Feedback is the most under-utilised management tool that firms have at their disposal, yet it is vital to performance
We all need people who will give us feedback; that is how we improve. These are not my wise words but those of Microsoft giant Bill Gates, whose sentiments I embrace and whose wisdom I recently shared at our directors’ strategic day. Feedback is key to continuous improvement and should be actively sought, regularly shared and gratefully received.
Feedback is probably the cheapest, most powerful, yet most under-utilised management tool that organisations have at their disposal. It helps people to get on track and serves as a guide to how others perceive their performance. Although some individuals may fear feedback and feel uncomfortable about the prospect of receiving it, I believe the benefits far outweigh the anticipation.
Our directors’ strategic day involved all directors receiving 360-degree feedback reviews from their team members. This was a carefully managed but transparent process where staff were encouraged to be entirely honest rather than lenient and charitable for the sake of preserving good working relations.
Before receiving the reviews, directors completed an identical document in which they were asked to assess themselves against the indicators, thus effectively predicting how their results were likely to look.
All directors were positive about the experience. Yes, some were initially less confident about the likely outcomes but all were delighted and hugely motivated by the final results. This was because, first, their own assessments of their stronger and weaker areas matched the opinions of their team members; and second, their team on almost all occasions had scored them more highly than they had scored themselves.
This was a vital outcome of the exercise because it gave the directors great confidence in the work they were doing. Each felt assured about their level of self-awareness and all are now ultra-clear about their next steps and areas for development.
In addition, the experience encapsulated our approach to people development in that we all regard ourselves as ‘teachers and learners’. On this occasion, the directors were the learners and the team members assumed the role of teacher.
Although it is great to be the fortunate beneficiary of meaningful feedback, being involved on the other side of the process can also be both motivating and energising. Research shows that being invited to give feedback has strong links to employee satisfaction and productivity; people like to feel involved and identified within their organisation. What is more, providing opportunities for staff to offer input shows their opinions are valued, making for an empowering experience.
Sense of direction
Working without feedback is similar to setting out on an unfamiliar journey without a map or satellite navigation. You may think you have a great sense of direction but this may not be sufficient to keep you on track. When people receive little feedback, they tend to react by being either excessively self-critical or extremely self-congratulatory. This is because they are relying on events, rather than specific feedback, to measure their performance and impact. Feedback ensures that you are putting your energy, thinking and actions into the right channels.
It is almost impossible to be self-aware without feedback from others. Self-awareness and -monitoring provide a useful platform to work from but feedback informs us in ways that enrich our self-knowledge and provide clarity in our thinking.