Is feedback valuable?

Who says, feedback isn’t valuable? Western management philosophies have proven it beyond doubt that feedback is essential and strongly prescribe that a manager has to offer feedback in a timely and objective manner. It’s one of the most important competencies that qualify a people manager! Why a debate on this topic?

Several times in my life, I have experienced that a feedback doesn’t work well and at times, it works negatively, even if it was well-articulated and highly objective. Why does that happen? Firstly, I am reminded of a quote from Eastern philosophy that “A Master is ready when the disciple is ready”. I have seen this work. The feedback loses its value if the receiver is not willing to accept it. Secondly, any feedback is always from the perspective of the giver and it is always different from that of the receiver. It is impossible to have a complete alignment between the manager and the subordinate. Pragmatically speaking, no outcome can be seen exactly the same way by the manager and the subordinate; more so, when the feedback is either negative or at a peer level. Hence, the feedback loses its sheen when it lands at the desk of the employee. And last, but not the least, the feedback conversation gets stressful because the scale is always tilted towards the one who has the power and authority to offer feedback. If the feedback is negative, the receiver invariably takes the position to resent it mentally and defend his or her position.

Some practioners dismiss all the above and call upon the managers to sharpen the skills of offering feedback. However, I do not think, it is possible to achieve consistently positive results by offering regular feedback all the time as if it is a regimen. I think, there are a few conditons which need to be fulfilled for the feedback to be valuable. What are those?

Firstly, there has to be trust and openness between the giver and receiver of the feedback. This is very easily said than done. In the current times, we run fast; business is dynamic; decision-making and execution are always lagging the expectations of the shareholders of a business. Adding to this complexity, there are changes in our social and cultural settings; these have increased our self-centric thoughts and significantly brought down our orientation towards others. Given this context, the challenge for a manager to build mutual trust and a culture of openness is enormous. However there are no short-cuts to this. One has to build mutual trust before one attempts offering feedback and expects value out of this investment.

Secondly, the receiver of the feedback has to be genuinely interested in seeing his or her image in the eyes of the manager. Because of the trust factor, the reciever doesn’t feel threatened to receive criticism; neither does he or she doubt the praises showered. The focus of the conversation shifts to specific behaviours rather than the person and the situation concerned. The conversation focuses on what can be done in the future rather than what was done in the past. Digging into the past and trying to rest on the past laurels doesn’t help anyone. So, an organization can see benefits of feedback conversation only when the receiver is keen to know the perspective of the giver of the feedback.

Last, but not the least, outcome of the feedback conversation must be purely developmental rather than something which is a tangible result that impacts the person directly and in the short term. Most organizations have the culture of feedback conversation linked with performance appraisal and a salary review. This is when the feedback invariably lands nowhere. The employee gets defensive and anxious either in anticipation of the result or in a state of emotion seeing the results. Hence, we can leverage on these conversations only if the conversation is genuinely two-way, focused on behaviours that can be changed in order to achieve specific results in future.

This is a new paradigm compared to the popular prescription. I have seen consistently encouraging results of this approach for the last 15 years of my work life. I hope, many more find great results too!

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