"We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve." - Bill Gates.
It is a myth that the best communications in business go two ways. In fact, information should be flowing constantly in four directions – outwards, upwards, downwards and across your entire organisation.
That includes a frequent exchange of meaningful feedback.
"Excellent firms don't believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change." - Tom Peters.
Feedback is not something you should invite occasionally, with a specific goal in mind. For example, periodic customer surveys or staff appraisals.
It should be an integral part of your communication process and used frequently to collate business intelligence.
That is because 'feedback' is not necessarily what you imagine it is. Did your mind immediately link that word to criticism or an invitation to evaluate or judge something?
In fact, feedback could cover a wide range of things, including stimulating information to:
The feedback that you give and receive can also be positive affirmations, rather than business intelligence. A simple display of appreciation for a job well done can be essential to improving employee confidence and loyalty. According to Gallup research, employees who feel they have received meaningful feedback in the past week are around four times more engaged, compared to other employees.
This shows that managers and leaders who provide positive feedback frequently fuel business growth and development, but also make it more likely that they can retain key staff members.
"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." - Elbert Hubbard.
Though feedback can contain a wealth of good ideas and positive messaging, it is not always the case. When you provide opportunities for an assessment of you – or your service, process or product – it could generate expressions of dissatisfaction and complaint.
However, if don't invite that sort of feedback from your customers, employees, colleagues and suppliers, you are missing out on especially valuable business intelligence. You may even be limiting your access to something essential for your commercial survival - the ability to get ahead of an issue before it becomes a crisis!
If people associated with your organisation don't feel confident or enabled to provide negative feedback, insidious problems can linger and grow. This could leave you blissfully unaware of the things you can do to improve your relationship with others or to make commercial changes that enable your organisation to do things better, quicker or cheaper for example.
Even sharp (justified) criticism is an opportunity to show that you are a problem solver, and can make improvements.
Practice giving both positive and negative feedback to your colleagues in the workplace. Choose how to reply based on their reaction.Learn More
"The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership." - Harvey S. Firestone.
Being able to use negative feedback in a positive way is important. However, let's be clear you should NOT freely dispense feedback designed to help people see 'the error of their ways'!
The best leaders don't blame, shame or criticise. They provide feedback on ways to do things better, in an inspirational and empathetic manner.
Equally, the best business leaders invite constant feedback, in order to better understand the perceptions, behaviours and motivations of others.
In most cases, using feedback in the workplace should focus on what is being said, not necessarily WHO said it. If someone has ideas or issues, that intel should be analysed on its own merits. However, there are times when the source of the feedback is central to its value.
For example, if you are moulding a strong team, how can you underpin the best team dynamics, without checking in with everyone on their personal perspectives and preferences?
Another illustration would be the sort of feedback that can grow your working relationship with customers. Using their personal insights and reactions can make you more agile and responsive, enabling you to better match your product or service to their individual needs and expectations.
Clearly then, some of the best feedback you get could well have a degree of emotive content. Especially as emotionally intelligent leadership depends on the ability to show understanding and empathy.
A good illustration is someone in your team who admits "I'm struggling." This sort of transparency enables you to step in with the help and support needed to ensure that the individual is able to perform to the best of their ability.
Another example would be someone expressing frustration or a wish to be more involved, which then directs you to the best way to develop that individual's role and responsibilities.
Expressing your own emotional reactions to your line manager can help them to provide you with better managed and measured support too, of course.
"Communication is a skill that you can learn. It's like riding a bicycle or typing. If you're willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life." - Brian Tracy
Feedback can clearly cover a lot of types of information that need to be exchanged within a business setting.
As mentioned in the introduction, whatever the aim or content, generating feedback needs to be a continuous process. It also needs to be universal – with all stakeholders provided with ways to contribute feedback easily.
That in itself is an important business skill.
If you ask a paying customer to give you their reaction to a product, process or service, the chances are they would be more than happy to provide feedback. Would someone way down in your organisational hierarchy feel equally comfortable with the chance to provide honest reactions and ideas for change?
The best way to ensure feedback is free-flowing - throughout all of your contacts - is to support effective communications processes. That includes constructive and active listening.
In other words, you can't simply wait for feedback, or even sit someone down and ask for it. It is essential to set up ongoing systems that enable people to speak to you, in a manner that invites honesty and openness.
It may take time to prove that you have an actual or virtual 'open door' policy for anyone with something to say. It can start by always asking for feedback in all your written and verbal communications, including allowing a relaxed timeframe for it within meetings.
What is also vital, is that you tangibly respond to feedback. Whether you are able to act on it or not. Your response needs to be clear, respectful and positive - even when the messages you received were not pleasant or even helpful.
The more you demonstrate your ability to listen, the more chance there is that your colleagues, team members, suppliers and customers will offer you their valuable insights and reactions.
To improve your communications skills – and therefore your ability to gather feedback effectively – browse our range of online communications sources and services. We promise they all include the best kind of feedback!
"There is a huge value in learning with instant feedback." - Anant Agarwal.