Feedback — What, why and how?

Feedback is a crucial part of any social setup, be it work, family, sports group, book club, etc. In the absence of feedback, it is very hard for the doer to gauge the impact of the action and to find ways to improve.

Is feedback valuable? Yes — Gallup in a study of 469 business units found that managers who received strengths feedback showed 8.90% greater profitability post-intervention.

In the workplace, the word ‘feedback’ is most commonly associated with annual reviews. And, this review session is not perceived well by either the manager or the employee. Managers typically see it as time not used well because it requires a lot of paperwork, because a lot of the feedback that is provided should have been provided a long time ago and because he has to be very diplomatic in fear of becoming unpopular amongst his work group. Employees typically do not enjoy it because their salary, bonuses, and future with the company are tied to a single review, because a lot of the feedback should have been received a long time ago and because the process breeds insecurity and tension as they are compared (and rated) against their peer group.

None of these reasons are what providing feedback is about. Assessment is helpful information about a previous action that can be used to adjust and/or make decisions for future actions (in the pursuit of a goal). While feedback provides acknowledgment of good work, the core purpose of feedback is to achieve rapid adjustment and continuous improvement via exchange of information.

Feedback should be a continuous process. In fact, most of the younger generations want feedback right away. PwC reported that nearly 60% of survey respondents want feedback on a daily or weekly basis. This goes up to 72% for employees under the age of 30. Why is this important? — Imagine that you need to drive from work to home in your car and that your fuel gauge is not working. Will it be a comfortable drive? Sure, you’ve done the drive a million times but in the absence of a working fuel gauge how comfortable would it be? The continuous feedback given the fuel gauge gives us the ability to plan our trips without fear of stalling in the middle of nowhere, it gives us comfort that everything is in control and it lets us plan when we need a refill. Many reports point in that direction.

Feedback should facilitate rapid adjustment. According to LinkedIn, 80% of Gen Y prefer on-the-spot recognition over formal reviews. Why is rapid adjustment important? While driving a car, even on a freeway, the car never stays exactly on the same track — whether it be because of wind, wheel misalignment, a slope of the road, uneven road surface, or other reasons. We constantly have to make tiny adjustments to stay on track. Our eyes provide response about where the car is going on a continuous basis and as soon as we determine that we are meandering we immediately make tiny actions that set us back on the right path.

Feedback should facilitate improvement. This is the most obvious aspect of providing feedback but also the one that we always feel that we could have done better. Here, the most important thing is messaging appropriately. The provider of information needs to be acutely aware of how the receiver may receive the information and must communicate appropriately. Be specific about the facts and minimize room for ambiguity. In case there is ambiguity, ask questions and discuss the situation. “After reading the report, I noticed that I was missing from the list of contributors. Did you notice that too? Was it an accident?” Discuss the direct impact of the action — “After reading the report, I was frustrated because I was not recognized as an author/contributor of the report”, and not, “Even though I did so much work, you did not mention me in the report”. Provide examples/ideas for future actions that lead to the desired impact. “I would have felt better and empowered had I been mentioned among the contributors.”

Very often as receivers of feedback, we may think that we have been misunderstood or be wrongly accused. In case there is ambiguity, ask questions and discuss the impact. In some extreme cases, it is best to acknowledge the impact, thank them for suggestions provided, to clarify your intent, to reflect on it and to follow up later. — “Thank you for your feedback. My intent was xxxxx. I did not know that the impact was yyyy. I need some time to process it and will consider all your suggestions for a better outcome.” It is important to remember that critisim provided is for our improvement. According to a survey conducted by Zenger and Folkman, 92% of respondents agreed that negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance. So, don’t hold back on providing some tough love, just make sure that it is communicated appropriately.

Providing continuous feedback for improvement is not only for when things go wrong but is also for when things go right — “Thank you for mentioning me as a contributor to the report. I feel that I am a valued member of the team. Look forward to our next assignment.”

Feedback, when done right, makes your workplace more productive and provides a sense of kinship. You need to know how to receive it effectively and also how to deliver it well. Knowing how to provide and receive feedback is an effective means towards rapid personal and professional development and, increased productivity.

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