Feedback is a process which takes information on something that has happened and uses this information to influence how this something is done next time around (definition freaks please allow for poetic licence). There are certain assumptions we make regarding feedback. So here is a hint: stop making assumptions. About anything. We assume that the feedback we are receiving is correct and unbiased. We assume that the feedback channel is accurate. When referring to people and not sensors, we assume that they have a clue or give a damn about whatever it is they are feeding you back on. If we get as far as deciding on actions based on feedback, we assume they will be carried out. That’s a lot of assumptions in one paragraph. You may take it for granted that most of them are wrong in most cases. So what should we do? We should go back to basics. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do your people know what you want?
- Do you know what you want?
- Do you know what is expected of you?
- Do people that you should be receiving feedback from have the knowledge, ability and channel through which they can provide it?
- Do you act on feedback?
- Do you follow up on actions taken based on feedback?
As you can see feedback, although often referred to and used freely at various forums, can not survive in the wild. It needs to be brought up in a controlled environment, nurtured to maturity and then tended to frequently.
Start by making sure that your people have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Then spend time following up. It is human in nature, given the absence of evidence to the contrary, to assume that we are doing a good job. If you do not provide feedback to people that are falling behind, don’t expect them to understand why they are being chewed out at year end or salary review. Set up frequent short meetings with your reports, say once every one or two months. If you have set things up correctly, each person should have specific goals and targets. These should be measurable. They should be related to their specific role. Each person must be able to affect the outcome of these KPIs and part of their reward should be linked to said outcome. Said outcome, of course, must be totally aligned to the company strategy. When this is your basis, then you can:
always start feedback sessions based on numbers.
Choose the correct opening statement:
- I feel you are not doing so well.
- Your Blah factor is off target by 12%, how do we go about fixing this?
Then you can use all the touchy –feely feedback techniques, but please don’t insult peoples’ intelligence.
You should be fair, objective and specific. You must always do your homework and get your facts straight before appraising somebody. And by the way, don’t call somebody in and yell at them for something that happened three weeks ago. In some cases, feedback needs to be immediate and ad hoc.
Once you get a healthy communication feedback channel set up, you are receiving it as well as supplying it. You then need to take action so that the information gained does not go to waste and actually contributes to improvement. Also not following up discredits the whole process. Once actions have been taken and processes amended, you need to follow up on these amendments. Otherwise your process will degenerate. But that’s another story.