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Why do we continue to ignore feedback in our businesses even though we know how useful it is?


Most organisations and individuals understand the value and power of giving and receiving feedback. We are aware it builds trust and respect between our employees, customers and stakeholders. We know that great conversations lead to better outcomes and therefore productivity and profit.

Yet we find that our people, and if we are honest… with ourselves, still avoid feedback or handle it poorly. And the organisations we work in do not drive cultures of feedback as effectively as they could, or at all.

The concept of ‘performance management’ was introduced about sixty years ago as a means to determine the wages of an employee based on their performance. In the late 1980s not all employees felt rewarded, nor motivated by financial gain alone; many were driven by learning and the development of their skills. From here performance management started moving into more frequent monitoring and reviews with a focus on ‘regular feedback’ outside the formal review process.

We are now seeing an emerging trend in high-performing organisations where all employees, not just the leaders, are being taught how to give great feedback and also how to receive feedback with equal candour and grace. Organisations that are in the 21st century and do this are in their ‘feedback flow’.

But there are far too less that are gaining this as their competitive edge. BRW Magazine, who awards and recognises the ‘Best Places to Work’, sites that one of the factors in creating these high performance workplaces are where ‘the bosses saw issues from the employee’s point of view, gave meaningful feedback and information’.

In fact, the CEB tells us that when informal feedback is delivered well it can improve productivity by nearly 40 per cent. Now that’s pretty compelling.

Why don’t we implement powerful feedback cultures?

One, organisations don’t muster the courage to invest in their people and culture. They are stuck in the 1940s and they just don’t get it.

Secondly, we think the change will be too hard and too disruptive. Creating a cultural shift requires effort, but without the investment there will be no change.

Thirdly, we send our people to training and think it will transform our people. When done well it is a start, and a good one, but a start only.

Lastly, we think that ‘robust’ six monthly or annual performance reviews will be enough. They won’t.

Deloitte’s research and costing tells us that an annual appraisal for 65,000 staff took 2 million hours. Expedia says it mostly wanted to ‘rehumanise’ the relationship between employees and bosses. A recent PwC study conducted in Australia showed that 81 per cent of companies had performance management systems which were only “somewhat effective” at achieving their goals.

Adobe, a global software business, estimates that their annual performance reviews were costing them 80,000 hours of managers’ time each year, the equivalent of 40 full time employees. And after all that effort, internal surveys revealed that employees felt less inspired and motivated, and staff turnover increased.

So what needs to be done?

Increasingly the progressive companies are recognizing this and ditching the performance reviews in place of feedback cultures and regular ‘check ins’. Adobe led the way, soon followed by Juniper, Accenture, Microsoft, Deloitte, Zappos, Expedia, Dell and GE.

There are over 30 companies now ditching performance reviews in place of feedback and ‘check in’ cultures. It’s no surprise these are the ones that attract the best and brightest as they are receiving the feedback they need and deserve and improving themselves and productivity as a result.

So if we want to remain not only competitive, but ahead of the game, we need to move into the future and have feedback become part of our everyday. Part of how we flow.

Creating a feedback flow is how progressive and competitive organisations get things done and create happy, fully engaged employees and customers. It is where we reverse the push of giving feedback and add to it the pull of receiving it, and alter systems to create an even flow.

Georgia Murch is an expert in teaching individuals how to have the tough conversations and create feedback cultures in organisations. She is the author of Fixing Feedback and a highly engaging speaker.

georgia murch