The Oxford Dictionary describes feedback as thus – “Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.”
In a workplace, feedback plays a vital role. It is immeasurably powerful because it can change the course of things, make someone work harder; improve a product or a software. Without feedback, we’d be blind to faults, be they in ourselves, our products or our views.
Despite being so important and so simple to implement, constructive feedback in the workplace seems to be conspicuously absent. Granted, it’s not absent from all workplaces but there is a telling lack of it in most of them.
Or maybe feedback is present; but if employees are still unhappy and you still cannot get that product off the ground, then you need to re-evaluate if there is enough feedback. Because insufficient feedback can be just as dangerous as no feedback.
Feedback at the workplace is a habit that you need to cultivate. And if you haven’t done it as yet, it’s not too late to do so.
What constitutes constructive feedback in the workplace?
Yes, there is such a thing as constructive feedback. And no, I’m not being nitpicky. One of the most common complaints about feedback at the workplace is that it’s not always constructive. Let show you what insufficient feedback looks like with an example
Example: Karen requests feedback about her managerial performance for the last quarter. She gets back a comment or two saying that she needs to spend a few more hours in the office and that needs to listen more.
If I were Karen, I assure you, I would be really baffled by this feedback. I would also be bothered. This piece of feedback is really vague. It is of no use because it does not suggest anything. It is a statement not a fact, which is very open to interpretation. And that is not what feedback is about.
Here is how constructive feedback looks like.
Example: Karen requests feedback from her boss about her managerial performance for the last quarter. Karen’s boss replies like so:
“I really appreciated the work you did on the Clements account. You showed considerable aplomb in navigating what could have been a disastrous situation. You’ve also shown that you are capable of leading a team very well. I’ve received praise about your skills as a leader.
I would like to make a suggestion however. I do realize that you are decisive and confident. However, it also sometimes leads you to make hasty decisions. I would like you to make a habit of listening more, especially to your team members. I believe it is a skill that could serve you in good stead.”
What makes this feedback better?
Well for one, it actually lists out what Karen’s boss noticed about her performance. It points out the good, it also points out the negative and also offers a suggestion to that problem.
I would imagine – hypothetically of course, that if Karen read this, she would know what she’s doing right and what she’s not and as a result, she’d know what she needs to improve upon.
Constructive feedback needs to become a habit. One way to ensure it does is to attach something of value to it. Let employees know that they too will be evaluated on the feedback they give. This way they will be motivated to give valid and constructive feedback.
Nobody wants sycophants in the workplace. And learning to give constructive feedback is one way of ensuring that. It weeds out all the perpetual yay-sayers and the naysayers.
Another way of making sure feedback plays a big role in your workplace and organization is to do this – institute a giving and receiving feedback training programme.
For all we know, maybe your employees do want to give feedback or receive it, but they just don’t know how. A training programme should clear a lot of doubts and be helpful especially for people who struggle with giving feedback and for those who are not used to receiving it and as a result, don’t know how to handle it.
The goal is to help people realize that feedback does not mean harsh words or strictures.
The mantra you need to repeat is this – feedback is important. Begin using it regularly, and it won’t be long before you notice what difference it makes in your organization.