The “digital age” has allowed a vast repository of resources to be available at only a click away. It has sped up the pace and capabilities of business throughout all sectors and inadvertently allowed less obvious elements to slip into our peripherals. The increase in reliance on digitally driven communication has masked the human-to-human disconnect and undoubtedly “hardened” our interpersonal skills.  We have been granted much to leverage, and by contract still ended up giving away much too.

The current pandemic has forced businesses to embrace change, pushing an “adapt or die” agenda. The newly associated “remote-working revolution” has further exposed our communication gaps and helped heighten the importance of effective communication. The role of constructive and developmental feedback in this multifaceted process is all too often overlooked, however it can be a powerful tool when used effectively. Although the “digital age” has caused some difficulties, it has also provided an opportunity to redress many of these.

Well-developed best practice insights on processes and tools that can address productivity drivers can now be accessed and leveraged effortlessly. Feedback practices, although only a single element, fall under this category of effective processes and tools. Successful leaders all too often swear by many of these feedback tools. In reality, feedback is commonly the only point of contact between varying role responsibilities, and the effectiveness of this point of contact can significantly affect the alignment of the participants involved. In leadership roles, in particular, feedback can be the sword to lead your army, or contrastingly, if you are unaware of how to yield it, becomes the tool used to stab you in the foot.

Whilst feedback is likely to already be implemented in all businesses to some degree, the lack thereof is not the issue, but rather the content, delivery, and choice of words. Understanding what makes feedback ineffective is an important first step in identifying whether you have any shortcomings. One of the most common causes of its ineffectiveness is the way in which it is used. Oftentimes it is utilised as a tool of warning, given in a one-dimensional manner, informing an individual of what went wrong and what must change. This does not allow the full potential of feedback to be attained and does not guarantee any hope of resolution on the constructive outcomes. Two-way feedback alternatively, is a much more useful approach. Two-way feedback aims for the feedback to be conversational, and developmental and encourages both participants to provide insights and make commitments. Mutual trust and understanding can then be achieved, and realistic paths forward can thereafter be determined. It can help optimise a vast spectrum of both internal and external productivity drivers as its use can then be tailored to address individual needs.

Proven effective feedback models such as IDEA, SMART, CEDAR, SBI, Pendleton and DESC, all share 3 key elements that have led to their effectiveness. These 3 key elements are:

  1. The behaviour – identifying the issue (or positive area) in context
  2. The result – explaining how the behaviour impacted the company or individuals involved
  3. The next steps – identifying a way forward (mutual understanding)

It is important to note that feedback should not be used solely as a tool of criticism. Many benefits can be yielded through positive encouragement when colleagues are performing well. It can solidify individual strengths, as well as improve organisational health. Responsibilities in feedback are certainly present at all levels of employment, and education is the minimum every organisation should be practising. Effective implementation will likely require conscious efforts initially, however, strong habits can quickly be built, and soon thereafter that sword will be sharp and ready for battle.

Whilst utilising feedback models is extremely useful and minimises many shortcomings of providing instinctual feedback, there are still challenges present. These models focus more on the content aspect, neglecting the choice of use and delivery of feedback. Many considerations in how to implement the models effectively need to be understood and utilised. To address these challenges, you must be able to comprehensively identify them, and thereafter a tailored approach to its implementation, that can mitigate environment-specific challenges, can be determined.

Of course, this is no small task, and feedback is only a single aspect of communication, yet it can contribute significantly towards improving organisational health and productivity. This is an area we at EMZ Advisory understand deeply, alongside other crucial elements related to organisational health and productivity. It is an element that has certainly contributed to our numerous successful project implementations as we are actively able to effectively educate and equip leaders and staff alike, with the necessary understandings and tools required to flourish independently in these unfamiliar times.

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