Friday, July 26, 2013

Feedback for innovation and growth

by Kenneth L. Greenberg

When leaders and managers are faced with small talk in the form criticism of either of the organization or them­selves, we find too frequently the impulsive reaction is to dismiss the negativity and the negative people.

We suggest, and others concur, that this dismissal may be a mistake. One of our white papers contains nu­merous sources on why critics both outside and inside the organization need a voice. These critics are often passionate about your organization or you, but cannot artfully voice the desire for you or your organization to improve. Worse, when you ignore them, they are denied an opportunity to contribute, collaborate and feel part of an organization. Disengagement leads to unhappiness, which, in turn, leads to lowered productivity. As a result you lose an opportunity to keep your critics engaged in your success. Certain credible research suggests if an organization disengages from both internal and external critics and they in turn disengage from you, their passion for your organization can become destructive.

Properly harnessed criticism and complaints can be turned into constructive feedback that can be used to improve professional development programs, products, services and strategic planning.

Criticism directed toward management or leadership is where 360˚ surveys come in. Properly constructed, 360˚ tools can contain criticism and filter it into credible, valid and recognized leadership and management skill categories. Not only are critics given a voice, but also a platform to constructively and candidly engage with company management and leadership. This engage­ment can lead to meaningful behavior change by man­agement and leadership. Research has proven that, if the correct behavior change is sustained, it will improve an organization’s effectiveness.

Organizational 360˚ surveys can be used to capture qualitative data and feedback about products and services. Properly con­structed with statistical validity, these surveys can help interpret changing consumer tastes, competitive threats and demographic trends. The key is to engage as many respondents as possible in a safe and anonymous way, not just one or two, like we see on a popular television show. Respondents must know they can be honest and safe from retaliation. Also, this data can be used as leading-edge indicators that drive innovation efforts and strategic planning long before the financial results are reported. This gives leadership a chance to see around corners and gain visibility to future trends, dissatisfied customers and employees. We also believe risk identifi­cation and risk manage­ment can be aided by a properly constructed survey tool.

While criticism may be misdirected or downright mean-spirited, using survey tools can contain the criticism and engage the criticizer. Done right, survey tools will filter the feedback into useful and meaningful data that can be used to improve leaders, managers, products and services.

Many experts in organizational development also believe the integration of qualitative data from internal stake­holders such as employees, managers, board members, etc. is a critical part of creating balanced scorecard tools that measure the performance and effectiveness of an organization. When properly analyzed and integrated into the strategic planning process, these tools can help organizations learn and drive change initiatives that promote growth and profitability.

Kenneth L. Greenberg is the CEO of KLG Consultants, LLC a leadership and business development firm based in Colorado. The firm offers large company, employee selection, professional devel­opment and training tools to organizations of all sizes at an affordable price. Visit for more information.