“Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.”
– Ed Batista
The end of the year traditionally signifies the start of the annual review season for many companies around the country. At companies large and small you’ll see managers and executives huddled together discussing the strengths and weaknesses of their staff. The hope is that these reviews will lead to an increase in performance, an alignment of individual and organizational goals and a better understanding of how an organization can help an individual improve. Despite all of these things, performance reviews are often stereotyped to be an anxiety-causing endeavor but most employees want feedback.
Feedback helps people grow
Many employees are more critical of organizations for the lack of feedback than for critical feedback. The truth is, everyone wants to be successful and understanding what we can do better is an integral part of improving. Ultimately, feedback helps people grow. Without feedback, it can be impossible to overcome the situational blindness that comes from seeing the same thing day after day.
Our individual bad habits become so ingrained in what we do that unless they are egregious we might not notice how drastically they influence our effectiveness. Having someone else point out our flaws and our blind spots in the spirit of cooperation, accelerates our personal and organization growth by helping us know things we can do better and also the things we are doing well.
Feedback helps organizations grow
The improvement that comes from getting quality feedback does not just help individuals improve but also organizations. The same blind spots that exist for an individual can exist for a team, a division, department or whole company. These blind spots can be hard to notice because many sources of feedback will have the same blind spots. Working to gather feedback from people outside of the group is necessary to help provide insights into how your organization is perceived. Surveying and interviewing clients, patients, or customers can help your organization identify high-value opportunities to improve and find underperforming initiatives that can be changed to provide more value in the future.
Gathering feedback can be hard
This can be particularly important for groups where feedback inherently moves slower. Slower feedback leads to prolonged issues and more wasted resources. The process of gathering feedback, while often difficult, is always worthwhile. The logistics of capturing feedback can be daunting and using automated systems can help ease the burden of gathering data. Large organizations or those gathering feedback from vulnerable individuals will inherently have a harder time gathering feedback and should consider specialized automated systems to help.
Vulnerable individuals often do not feel they can give honest feedback because of the fear of retribution. Rarely will someone who is relying on a life-saving or altering service feel comfortable giving face to face feedback for fear of losing out on those services if they give negative feedback. Using a system that uses or allows for anonymous responses can help mitigate the fears of individuals and help them have the physiological safety they need to give the most critical feedback.
Organizations often fear only negative feedback will be shared, however in practice I’ve found that most people will be surprised by how often positive feedback is shared.
Feedback is as much about the good as it is the bad
Without this feedback, we may stop good behaviors without understanding the dramatic positive impacts they are having. Being blind to the effects our good behaviors have may rob us of opportunities to lean into what is working and may cause us to redirect our resources to the things that are not working instead of doubling down on what does work. By highlighting good behaviors and habits we also help build trust and good feelings within and without an organization.
Small Changes lead to big results
Feedback is most valuable when it is acted upon. The traditional thoughts around acting on feedback tend to revolve around correcting or improving our activities. However, one of the most important parts is making sure we’re not changing things that are working!
Simple small changes made without feedback might actually do more bad than good. To illustrate this point consider this quote:
…think about this in terms of a 360 degree circle, if you’re headed in one direction and you turn only one degree or two degrees to the right or to the left, over a long period of time — it may be a very slight turn, but over an extended period of time, if you now walk in that direction, you’ll end up in an utterly different place than if you extend that line outward infinitely.
Continuous feedback can lead to great things
Changing something that we didn’t know was functioning well might lead us far from our intended destination. Being able to gather feedback continuously allows you to make the right changes and to know that you’re pointed in the right direction. I often talk with groups that survey people in their organization or outside the organization once a year — yearly reviews being a great example. Often, these organizations then take this feedback and implement changes but wait an entire year to request feedback again to see how something worked. Problems that could have been found and fixed months, weeks or even days into an initiative instead lead to results very different from what was intended.
Feedback is the lifeblood of any organization. When it is flowing freely and easily things improve much like when blood flows well in your body. When that flow has restricted, the ability to heal, to act or to even think gets constricted. We can be lost in a haze without knowing what to do. Feedback brings clarity in what to do next and why you’re doing what you were doing in the first place. As you sit down to do or receive an annual review this year, I highly recommend considering ways you can improve your own feedback process both as an individual and as a company. In doing so you can make sure you are going where you want to go and not just where the wind takes you.