Feedback providers - What I observed and how to improve...


Yves Sandfort

Yves Sandfort

Over the past couple of years I had to attend several conferences, round tables and advisory sessions. The number is increasing, which also requires me more often to pick and choose. What I found very surprising is the lack of clear feedback given by many people.

Truly I honor every time an analyst, community or vendor invites me to share my thought, provide feedback or influence roadmap direction. Out of hundred/thousands I seem to provide valuable input and while the number of these engagements is growing I have identified a constant group of people in the room, I even started a game for myself to note down on introduction which categorizes each one to help me focus on the value providers.

While the below might sound negative for some, I never value feedback in general negative as it is often given to help a person/product/process evolve. People who provide feedback do this for a reason and let’s be honest, there is always some advantage you gain out of it for yourself. But be careful, you are NOT the primary focus. But I totally understand that for those especially in higher management surrounded by confirmative and agreeing people it might be shocking to leave the ivory tower.

One other important part is to evaluate why we provide feedback in the first place…

An example:
Let’s say you provide feedback to an airline how boarding could be more efficient, then you do this not only for the airline or other passengers, but often also for yourself. Nothing is wrong with this, as long as the feedback is not only for your own advantage and not harming others.

The following is truly my personal observation and my personal point of view on these… I am sure tons of people have their own opinion. And quite a few people studied long to make a scientific analysis on this topic…

So what type of people to I see providing feedback:

  • Everything is perfect in a big round!
    These are people who always say it’s all perfectly well and then once you have a talk aside the bigger tables etc. they provide a different opinion… But never when those affected are around.
    And I catch myself sometimes doing exactly the same, for example in a restaurant, if the food was not up to the level expected when the question comes up I react quickly with: “All was good”.
    Why do we do this? Because it’s easy, there will be no follow up question and we don’t get the mark of the “cranky” / “high-maintenance” customer.
    What is the result? Nothing will change, or even worse, as people think all is perfect it might be possible to lower the level. Depending on the feedback recipient however, they are often the ones taken as a reference against the feedback providers with a reason….
    Also sometimes it is hard to differ these from the next group, as it is not so obvious…
  • The always positive ones…
    Those are people who are always positive, instead of pointing out what’s wrong or broken they will only highlight the positive aspects of the product/process etc. Sometimes I would like to be more like these, but being in the industry for over 25 years by now I felt that this is not necessarily bringing anyone forward. I target a personal achievement to be better here and reduce sometimes the negative aspects.
    Overall these people are equally important to those focusing on change feedback, because they balance the changes required and the good to keep.
    Huge difference to the previous group? Even in small groups they are positive, because that is the way they are! And all feedback provided is usually valid, often you will see no direct overlay with the feedback providers for a positive cause, but combined they can be strong allies to improve.
  • The silent ones…
    I am never sure why these people show up at round tables etc. as they never provide any feedback, they show up, introduce themselves and even if asked provide more or less no feedback at all. I am never sure if they just consume or just for the fun… But when I get invited to discuss/provide feedback then this is nothing bad, it is to improve a process or program or product or whatsoever. Take the chance or open the spot for someone else who is willing to collaborate.
    What is the result? Similar to the first group this leads to no change and / or even worse change to the other direction as also any kind of measurement / kpi might be influenced wrongly
  • The feedback providers… for a positive cause
    Very often misunderstood as they sound like the cranky ones who always complain, but they provide feedback solely to improve, this is often hard to take for the other side and people easily get offended. Be careful to not mix them with the next group. But there is a big group of feedback providers who want improvements for the good and NOT for their own advantage…
    What is the result? If the recipient understands and can identify these feedback providers, they can be highly valuable, as they do this for good. They often sound like cranky and high maintenance, but they have a bigger picture in mind.
    How can you separate them from the other feedback providers (the all negative or the personal advantage ones)? This is normally easy, as they do not only provide feedback but an approach to improve, this is also the difference to the negative feedback providers.
    There is also a subgroup in here, who do all the above, but only to gain a massive advantage for themselves, which might still be good for the product/process, but harming many others. So one might also argue to place them in the next category.
  • The feedback providers… for a negative cause
    Be careful, sometimes they are hard to separate from the previous category, as they are also passionate to provide feedback. Usually one big difference is the fact that they don’t provide any steps to improve, just the negative feedback. Or they provide an improvement procedure which does not help the process/product or just complicates it. But often they feedback is still valid, so listening to this category can still be very helpful.

First of all, I honor anyone who asks an external group for feedback, this is always hard especially in the beginning as expectations are high. It takes good moderators to not only get feedback, but also to learn how to improve. It also is hard to accept feedback in the first place, as normally we get defensive when someone calls our “baby” ugly.

So how can those providing feedback improve the process?

  • If you are not interested to provide any valuable feedback (btw: all is broken is not valuable feedback), then leave the spot for someone who wants to. Or come prepared with reasonable input.
  • Try to not only be negative. Value also the positive achievements. (something I can for sure improve on myself).
  • Try to provide potential solutions. It is always easy to criticize, but to provide actions is much harder, but will speed the process.
  • Come prepared, maybe discuss your feedback with peers upfront, if you think it might be shocking for recipients then it might be good to share a heads up.
  • Do not get personal, feedback should be as objective as possible. Plus you don’t know if the other side (although executing) might be the real initiator.
  • Engage others in an open discussion or become an active part. Confirm similar findings or state where you experience difference.
  • If you need to have a personal discussion plan a 1:1 meeting, do not try to force people into such discussion in the group. Do not expect to handle this in a 5 minute break.

How can the product, process, community owners improve the process?

  • Provide an agenda with discussion topics, so people can prepare.
  • Plan enough time including break times, as people like to network. Plus if you want your participants to not work during sessions they need to catch up in between.
  • Prepare time for 1:1 meetings, sometimes feedback is not good in the big group, allow for these times.
  • Choose your audience carefully and watch them. Try to reduce to two key focus groups:
  • The always positive ones…
    These will tell you what’s working, not only because they want something from you, but because they mean it. Watch out for little hints how to improve further.
  • The feedback providers - for a positive cause
    Be careful to identify them, as they especially in the beginning they might look like the always negative ones. They are often very passionate and provide not only feedback but ways to improve, do not ignore them as they might just go silent or disappear.

As always I know my opinion might not be reflected by others, but I am always happy to discuss in person, over twitter, mail or other media…





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