The Cost and Benefit of Feedback


The Pain of Communication

As I believe firmly in coaching, I work with a coach myself.  My coach is a retired executive CIO with many years of experience.  The conversations we have are based on trust, honor, integrity, caring, and open dialogue.   Prior to working with him, we established a few rules and conditions.

The most important thing for me to accept is that if I am going to get better, I need to accept views other than my own.   If I don’t want to hear it, there is no sense in pretending or wasting time.   Being coached and receiving feedback is challenging.  It forces more than simple self reflection.  It challenges us to change our approach and our behaviors.  If we aren’t willing to take action, feedback is just another rock in our backpack.

I am also a coach.  I have taken the lessons learned from being coached and applied them to coaching those who have chosen and allowed my feedback and input.

Allowing and accepting feedback will not always result in a person choosing to change their actions.   This is about awareness and choice to take action or not.

While these are positive mechanisms for feedback, these don’t address the title of this blog.  The focus today is on the cost of providing feedback.   Just to create a little space and context here, I am talking about the difference between someone individually looking to grow themselves and seek out feedback vs corporate feedback mechanisms which may or may not result in a positive outcome.

Recently, I had a reflective discussion with a friend working in a very large company.  They were asked by a very senior leader to provide feedback for that person’s direct reports.  The result was a great source of anxiety.   We looked through a historical lens of working with other organizations to think through consistent behavior.   One thing was prevelant,  there was an ask for feedback through multiple tools and mechanisms but the results were always the same, nothing happened.

As we discussed it, a few themes popped up.

A person needs to be open for feedback and so does the company or leadership for that person.  If Danny is doing a great job and making the company a lot of money by beating all his workers, many companies won’t care about the human cost until they get caught.  Of course, it isn’t normally someone physically hurting someone else but passive aggressive behaviors are fairly prevalent.   Just read a few memes on LinkedIn for validation.

Companies struggle with wanting to know but not wanting to know.   Do they really want to know?  Do they prepare their workforce for feedback?  What do they do about the anxiety for the people providing feedback?

  • Open for Feedback – What does that mean?
  • Setting the expectation that people can’t expect and shouldn’t be getting all good feedback.  Being ok with not being perfect. 
  • The company and the people have to be willing to make changes. You have to be willing to make changes. 
  • Shouldn’t be limited to once a year and require investment. 
  • Action has to be taken – Anytime feedback.  If no action is taken, we aren’t being honest about the process.  The harm outweighs the benefit and it destroys trust. 
  • Action could be simple recognition and outcomes of feedback can also be very positive- meaning (find what works and keep it up).

It looks like when a person musters the strength to say something, the do something part for the people asking doesn’t come.   This isn’t true in all cases but the reason why people generally don’t say something when asked for feedback is because they feel personal risk.

In many cases, the person raising the perspective or situation is put on trial.  A person may become a victim of their own courage.   That said, even if a person wrongly raised a perspective, this would be an opportunity to work through it and reduce tension in the environment.

My friend said

I battle myself because I know that I should say something. Why say something if nothing happens?  If the organization is broken to a point where nothing happens, I wasted all this energy.  I didn’t want to give up my opportunity to say something but in the end .. it wasn’t worth the investment of energy.

I felt like I was a failure because I didn’t say something.

Looking back, when something bad happens people ask, “why didn’t someone say something? I did, they didn’t care.”

There is a difference between feedback and reporting concerns.  Many companies have channels for reporting.   Feedback in the context which I am writing about doesn’t rise to this level of reporting.   This is more in line with a person asking about my children and family but they really don’t give a shit or know if I even have family.  It is empty and process oriented.

Makes Some Sense but We Need Feedback

If companies treat people like commercial products, they themselves will be respected as much as a commercial product provider.   Let me unpack this a little.

A person is an individual but also a statistic.  The moment the person transitions from the one to one view to the one of many part of the greater whole, things fall apart.  Here is what it means.  A person speaking with their peers or their leadership giving and receiving feedback, openly exchanging is very healthy.   A person being part of a trend on a dashboard answering closed questions becomes an NPS score.  Employees aren’t customers but when they become customers or are treated like customers, loyalty naturally decreases based on the lack of individualized engagement.

Bottomline, the best way to get and receive feedback is to be open and honest about it.  Feedback should occur through a multitude of mechanisms.

  1. Peers
  2. Leadership
  3. Senior Leaders
  4. Private closed forums
  5. Open public forums designed for productive sessions.

There are many more ways to attain feedback.  All said, if there is no trust or no action, feedback is costly and wasteful.

two woman chatting
Photo by mentatdgt on

When feedback works, it can be life-changing.

My perspective is simple, if we have the basic building blocks of trust, integrity and respect for people and we honor people, we should expect and provide feedback.  Feedback is part of communication and communication is a primary building block for leadership.  If we aren’t getting feedback, something is broken and if we are demanding feedback, something is broken and if we are ignoring feedback something is broken.  All something to think about.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on my personal blog are personal views.  They do not reflect the views of my employer or any group or organization I am associated with.   The purpose of this post is to challenge us to think deeply about why mechanisms and tools exist in human factors and resources in order to better ourselves.
Posted in KM.