How to leverage employee feedback in more positive ways

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A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted changes in how corporations are allowing employees to provide each other with performance feedback.  Dubbed as the “new tools for airing gripes” these tools allow more direct or in some case more immediate routes to deliver both criticism and praise both up, down and vertically along reporting lines.  Some systems only facilitate feedback from named sources, while others allow the sender to remain anonymous.  In either case the results can be less than optimal if the systems are misused or employed to only voice petty grievances.

Facilitating conversations sparked by negative feedback, while difficult, is a good idea. But what’s the best way to go about it? Personal criticisms can backfire and cause people to double down on their behavior.

The first step is to acknowledge that much of the work we do involves interacting with others in groups or teams. So rather than sharing responses directly linked to specific individuals, it makes more sense to aggregate the collective feedback prior to delivery. This promotes candor among feedback-givers because the identity of their responses is protected. Collective feedback is also much harder for the feedback-receivers to dispute. It’s one thing to dismiss feedback from a single person, but when multiple people are raising similar issues it’s a much different story.

Effective feedback must be on behavior that is relevant to performance. Rather than griping about a specific event or situation, peers should provide feedback on each other using questions like:

  • How prepared are you? (preparedness)
  • How did you execute a task? (task execution)
  • Do you self-monitor your performance? (accountability)
  • Do you adjust to improve? (adaptation)

Of course, self-assessment is an important part of the development process. The title of a recent HBR article says it all – “We’re Not Very Self-Aware, Especially at Work” . A simple way of becoming more self-aware is to compare your self-assessment with your peers’ assessments. Perhaps you believe you’re prepared, but viewing how prepared you are through the lens of your team gives you a better idea of how you’re perceived. After all, perception is reality.

So we’ve covered individual assessment, but what about assessing the team? Individual contributions are important, but success depends on how well the team works together. You can capture a lot of valuable information by asking simple questions like:

  • How confident are you that your team has the capability to succeed?
  • How much cooperation exists on your team?
  • Are your efforts adequately coordinated?
  • Is there a shared commitment to success?
  • What is the level of conflict within the team?

Rather than providing a tool for “airing gripes,” companies should leverage employee feedback in more positive ways. Aggregate each individual’s responses to avoid persecution complexes. Ask questions that are based in organizational behavior research. Provide a self-assessment to kick start accurate self-reflection. If your tools utilize these things you can avoid the griping and deliver valuable feedback that can shape your company’s culture and overall effectiveness.


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