Cut Through the Data Debris

From the DecisionWise Newsletter

We live in a swirling sea of feedback. Most websites now ask for a brief survey inside a pop-up box that obscures what you are trying to view. It’s overwhelming. It’s everywhere. It’s a bit stifling.

As a result of these ever-present surveys and comment boxes, we are now conditioned to believe that everyone wants our feedback. In addition, because so many places keep asking for our feedback, we think we are qualified to give an opinion on every subject. News flash – neither is true.

This feedback frenzy has infected the EX world too. We have upward and downward feedback; reinforcing and redirecting feedback; positive and negative feedback; and reflective and forward-looking feedback. The list seems endless. There is so much feedback that it can be hard to find meaningful nuggets that produce real change.

Sometimes, less is more. The right feedback is good. The right data helps uncover valuable insights. Rather than adding to our data debris, how can we ensure the feedback we provide is useful? Our research suggests that the following steps will help make the feedback process more effective:

Step #1 Whenever you are asked to provide a piece of feedback, take time to evaluate this question: “Am I qualified to comment on this item?” If asking yourself this question gives you a reason to pause, then let the feedback receiver know so they can prioritize your feedback.

With so much feedback available, the need to prioritize is increasingly important. Also, it’s okay to decline giving feedback.

Step #2 Find out why feedback is being solicited and how it will be used. Here is a common scenario: A colleague asks you to review a sales proposal before it goes to a potential client. Most of us quickly read the proposal and highlight our concerns.

Yet, consider how much better your comments would be if you took the time to find out more about the reason for the proposal or what problem the client is trying to solve. It’s better to ask a few questions upfront to discover the underlying assumptions that will impact the feedback.

Step #3 Stop and think about the standard that applies. Feedback is most helpful when provided against the backdrop of well-defined expectations.

The Greeks knew this as they developed mathematics. They quickly learned to conceptualize a perfect rectangle, rather than fiddling with a farmer’s field where the angles are never precise, and the terrain is never flat.

You have been asked to provide feedback about an employee. Before jumping in with your suggestions on how “Brad” can do a better job contributing to your weekly meetings, take a moment to consider what constitutes helpful behavior when it comes to Brad.

This effort alone will help your feedback stay objective, and it will keep your comments from becoming emotionally charged.

Step #4 Keep feedback focused on instances where the standard was either met (reinforcing) or where a gap exists (redirecting). This step is vital for a couple of reasons. One, it makes giving feedback easier because you are making the process about the feedback and not about an individual’s characteristics.

Second, the feedback is focused on gaps, which is the point of the feedback process in the first place. When somebody asks for feedback, they are trying to get it right. A thumbs-up sign does little to help them know if they are succeeding.

Have requests for comments and feedback created an unwieldy world of data overload in your organization? Are we now commenting just to comment as opposed to trying to improve processes or people?