Are You Failing at Feedback?

If you’ve ever watched children playing a game of Marco Polo in the swimming pool, you have a fundamental grasp of the power of feedback. With eyes closed, relying only on the voices of other players, the person who is “it” (Marco) must find and tag someone in the pool. Players respond by shouting “Polo” whenever Marco shouts out. These audio clues provide a stream of feedback that Marco follows until the goal of tagging another player is achieved. Without the feedback, Marco would flounder around the pool blindly with little opportunity to succeed.

How Feedback Can Help

Organizations want to complete more effectively, managers want their teams to excel and employees want to do better. None of these goals can be achieved without feedback.

Among other things, feedback helps us understand:

  • What we can change to get better results
  • The rate of progress towards a goal
  • What needs to happen to improve relationships
  • Whether something is worth doing
  • How well we are doing
  • What others think of us or how they value us
  • Our level of performance against a target[1]

Unfortunately, in spite of its importance, feedback is often neglected, leaving everyone in a feedback vacuum. Furthermore, when feedback is offered, it’s often done poorly and is not well received.

5 Common Feedback Fails

If you’re serious about cultivating a healthy feedback culture in your workplace, consider these common feedback fails and strive to avoid them.

Photo by Sam Howzit, Flickr

1. Not providing corrective feedback when it’s necessary: Many managers hate giving corrective feedback. Some even find it more difficult than firing someone! But avoiding difficult conversations in hopes that unwanted behavior will simply disappear is a major feedback fail.

When we wait until we’re completely frustrated with a specific behaviour before providing feedback (i.e. we explode!), chances are the feedback we give will be neither constructive nor helpful. More likely, it will be perceived as an unwarranted attack, triggering resentment and defensiveness.

2. Saving positive feedback for later: Whether later means next week, month-end or during an annual performance review, positive feedback does not improve with age. Ken Blanchard, author of One Minute Manager, says

“Of all the concepts that I have taught over the years, the most important is about ‘catching people doing things right.’ There is little doubt in my mind that the key to developing people is to catch them doing something right and praising them for their performance.”

Never save your positive feedback for another day. When you catch someone doing something right, let them know right away or as soon as possible.

3. Asking for feedback when you don’t want it: Feedback provides critical information that we need to succeed as organizations, as leaders and as individuals.

Asking for feedback makes sense—as long as you intend to listen, consider and learn from that feedback. If you’re only asking for feedback to keep up appearances or provide lip service to a feedback culture, don’t waste your breath. Before requesting input into a decision or feedback on your own behavior, stop and think about whether you really intend to take that feedback into account. If you don’t, don’t ask.[2]

4. Getting your back up: A feedback fail ancillary to “asking for feedback when you don’t want it” would be “responding defensively to feedback you asked for.” Sometimes our reaction can be visceral when feedback is not as positive as we expected and we immediately get our back up and reject what we’re hearing. To benefit from feedback, we need to overcome our natural defensiveness and focus on listening.

When you ask for feedback, be prepared to take the bad with the good and accept it all in the spirit of continual improvement.

Of course, sometimes you’ll get feedback you didn’t ask for. Getting your back up over feedback offered as an appropriate component of the workplace relationship (e.g. from a manager, mentor or team lead), is another common feedback fail. Whether you’ve requested feedback or it comes at you unsolicited, defensiveness prevents you from considering valuable information that may take you to the next level.

5. Botching the employee survey process: Many organizations use surveys and other tools to solicit feedback from employees. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the results of such tools to be reviewed and promptly dismissed, or worse, generate some kind of punitive reaction. In either case, the result can be a significant feedback fail for the entire organization.

When you reach out to your workforce for feedback, be prepared to:

  1. Hear the good, the bad and the ugly.
  2. Appreciate honesty.
  3. Share results.
  4. Respond to identified issues.
  5. Make change as required.
  6. Thank everyone for their input (and mean it!).

Mastering the art of giving and receiving feedback places a powerful tool at your disposal that will help you better develop yourself, your team and your organization. Take on the challenge and become a feedback champion in your workplace.


What are you doing to create a feedback culture in your workplace?  NetSuite TribeHR can help – start your free trial today!

[2] Harvard Business Review. Don’t Ask for Feedback Unless You Want It.

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