Feedback: You Get What You Ask For

April 1, 2018
Paul LaRue

A couple of months ago I filled out an online survey that asked for feedback on my recent shopping experience.

While my overall visit was good, there where some issues I wanted to put down in the survey. But much to my chagrin, there was no opportunity for my feedback.

The survey was limited to 5 questions on a rated 1-to-5 scale. While I could answer those questions with a solid favorable across the board, their questions were confined just to those few areas and did not touch upon anything I wanted to address.

In addition, there was no open comment section that I could free form any feedback. Overall, I was restricted to giving feedback on what they wanted me to provide.

How many times have we experienced a situation like this? We are asked for feedback in a way that actually pigeon-holes the respondent to give the canned answers that are wanted – to questions that may not have even been necessary.

Successful organizations want open, straight, and honest feedback. Those that don’t want to have their shortcomings exposed or recognized have adopted blind spots in their culture, which are an indication of larger looming issues to come.

There are numerous feedback traps that exist, including in the following:

  • Customer feedback
  • Staff feedback
  • Employee reviews
  • Managerial reviews
  • Demographic surveys
  • Journalistic surveys

The easier and all too common result that comes from many of these surveys or feedback forums is that the feedback is limited, truncated to those few items that the company wants.

Where this becomes dangerous is when an organization purposely restricts feedback and manipulates the questions to garner a more favorable response, or squelch open talk and straightforward communication. The questions are often construed to elicit a favorable response by carefully chosen words.

The results themselves are thus manipulated, fashioned in such a way that the end scores give a favorable but less than holistic view of the real feedback on the organization's performance. Net promoter scores don’t show that lack of customer confidence that exists; employee surveys show alignment when there is actually culture rot and high workplace stress; and yet the company touts how successful they are to the public.

The leadership team then gets a biased view of their performance, often promoting their success and how well they are doing to the marketplace, shareholders, or even internally. Instead, they fail to give an opportunity to expose their flaws, learn ways to improve, and more critically, identify areas where they can instill greater trust and confidence among their people and their customers.

All organizations need to challenge themselves to create feedback mechanisms that reveal potentially fatal flaws in their system. Good feedback is getting honest answers from what you ask. Effective, great feedback is receiving straight input on any topic at any given time.

Don’t shortchange your customers, staff, or your organization by limiting feedback. We have the communication tools to facilitate this like never before, if we choose to use them honestly and wisely for the greatest affect on those we lead.

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Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.

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