesson:

You never learn from positive feedback. You remember failures … and those lessons are more seared on.

I’ve thrived on finding the best ways to offer feedback and make it safe and honest. We use tools to support this. For example, I’m not a fan of anonymous feedback. I don’t think it solves any problems and you can’t provide context. I think it’s best to have one-on-one conversations or dedicate time to talk through the feedback you’re getting. Make sure you’re honoring the person giving the feedback and then work together to move forward.

Critical feedback is not as bad as it seems. Take it, internalize it and lead with positive intent.

Feedback can be easy or hard depending on the person, but hopefully, someone can learn a lesson.

Cathy Atkins is on Twitter at @cathcaldeira and Metis Communications is at @MetisComm.

Photo courtesy of Metis Communications.

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