Improve performance, and create a learning organization, through skillful feedback
Feedback is essential to learning and improvement in the workplace. It tells us what we’re doing well, and what could be better. It informs a path forward so we stay fresh and relevant. If you aspire to create a learning organization, then feedback is the vital strand, benefitting people, strategies, products, services, systems, and the entire organization.
Feedback can come from multiple sources, such as operational data that inform what the organization should continue, stop, amplify, or alter, and the feedback that’s generated during the annual performance-management process run by Human Resources. There is another type of feedback that’s just as important—skillful interpersonal feedback among colleagues.
Interpersonal feedback is used to help colleagues learn together and work more effectively together, and to support each professional to excel on the job. It’s used between two individuals, and in teams. It helps colleagues recalibrate as joint work is underway; it addresses and resolves breakdowns between people; and it creates stronger, more trusting work relationships among colleagues.
This type of feedback is crucial because it directly addresses a conundrum rooted in human biology that affects every relationship between people: There are some things we can’t know about our actions and behaviors unless other people tell us. We may think that what we do and say will affect others in certain ways, and we can be honorable in our intentions—but we are blind to the effects of our actions and behaviors on others until we hear from them directly.
We all need interpersonal feedback. We need it with colleagues so we can work effectively and achieve good results together. Organizations should incorporate skillful and appropriate interpersonal feedback as a central element of how work gets done and how people collaborate.
The benefits of using interpersonal-feedback methods in professional organizations
When you establish outstanding and consistent interpersonal-feedback practices among your leaders and employees, and create a culture that supports those practices, you can look forward to these benefits:
- Better decisions, actions, and results
- Enhanced organizational performance and relevance
- Regular performance improvements in individual professionals and teams
- Better interactions and stronger, more trusting work relationships among colleagues
- Increased transparency between individuals, within teams, and across the organization
- Continuous learning and growth among professionals
- A vigorous culture of continuous improvement
Used at its best, feedback will also support a culture in which colleagues actively support each other’s success, through a shared experience of betterment and growth.
How and where interpersonal feedback can be used in your organization
Interpersonal feedback rebalances and improves work in real time and retrospectively. It can be used in these ways:
- To improve team performance, where colleagues share information with each other while work is underway, to recalibrate what they do together or how they do it.
- To encourage mutual learning between two colleagues, where person A respectfully shares the effects of person B’s behavior or actions on them, and inquires about person B’s intentions and desired results. This provides a learning opportunity for both colleagues.
- To improve team trust and relationships, where team members skillfully examine the specific consequences of any hidden opinions that undermine how they work together, and mutually commit to resolve issues.
- To improve future work quality and results, where colleagues examine completed projects to affirm, improve, or change the behaviors they want to apply to future work.
These types of feedback are not the same as the formal performance feedback that is managed by an organization’s Human Resources function, which has specific rules, requirements, controls, and consequences regarding how well employees achieve goals and adhere to organizational expectations.
Eight things to do to make interpersonal feedback a vibrant feature of your organization
To gain the benefits of interpersonal feedback among colleagues, you will need to establish the conditions where feedback can thrive at all levels of the organization.
- Organizational leaders should set an expectation that learning and continuous improvement are vital in the workplace. Setting this context gives feedback its foothold in the organization as a means to improve performance and make learning possible every day.
- Help everyone understand how interpersonal feedback works and where it can be used. Educate leaders and staff about the contexts and situations where interpersonal feedback is appropriate and necessary, and its beneficial effects.
- Equip every organizational professional to become skilled and confident in requesting, giving, and receiving feedback. There are specific steps, best practices, and standards to follow in interpersonal feedback. People across the organization should learn them; new hires should be similarly trained early in their tenure.
- Establish an organization where it’s psychologically safe to share feedback. Set practical standards and common practices for everyone.
- Align interpersonal feedback with other feedback processes to gain all the benefits feedback can provide. Set standards regarding how and when different types of feedback are used.
- Practice, practice. It takes practice for any individual or team to become skilled and confident in using interpersonal feedback effectively. Over time, it will become a welcomed and vital feature of how your organization runs.
- Establish role models and champions at senior levels. When senior leaders show interest in feedback and request it themselves, it will prompt others in the organization to do the same.
- Reinforce the benefits of interpersonal feedback. Communicate its beneficial effects regularly. Among the results you should be able to report are better organizational and team results; better individual performance; stronger, more trusting work relationships; and an enhanced culture of learning and development.
In professional organizations especially, interpersonal feedback is an essential complement to other feedback methods to improve performance and increase engagement. It requires an investment of time and energy to do well, but it pays many dividends. If you seek to establish a learning organization, put interpersonal feedback at the center of your plans.
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