Is there any point speaking out?

Almost everywhere we go, from restaurants to supermarkets, we’re asked for feedback. ‘Tell us how we did today and enter our prize draw’ or ‘Please rate us on TripAdvisor’ are phrases we see on our till receipts and on company websites.

Feedback is sought in the workplace too. Whether it’s as part of an annual review, an exit interview or a regular 1:1 catch up with your line manager, you’ve probably been asked for your feedback. If you’re in a supervisory role, you’ve probably asked your direct reports for feedback.

What happened to that feedback?

Too often, the perception amongst those giving feedback seems to be that it’s pointless: nothing changes. Perhaps it’s that feeling that has seen the rise of the online community Organise where individuals can create campaigns using ‘basic tools for people to team up and push for change in their workplace’. This group approach to feedback has resulted in an improved holiday booking system at Boots and an investigation into a ‘culture of harassment’ at Ted Baker.

In a recent coaching session, one of my clients – let’s call him John – talked about a previous role he’d had.

‘They went through the motions, asked the right questions, all that kind of thing. And yet, when I was taking my team through their performance reviews and one of the sections was about giving feedback on the team, me as their manager and the business as a whole, people didn’t want to answer. When I asked them why, some of them said that they worried it might make them look bad but the majority said that they didn’t believe anything would change. Actually, I agreed with them,’ said John (not his real name).

What’s the impact of that feeling that giving feedback is a waste of time?’ I asked.

‘Sometimes you see the team member become less engaged with their job, not caring so much about it. If it becomes a big issue for them, they leave. I had one woman in my team who had wanted to have a flexible working pattern due to her responsibilities outside work. She was great and I wanted to keep her on the team so I was more than happy to support her request. It was turned down by the business. Six weeks later, she cited that as her reason for leaving in her exit interview. I flagged this up with the business, noting how much the loss of an excellent member of staff was costing us, not to mention the recruitment and onboarding of a new employee would cost. Nothing has changed there. In my new role, I have more responsibility and autonomy and I want to make my team a place where feedback is acted on and makes a difference. I’ve discussed it with my managers and they’re on board. I want to create an environment where feedback isn’t pointless.’

the value of feedback

John and I spent the rest of the session working through how he can do that. Here’s how he has decided to handle feedback in his team:

Don’t just encourage feedback – acknowledge it

There’s no guarantee that feedback is going to be positive. When people feel that negative feedback just disappears into an abyss of apathy, they stop offering it. However difficult it may be, we need to acknowledge that we’ve received feedback and are going to give it due consideration. It’s essential to show that you’re not going to ‘shoot the messenger’ and may even invite that messenger to come and tell you more about their criticism.

Act when you can

Seeing feedback acknowledged and then acted upon encourages employee engagement. If you know that your view can make a difference, you’re more likely to share it. If a colleague points out how an inefficient process could be modified in order to improve it, modify it. If someone suggests that everyone gets to take an extra day off on their birthday and the cost to the business is negligible, then give everyone an extra day to celebrate.

Explain when you can’t take action

It’s not always possible to approve every suggestion made for a myriad of reasons. Rather than burying the feedback and hoping people will forget about it, explain why it can’t be acted upon and remain open to the situation changing in the future.

An environment in which feedback is genuinely welcomed and responded to is more likely to be one in which employees are engaged and motivated.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you value and encourage feedback from your colleagues (or even your friends and family)? If not, what will you do to change the situation?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?



















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