Using Feedback As A Tool

Sep 16, 2013 6 Min Read

Have you ever been in an auditorium with audio equipment, and just as the microphones are switched on, a painful high-pitched whistle is emitted? That screeching sound is known, in audio terminology, as feedback.

In layman’s terms, most of us know feedback as information given in response to a particular process or action. However, the negative association of feedback still exists: we imagine long complaining sessions or a series of “missiles” aimed at bringing us down.

The audio definition of feedback is explained as the loop that exists between an audio input and output. Similarly, that ought to be the way we utilise feedback for performance reviews: a constant cycle of information that connects effort with result.

Most organisations underestimate the value of feedback but push for effectiveness and productivity with little regard given to how to encourage those results.

Feedback must be presented in a manner that is accurate, actionable and timely. Failure to do so usually results in interactive sessions that are emotionally charged and damaging to a person’s morale.

Accommodating feedback into management processes can be a highly constructive and empowering tool for various reasons. Here are several motives why feedback is important for your organisation whether you’re an employer or employee.

For employees

Facilitates progress

Feedback is especially helpful to measure a person’s growth and contribution, but most employees fear tracking their performance because they worry that their progress will not match their employers’ expectations.

However, that kind of transparency is essential in ensuring that the employee develops in soft and hard skills.

Positive performance habits are reinforced while negative traits can be identified and weeded out.

Feedback shouldn’t just be on past patterns, but should also be establishing further steps that can be taken to accelerate towards achieving future goals.

Creates awareness of weaknesses

Negative behaviour in the workplace needs to be recognised and inhibited before it develops. Feedback is necessary to address these flaws to ensure that errors are not repeated or translated into dismal performance results.

Failure to weed out unsatisfactory practices will only breed terrible attitudes and lousy work ethics. Occasionally, the offender may not even be aware of his/her own actions and feedback would help him/her to improve not just as an employee but also as a person in general.

The best way to do this without being offensive is to dwell on possible alternative actions rather than dwell on the inadequacy of past ones. Articulate your corrections thoughtfully to assure that you don’t come across as derogatory or unappreciative.

Identifies strengths

In a similar vein, feedback ought to also be a tool to encourage positive behaviour by highlighting positive action. One thing worse than being told we are doing something wrong is not being told how to get it right.

Acknowledging strengths affirms a person and builds his confidence; doing so tactfully in public will inspire other employees to also embody similar traits or actions.

But it’s more than just rewarding productive behaviour; it’s also creating an environment that affirms and ingrains the organisation’s values and visions in each individual.

Promotes independence

Feedback cycles also encourage each employee to be more independent. They help to groom and nurture talent into effective employees as desired by the organisation.

Feedback acts as a guidance system to help employees self-regulate with the motivations and ideal behavioural styles; they are able to autonomously set goals which will be beneficial to themselves and the organisation.

It enables the employees to become more resourceful individuals, confident in discovering creative solutions to improve their performance as well as maintaining a sense of accountability to authority.

But feedback isn’t just a self-improvement tool for employees; employers and managers can also use it to enhance their capacity as leaders.

For employers

Establishes credibility

According to Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes of The Leadership Challenge, studies have shown that “credibility is at the foundation of leadership”.

It is necessary for leaders to walk the talk, but how would you know if your actions are correct if you have no idea what it is exactly that you’re doing? A transparent environment reflects whether or not you as a team leader, have enabled an employee or a department to perform better. It also provides healthy pressure to ensure that you are effective and responsible.

Apart from being self-aware, feedback also produces social awareness for employers. It allows for a sense of connectedness between management and subordinates while building loyalty towards the organisation.

Manages expectations

This is especially cogent for employees who are new to the organisation. Different companies have varying expectations of behavioural and performance outcomes and it may take some time for the newbie to align himself to the company’s vision and mission.

Allowing for feedback provides the opportunity to catalyse this process. Employees need to understand the organisation’s core focus as well as their own department’s responsibilities in order to motivate themselves to operate at their fullest potential.

Necessary for appraisals

Annual reviews are perhaps the only formal way of providing feedback to employees. It is usually met with apprehension and fear, but as an employer or a team leader, you must be able to provide constructive criticism where necessary.

Appraisals ought to be done with a more personable attitude to show that you as an employer, value the person behind the contributions and are not just obsessed with the bottom-line.

These feedback sessions should help the employee to develop his/her own strengths. Feedback also helps to show that you are in sync with what is happening at the grassroots level, proving to the higher level management that you are a capable team leader.

Resolves conflicts

How many times have post-mortem sessions evolved into finger-pointing scenarios where “he/she didn’t tell me that!” becomes the recurring comeback line?

Feedback is necessary during and after projects to ensure that any form of miscommunication or misunderstanding does not result in severe backlash. Unresolved conflict will damage the team’s productivity and these sort of arguments may develop into bitterness amongst colleagues.

As an employer, feedback creates space for you to act upon any sort of discontent before it spreads to the rest of the team. Respecting each individual’s unique point of view also allows you to function better as a team.

Guidelines on how to give good feedback

As an employer/manager/team leader, here are some guidelines on how to give effective feedback:

>> Specify the actions you want them to take

Help employees meet a desired outcome by giving suggestions on how to execute a particular task. Include things like deadlines, approaches, topics or elements that you would like them to implement. The guidance that you provide will be a stepping stone on which they can innovate and improve. 

Incorporate feedback tools to go beyond work-related discussions during feedback sessions. Use these tools to foster relationship-building by including features that allow for casual conversations or check-ins.

>> Be specific

“Write a report” is unhelpful; “write a two-page report on last week’s event that will give a clearer picture to the new employees” is much better.

Giving precise objectives , however, also means that employers need to have a clear idea of what they would like to see.

>> Suggest ways to improve

Whether the feedback is positive or negative, employees need to be challenged to improve. Commenting on something unsatisfactory without providing an alternative will give the impression that the employer is also unsure of how to initiate progress.

>> Criticise the action, not the person

This can be tricky with ethical dilemmas among certain personality types, but highlight an employee’s actions rather than character flaws. “This project could have been better executed with more research,” raises positive responses compared with “you were too lazy to put more time into this”.

>> Build relationships

Try not to focus on just work and reviews when talking to an employee. Building a relationship will cause the recipient of a feedback to be less defensive while giving the employer credibility.

Trust needs to be maintained so that nobody feels threatened or sabotaged.

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Su-Ann Chien is formerly an intern at Leaderonomics who believes we can learn from anything.

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