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By Clare Jupp

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve. These are not my words, but in fact the wise words of Microsoft giant, Bill Gates whose sentiments I entirely embrace and whose wisdom I recently shared at our Directors’ Strategic Day. Furthermore, feedback is key to continuous improvement and should be actively sought, regularly shared and very gratefully received by the recipients or recipients.

Feedback is probably the cheapest, most powerful, yet, most under-utilised management tool that organisations have at their disposal. Feedback is powerful as it helps people get on track plus it serves as a guide to assist people to know how they and others perceive their performance. Although some individuals may fear feedback and feel uncomfortable about the prospect of receiving it, I believe that the benefits far outweigh the fearful anticipation that some may experience. Our recent Directors Strategic Day involved all Directors receiving full 360 degree feedback reviews from their team members. This was a carefully managed but transparent process where all staff were encouraged to be entirely honest rather than lenient and charitable for the sake of preserving good working relations. Ahead of receiving the reviews, all Directors completed an identical document in which they were asked to assess themselves against the indicators, thus effectively predicting how their results would be likely to look.

All Directors were positive about the experience, some were slightly less confident about the likely outcomes but all were delighted and hugely motivated by the final results, firstly because their own assessments of their stronger and weaker areas matched the opinions of their team members and secondly, because their team members had actually scored them higher on almost all occasions than they had scored themselves. This was a vital outcome of the exercise as it gave directors great confidence about the work that they are doing and every reason to believe that they are doing a fantastic job in the eyes of their team members. They felt confident about their own level of self-awareness and are ultra-clear about their next steps and areas for development. In addition to this, the entire experience encapsulated our whole approach to people development in that we all regard ourselves as ‘teachers and learners’ with, on this occasion, the directors being learners and their team members assuming the teacher role.

Although it is fantastic to be the fortunate beneficiary of meaningful feedback, being involved on the other side of the feedback process can also be both motivating and energizing. Research clearly shows that being invited to give feedback has strong links to employee satisfaction and productivity. After all, people like to feel involved and identified with their organisation and so providing opportunities for people to give input and opinion can help to achieve that very state. Moreover, providing opportunities for staff to have a voice and give their input, shows that their opinions are valued and this is therefore an empowering experience. I personally believe that working without feedback is similar to setting out an important journey without a map or satellite navigation. You may think (or indeed have) a great sense of direction but this may not be sufficient to keep you on track. When people receive little feedback there is a tendency for them to either be excessively self-critical or excessively self -congratulatory. This is because they are relying upon events rather than specific feedback to measure their performance and impact. Therefore, feedback gives you the next ‘left or right turn’ and ensures that you are putting your energy, thinking and actions into the right channels and journeys.

To conclude, it is my belief that it is almost impossible to be self-aware without feedback from others. True, self-awareness and monitoring are a good place to start and provide a useful platform to work from, but feedback from others informs us in ways that enriches our self-knowledge and provides clarity in our vision and thinking. Author of ‘The One Minute Manager’, Ken Blanchard, cites feedback as being ‘the breakfast of champions’ so with that mantra in mind, surely this aspect of your people management strategy is the ‘meal’ that you cannot afford to miss…