Your views are really important

Give us your feedback

It feels like everyone and their dog is asking for feedback for absolutely everything. Because ‘your views are very important, please give us your feedback’. I seem to be noticing a lot more incentives to encourage feedback too. If all goes well I’ll be off on a cruise with my new iPad before the end of the month.

Fundamentally this is good. It makes absolute sense to check with your customers that you are delighting them, find out what else they want and provide better products and services that meet their needs. Feedback after all is a gift.

And you have to make feedback easy.

There have been several occasions when I’ve wanted to win an iPad (sorry – give feedback) and haven’t been able to. For example recently I was with a friend in a restaurant and we were given a card asking for feedback with our bill. You had to scan a QR code, which took us to a web page where we had a lot of questions to fill in about the service, the look and feel of the restaurant, food choice, standard of food, waiting staff outfits… and the list went on.

There was a serious amount of questions. The page froze when we were halfway through so we tried again.  It took ages so we tried again. This time we just put any answer to get through the system (yes bad I know but that’s what people do if you don’t make it easy).  The web page still froze us out and we gave up. We didn’t win an iPad. We don’t know if the restaurant received our feedback.

So while I’m a big fan of asking your customers for feedback, if you are going to do it, then do it well so that you get feedback that is useful. Below are some tips that might help you.

  • Make gathering feedback part of everyone’s role. Insights that you get from a chat over coffee, or speaking to a participant at an event or speaking to a customer on the phone can highlight lots of opportunities for improvement without the need for formally asking for feedback.
  • Make sure there is a place for feedback to go. It might be a person, or an email address. But there needs to be somewhere where this valuable information is collected.
  • Make it easy – if I have to scan a QR code, or go to a web page that doesn’t download or have to answer a lot of questions I’m going to get bored or not bother or just tick ‘good’ for everything to get to the end and a chance to win an iPad.
  • Ask the relevant questions – what areas do you really want to know about?  Don’t ask me everything and anything.
  • Test it – get someone to sense check the feedback form/website process/whatever it is, get someone to fill it in that knows nothing about your business. (I’m sure it wasn’t only me that got bored, couldn’t access the site and then gave any old answer)
  • Thank people – ask for their data with the right permission statement so that you can go back to them (or make sure you don’t contact them again depending on their preference) with offers/information or whatever is appropriate. (Presumably the one I tried did this – if only I had got to the end…..)
  • Do something with the feedback – if it just sits on a spreadsheet then it’s a pointless exercise.
  • And finally as a customer – if the feedback is clunky, difficult or doesn’t work – feed that back.

A version of this blog was first published at Lucyinnovation. Feedback and comments welcome.

The gift of criticism

That moment when your manager says, ‘Can I just have a quick word?’ and you feel cold creeping dread. Most of us have had that sinking feeling: a fear of criticism or negative feedback. And it can feel as tough to give it as it can to receive it.

According to psychologists we feel anxious when we receive criticism, because at a basic level our brains interpret criticism as a primal threat to our sense of belonging and survival.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University, showed in his research that our brains process negative feedback more thoroughly than positive feedback. This means that receiving criticism has a greater impact on us than receiving praise.

Many managers avoid giving negative feedback by skirting round the issue, avoiding it altogether, or even worse (in my opinion) offering the recipient what is commonly called a sh!t sandwich (that’s sandwiching negative feedback in between two glowing positive pieces of feedback). The typical outcome is that the giver thinks they have communicated negative feedback clearly and the receiver has no idea they have even been given any!

As a manager, part of your job is to offer up negative feedback, or criticism in a constructive way, because unless people receive this sort of feedback they cannot learn and grow.

10 tips for giving the gift of criticism

  1. Start with why: be clear in your own mind as to why you are giving negative feedback first, and then be clear with the person you are giving the feedback to.
  2. Specific: if you talk generally the receiver is unlikely to understand or agree. For example, don’t say, ‘I don’t think your performance is good enough’ describe the specific situation, ‘You have been late four times this week’.
  3. Understand: get to the root cause. There might be something else happening for the receiver that is causing under performance. If you can understand what is really going on you can then work with them on a solution.
  4. Situation not person: focus on the task in hand and don’t make it personal.
  5. Purpose: it can help to refer back to the contribution your employee makes to the bigger picture, the impact of their poor performance, and the benefit of changing. For example, ‘If you are not there on time, customers have to wait, this is a bad experience and impacts on the bottom line’.
  6. Candid and kind: we are all fragile human beings. Be clear and kind in your delivery of criticism.
  7. Timely: don’t wait for the next 1:1. Provide the critique as soon as you can. (The timely tip also applies to giving positive feedback)
  8. It’s a conversation: ask them how they thought the thing in question went, and ask for the good feedback first. Then ask what they might improve next time. This helps to make a two-way conversation and helps your employee to own the situation.
  9. Make it a habit: constructive criticism shouldn’t be a thing that people fear. A learning culture relies on continuous feedback. Build an evaluation and reflection into every project. This could be as simple as discussing what worked, what didn’t and what you will do differently next time.
  10. Lead by example: share you own learnings from negative feedback. For example, failure and feedback are important parts of the innovation culture that I help organsiations to develop. So I share my failures, one example being early on in my career I asked internal teams for ideas without being clear on the problem. As a result of my poor brief I was inundated with irrelevant ideas that I then had to quash. That was a hard-earned failure and as a result I don’t let my clients who are developing their innovation cultures make the same mistake that I did.

While giving negative feedback can feel awkward, it’s an essential part of a managers role. Without honest feedback your teams will not be able to improve, learn or grow. Become known as the manager that challenges their team to be the best they can by reliably giving feedback. Reframe giving negative feedback in your own mind as helping your team to shine. The growth of your employees and the ongoing success of your business and your own career depend on it.

This blog was first published at People Management.