The Power of Feedback in the Workplace

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Feedback, in any system or organism, is an essential element of growth and improvement—and in the most extreme cases, even survival. It is defined in various ways. The most relevant definitions for the purposes of Human Resources and Organizational Development are:

US Navy, Feedback, Public Domain
  1. Merriam Webster: Helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.
  2. Oxford: Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.
  3. Free Dictionary: The process by which a system, often biological or ecological, is modulated, controlled, or changed by the product, output, or response it produces.

Feedback in the Workplace

In the work environment, feedback (ideally) flows in all directions, as well as between the organization and related external parties. Some of the most common sources of workplace feedback include:

  • objective data and metrics
  • peers
  • reports
  • managers and supervisors
  • executive
  • customers, suppliers and partners (flowing to)
    • front line employees,
    • the broader organization; or
    • the public via reviews, social media, etc.

Aside from objective data, which simply provides statistical information and metrics without specific intent, most feedback takes the form of praise, constructive guidance, or simple criticism.

When we think of feedback in the workplace, our minds typically focus on how it relates to performance management and the development of employees. Based on current management research and HR best practices, most of us identify simple criticism as ineffective and understand that only specific, timely and contextually relevant praise has an impact (i.e. “well done,” in isolation, does not). As such, our talent management and development efforts draw primarily on constructive guidance with a good measure of the right kind of praise.

At its most valuable, however, the active use of feedback is not restricted to HR. Highly effective companies realize that feedback channels, which exist throughout the organization (especially those coming from the bottom up and the outside in), function much like a highly sensitive nervous system. These conduits provide crucial information pathways that carry pain and pleasure signals (feedback) to receptors (employees, managers, and executives) to be acted upon as needed.

While criticism or negative feedback may not be effective when it comes to performance management, it’s vital for the rest of the organization. Why? Because criticism is nothing more than a pain signal being picked up by the company’s nervous system. And legitimate pain signals tell us something is wrong.

“Just as our bodies use pain to warn us of injury, negative information in an organization is an indication that something is wrong and must be fixed. Both signals warn that harm is occurring and behavior must change. Ignoring these pain signals, or punishing the messenger, results in damage; first at the extremities and eventually to the core of the organization leading to an inevitable regression into a disease state."

Adao Institute for Change

Feedback or Recreational Complaining?

Opening up your organization to feedback means receiving all input for consideration; including the good, the bad and the ugly. More importantly, it means understanding that there is likely much more value in the bad (and sometimes even in the ugly!), as long as it is offered in hopes of affecting positive change.

The best way to differentiate among valuable input, recreational complaining and simple “bashing” is to ask for proposed solutions along with complaints.

For example, ask an irate customer “How would you like this to be handled?”

Respond to an employee’s complaint about systemic inefficiency with “How would you change the process to address your concerns?”

Rather than cutting off vital feedback channels by blocking or ignoring complaints and criticism, the healthiest organizations

  • encourage all feedback,
  • pay close attention to pain signals; and
  • act on them early, while they’re easily remedied.

Bringing the conversation back to feedback as it relates to talent management, research conducted by Forbes found that employees are more engaged when provided with regular feedback—no surprise there. What was surprising, however, is that they were significantly more engaged (74% versus 34%), when asked by their managers to provide feedback in return

The Bottom Line on Feedback

Cultures that encourage, respond to and follow through on open, honest feedback foster stronger employee engagement. And research shows that strong cultures with highly engaged employees lead to better overall business performance and more sustainable growth.[1]


What are you doing to create a feedback culture in your workplace?  TribeHR can help with built-in 360 feedback.

Photo credit: US Navy. Public domain. GULF OF THAILAND (Feb. 12, 2009) Lt. David Waner, from Tulsa, Okla., gives positive feedback to Aviation Machinist's Mate Airman Myriam Miller, from Phoenix, Ariz., as she completes a spot check aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Essex is the lead ship of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nardelito

[1] Kotter, J. P. and Heskett   J. L. (2011).  Corporate Culture and Performance

8 Reasons Why You Should Prove That Feedback Meant Changes

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Managers don’t always have it easy. Businesses rely on them heavily for much more than just organization and leadership. They’re expected to meet deadlines, give presentations, constantly uphold the company image, ensure customer satisfaction, and let’s not forget, maintain good employee morale. Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, but chances are that plenty of managers are reading this post from the office, in the middle of their "holiday." So managers can be forgiven if they don’t always respond to feedback in the best way. And yet, the benefits of addressing feedback may very well outweigh …

How to Give Feedback About Feedback

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Getting negative comments or feedback about your work can sometimes feel very shocking, especially if you thought everything was running smoothly. But even when the feedback is needlessly cruel, overly harsh, or downright inaccurate, responding defensively is never the right answer. An angry reaction won’t help the situation—even if the criticism was totally unfounded. When faced with feedback, you should always take a some time to listen to what’s being said. Otherwise, you’re likely to miss out on the value of the feedback. Relax, take a deep breath, listen to or read the feedback, and then …

3 Ways to Strike the Right Feedback Balance

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Feedback is a tricky thing. People constantly claim to want it, but sometimes when it’s offered, we can quickly become very frustrated, especially if it seems like the other person might be insulting our ideas. For managers, striking the balance of how detailed feedback should be, and how frequently it should be offered, can be a challenge. Giving feedback too frequently can make employees think you’re micromanaging, trying to correct them every step of the way. But if you only give feedback on rare occasions, employees can feel like they’re not being supported. And …

The Secret to 360 Reviews

Posted on by Leave a Comment

The key to a smoothly running organization is open two-way communication and transparency between employees and the management. The 360 degree review, simply known simply as the 360 review, achieves this by giving each employee confidential feedback from the people who work around them. For this process to be effective, the feedback should come from people of all levels in the organizational hierarchy, i.e. from the managers, peers, subordinates, and even clients; it also includes a self-assessment done by the employee. The comparison between the two results brings out the gaps between other peoples’ perceptions of the employee&rsquo …

The Role of Personality in Giving Feedback Successfully

Posted on by Leave a Comment

The problem with bad feedback is almost never the commentary itself. It is usually the way in which it is delivered. How you say things often matters more than what you say. This is why managers who want to give effective feedback need to be sure that they monitor their workplace mood and personality carefully.   Why Constructive Feedback? You may have heard of the “kiss and kick” concept before: you start with good news, and then deliver the bad. The "sandwich method" is similar, but it squishes the bad news between two fresh pieces of awesome. …

How to get to the point quickly in a performance review

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Employee reviews are an important priority for most businesses. They give employees and their supervisors the chance to review the employees’ work and explore areas needing improvement. However, for employees and managers working tight schedules, they can also feel like a time-wasting chore. The most effective performance reviews are collegial, brief, and clearly communicated. Managers should prepare ahead of time by outlining the points they wish to make. Performance reviews can also be used to solicit employee feedback, so managers should consider the types of questions they’d like to ask. Beginning the review with positive statements relaxes the …

Short and Frequent Performance Reviews Have Better Results

Posted on by Leave a Comment

In business, time spent equals money spent. This simple fact means that for the sake of accountability, it’s a good idea to hold regular performance reviews. Assessing your team’s performance at different points during the year keeps the lines of communication open between you and your employees, and it makes meeting goals a lot easier. When your company’s performance reviews are shorter and more frequent, you come away reassured that your employees know what you’re looking for. Here are some of the other advantages: You can point out strengths you’ve seen in your employees. No …

Next Page

Experience TribeHR for Yourself
Contact us to schedule a demo of TribeHR.

Book A Demo
The Latest from Workplace Tribes
SuiteWorld Is All About Empowering People and People Power April 23, 2015
Making and Breaking Habits April 21, 2015
The Customer is (Not) Always Right April 16, 2015
Are Contingent Workers The New Peons? April 14, 2015
Top Talent Management Practices April 09, 2015
What’s the Deal with Unretirement? April 07, 2015
Was That Insubordination or Just Attitude? April 02, 2015
Communication is a Hot Topic March 31, 2015
Negotiators: Do You Fit the Profile? March 26, 2015
13 Communication Practices of Leaders March 24, 2015