Receiving Effective Feedback

I recently had a conversation with change management expert Rick Maurer, who recently published a second edition of his best-selling book, Feedback Toolkit: 16 Tools for Better Communication in the Workplace. While we agreed that feedback is essential at work, I stated that many would say that they don’t receive effective feedback. I asked Rick to offer his opinion on why many employees feel this way. Here is his response:

"Feedback can mess with our self-image. In spite of what we say, most of us don’t want people telling us that we fell short or are doing something the wrong way. So, we set up mechanisms to protect ourselves from hearing anything that might disrupt our fragile view of who we are. For example, we surround ourselves with the proverbial yes-men and yes-women or we send mixed messages. The movie model, Samuel Goldwyn, once said 'I want people to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.' Wise employees understood which part of the message to heed.

If we want a workplace where colleagues give us feedback, then we must do things that assure people we truly want to hear from them. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Only ask for feedback if you are willing to hear what others have to say. Otherwise, you are setting them and yourself up for a very uncomfortable exchange.
  • The only appropriate response to feedback is 'thank you.' Of course you can ask questions of clarification, but don’t make excuses or explain your reasons for doing something.
  • Make it easy for others to give you feedback. Jack was a client of mine who asked people to anonymously write reactions to a new management initiative on index cards and submit them to his secretary. At the all-hands meeting, he first said 'thank you.' And then he picked up that large stack of cards and responded to questions and comments. He did not defend himself. He took responsibility for his actions and decisions, and used their feedback to engage them in a conversation about what comes next.
  • Jack found a way that made it easy for him to take in what others had to say. Note that he did not ask for comments during the meeting. He knew that he might hear something that would cause him to go ballistic, and that would end the meeting. . Getting comments before the meeting gave him time to react privately before he met with the team."

What are your thoughts on Rick's comments? Does your workplace environment foster true communication or is it merely an exercise?


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Dean Bliss said...

Good stuff. In my opinion, we need more discussion on these "softer" issues and less on the mechanics of the Lean tools.

John said...

From a manufacturing standpoint (which could apply to any type of industry)the best "tool" for employee suggestions and getting an appropriate response is a "Control Board" or "Kaizen Post" in each functional area of the factory. Any employee in the area can go to the board or post and jot down a suggestion or problem affectimg thier work or the plant's throughout. Someone in management is automatically assigned responsibility for the thought or idea and must provide adequate feedback directly to the employee involved, as well noting progress on the control board against the agreed upon action or solution taken. It's something that's out in front of everyone and serves to strongly encourage (in fact, demand) appropriate attention on employee related thoughts and suggestions.

Rick Maurer said...

John - I like your reminder about how suggestions and reactions get handled in manufacturing environment. I'll add to that, the entire visual workplace concept is a great way for teams to know where they stand with regard to performance (and quality) goals.

And Dean, not sure if we need less emphasis on Lean tools, but I agree that the "softer skills" can get lost. I am delighted when organizations realize that the so-called soft stuff is what allows Lean tools to work.

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