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How Important is Feedback in the Workplace to the Success of Business?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Timely, honest and two-way feedback is absolutely key to the performance, career progression and engagement of your employees. Here, our Head of People Science, Chris, looks at some of the reasons why.

Imagine this scenario; you are driving to an important client meeting in Manchester, and about 30 minutes into your drive you pass a sign stating, ‘Welcome to Liverpool’.

What do you do?

Presumably, if you’re like me, you engage in a little “expletive bingo” and then pull over, get Sat-Nav on (after deciding you didn’t need it in the first place…) and head for the bright lights of the M62 motorway.

Or in other words, you react to the information given by the sign, change your current behaviour and engage in something more useful to reaching your planned destination. And that, is the textbook purpose of feedback. It’s all about reacting to learnings from what we do and shaping future actions to reap greater outcomes.

Feedback has always been key to human existence. Evolutionary psychology points to feedback as one of the key tools that helped humans learn, adapt and survive back in the early days of man. Understanding what berries were safe to eat, what a lion’s footprint looked like as well as what materials worked well for maintaining a fire or building a shelter all relied on feedback and learnings from previous attempts. Procreation too, but we’ll leave that for another day!

In our “always-on” 21st century lives, more so than ever before, feedback is all around us. Be it our smartwatch letting us know how many steps short we are for our daily target or our cars beeping fanatically because we’ve dared to stray within a barge-poles length of another parked vehicle, technological advances mean we can receive feedback almost by the minute across a multitude of every-day, modern-man activities.

How is feedback at your workplace?

We’ve discussed in the past about the importance of communication within the workplace. Yes, while feedback is certainly a form of communication, it is its own beast and equally vital to a successful, efficient business.

However, when you think about the activities you carry out at work, you might well notice a lack of frequent feedback being involved. Certainly, according to Gallup, 79% of employees would agree that they aren’t receiving enough critical feedback at work to help them improve and grow professionally.

Workplace feedback has two primary focuses in most cases:

  1. To get an employee back on track when they are performing in a way less than that expected.
  2. To congratulate and shine a light on better than expected performance.  

Yet we know from a multitude of research sources that a culture of effective feedback at work can boost a number of employee metrics simply as a consequence of the actual process of giving and receiving feedback, including:

  • Employee Engagement
  • Individual Productivity
  • Affective Commitment

And, a recent study found that 82% of employees would appreciate more feedback to help them grow within their current company.

Yet, 4 out of 5 staff say they aren’t getting enough feedback currently and a third of those who are satisfied with the amount of feedback they are receiving, believe the feedback they get isn’t useful to their improved performance and professional growth.

Why do we struggle to give feedback at work?

Ah if only there was one simple answer I could offer up. Alas, there are a host of reasons why we might not be giving feedback at work.

Workloads are stacked…for everyone

Yes, it’s a rubbish reason, but people are busy. Interestingly no more so than previous generations according to research, despite a general consensus in workers to the contrary. And remember, managers, are only as human as the rest of us.

We are neurologically wired to not love the actual giving/receiving part of feedback

An interesting study in 2018 by New York University found that when asked to give feedback, or even receive, our bodies undergo a significant response – namely that our heart rates elevate and the amount we perspire increases. Both responses are associated with our natural response to fear or anxiety.

We really, really don’t like giving negative feedback

Linked to the previous point, our reactions when we have to tell someone they aren’t doing a stellar job are only amplified.

We worry about demotivating employees and our peers

It might seem like a fair reason to say that passing on some negative feedback may well have a negative impact on a staff member’s morale. But an interesting study by HBR found that 74% of recipients of negative feedback already knew they had a performance issue – they simply didn’t know how to fix it and understandably were concerned about pointing it out to their manager.

The processes and opportunities for feedback are limited

Many, many (oh god so many) companies are still stuck in the same old routine of annual performance reviews with the occasional employee survey thrown in as being their primary ‘feedback strategy’. Sure, alongside this you get progressive managers who will offer out 1-2-1s when they have the time but this puts a lot of pressure on too few (in our view) managers out there.

Developing a habitual feedback process and giving your employees the right tool in which to partake in that cycle is absolutely key to create a feedback-focussed culture. After all, practice makes perfect!

We don’t know how

Without question, there is an art to being a good feedback giver (and receiver for that matter!). It is absolutely fair in our opinion for someone to request and therefore be given training in how to be more effective when it comes to feedback, and there is a multitude of techniques.

How to Improve feedback in your business

We’ll be writing many more articles over the coming months on the topic of how you can improve feedback to become more efficient and impactful, but to whet your appetite, here are a few key tips and a practical exercise:

  • Make feedback a regularly occurring process to build habits
  • Give feedback in a timely manner to improve impact
  • Open up feedback to become a two-way process to develop all staff
  • Encourage honesty and ownership of all feedback to make insight actionable
  • Be specific to really target strengths and weaknesses
  • Avoid negative language to keep morale high
  • Focus on solutions to chase success

As an experiment into the world of feedback, why not create an email you send out to your team/department/company once a week that encourages the giving of feedback within your staff base. Simply ask these 4 basic questions and see what response you get and what insights that information gives you over time:

  • What has gone well for you this week?
  • Have you faced any challenges this week?
  • Do you require any specific support (e.g. training, tools, coaching) from us/me?
  • Have any of your colleagues gone above and beyond to help you this week?

We’d love to hear how you get on, so please feel free to get in touch with us if you run this experiment at your business and let us know what you find out. Or, if you run the trial and see some interesting results, why not consider taking the next step and formalising this process with a Weekly10 demo?

Head of People Science