Feedback & Input

So you run a group or lead some people. You hear lots and lots of feedback and input: some good, some bad. How are you supposed to know which feedback to listen to, which to take action on, and which to discard immediately?

First, let’s start with the…

Types of input that you “shouldn’t” listen to:

(To be clear, this section is a double-take; jump to the spoiler)

  1. The One Who Cries Wolf
    • Quotes: “I see the XYZ problem, it’s right there!”
    • Realistically: By the time you get around to helping, the problem appears to never had existed.
  2. The Constant Complainer
    • Quotes: Today: “Problem XYZ is here.”
      Tomorrow morning: “Problem ABC happened again.”
      Tomorrow afternoon: “Problem DEF appears to be going on.”
    • Realistically: These people just can’t handle pressure, adversity, or problem solve for themselves.
  3. The Gossip Slinger
    • Quotes: “Person A told me they said the client is unhappy.”
      “Persons B, R and G are all slackers.”
    • Realistically: These people just need to mind their own business.
  4. The ExcuseMaker
    • Quotes: “Problem XYZ is happening, but I understand it’s because of [insert excuse], so it’s ok.
      “Person Q quit last week, they loved their job but it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.”
    • Realistically: They’re right! I agree with their reasoning. No blame to be had.
  5. The Finger Pointer
    • Quotes: “Problem XYZ is happening, and it’s all Person B’s fault.
      “Person Q quit last week, and it’s because of their manager.”
    • Realistically: They’re just trying to deflect blame from themselves, and ultimately are troublemakers. Ignore them.
  6. The Oracle
    • Quotes: “If we don’t do that thing, then we’re going to have turnover.”
      “Client will not like our proposal.”
      “Person T seems uneasy lately.”
    • Realistically: They’re just trying to deflect blame from themselves, and ultimately are troublemakers. Ignore them.
  7. The Optimist
    • Quotes: “I’m sure if we tell Person K how important this is, they’ll pull it off.”
      “That problem is super specific to this project. We won’t have to worry about it again.”
    • Realistically: They’re probably right about most of these. If one person feels these things, I’m sure others do, too!
  8. The Perfectionist
    • Quotes: “Anything less than an A+ is a failure.”
      “We have to constantly press ourselves to do better.”
      “I’m not letting the product get out until it’s completely done. I’ll work all night if I have to.”
    • Realistically: They’re right. Strive to meet their expectations.
  9. The Nostalgic One
    • Quotes: “At my last job, we did XYZ.”
      Our last director always did PQR, and that worked well.”
    • Realistically: Get with the times! If you don’t like it here, go back to your old company.
  10. The Know-It-All
    • Quotes: “I read how XYZ Company does this.”
      “Expert G’s blog says that the right way is to do X.”
      “Industry standards are clearly to do JKL.”
    • Realistically: We’ll just stick to the way we’ve always done it. Besides, we don’t have the time or resources to do those things.
  11. The Quiet One
    • Quotes: Prefers to correspond via email or chat. Could also be described as non-confrontational or shy.
    • Realistically: If whatever they have to say isn’t important enough to say to my face or during a meeting, it doesn’t matter.
  12. The Manager Who Knows Better
    • Quotes: “Really? I didn’t hear that.”
      “There’s no way that can be true.”
      “I know they’re wrong.”
      “Person Q doesn’t have the whole story.”
    • Realistically: Managers have better perspective than the average worker, so their opinion should have much more weight.
  13. The Out-of-Left-Field’er
    • Something totally unexpected or out of character is brought to your attention.
    • Realistically: That observation simply cannot be true. Not in a million years. Discard this information.
  14. Yourself
    • Quotes: “I’m not sure.”
      “What do you think?”
      “Let’s ask the team.”
    • Realistically: Your instincts are usually wrong.

Actually, you should listen to all of them.

All of these are valuable input sources, and you should take them all into consideration. Get to know your team individually, their styles, and the types of things that may be pain points for different folks/roles/perspectives.

  1. The One Who Cries Wolf…
    • may be your best early-warning system
    • may identify surprises that could snowball
  2. The Constant Complainer…
    • may be a good representation of more people’s feelings, just be the most vocal about it
    • may be a flight risk (would that hurt the project, or snowball into a mass team exodus?)
  3. The Gossip Slinger…
    • may be the voice for people who don’t feel comfortable speaking up
    • may be giving you a nicely compiled list of common things they’ve heard
  4. The Excuse Maker…
    • may be trying to express themselves, but not want to be seen as a finger pointer
    • should those excuses be recorded to verify if they’re a more common problem?
  5. The Finger Pointer…
    • may actually help identify deficiencies in personnel or process
    • may feel that they have to constantly pick up others’ slack
  6. The Oracle…
    • may have great instincts that could prevent some problems
  7. The Optimist…
    • may be the best person to help boost team morale
    • could help refine some communication guidelines
  8. The Perfectionist…
    • may be the best person to help train others
    • be great at quality assurance testing, and help to identify future bugs
  9. The Nostalgic One…
    • may have extremely valuable past expertise
  10. The Know It All…
    • may be the best person to help you stay current, and not fall behind the curve
  11. The Quiet One…
    1. has feedback that is no less valuable than the others
    2. delivery method of feedback does not diminish its relevance
  12. The Manager Who “Knows Better”
    • there’s value to seasoned / historical perspectives, but you have to take into consideration what their perspective / agenda might be
    • Also, if someone in leadership or another management position is jumping to disprove or discredit someone else’s feedback– or defaulting to a defensive stance, that’s indicative of a different kind of problem.
  13. The Out-of-Left-Field’er
    • may be talking about something that IS unexpected and previously thought improbable.
    • Remember: your team members’ perceptions are their reality, so whether it happened or not, the event or perception should be acknowledged and followed-up on.
  14. Yourself…
    • might be the only one able to piece together the feedback from everyone above and distill it into meaningful change.
    • Trust yourself.

Strategies for getting feedback:

So what are some ways to start getting feedback? Maybe you don’t hear much, or maybe you have only one or two of the above mentioned types of feedback-givers. Here are some things to keep an eye (or ear) out for:

  • Word of Mouth – Listen up and take the time to absorb general conversation from your team members and conversation about your team members.
  • 1:1 Meetings – If you don’t already, set up recurring meetings with your team members at whatever pace works for you both: weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. Be prepared with topical questions and agendas when appropriate, but also have time for open agenda.
  • Team Meetings – Same as above: be prepared with topical questions and agendas when appropriate, but also have time for open agenda.
  • Topical Survey – Use this to get measured input from your team. As a bonus, let it be anonymous so that team members can feel more empowered to be truthful.
  • “Suggestion box” Survey – Create a generic survey to leave open permanently. Let folks submit suggestions and problems, but also positive things like compliments and success stories.
  • Project Postmortems/Retrospectives – Run these after projects: both smooth and rocky ones. Take notes to turn the rocky parts into action items, and to reinforce the smooth parts (turn them into solid policy or process).

Processing feedback:

What works best for you? You definitely don’t want these valuable points to get lost in a notebook full of other todo’s– or pushed to the back of your mind. Optimally, you might capture feedback in a notebook reserved just for feedback, or perhaps a spreadsheet (Google Sheets or Airtable) that you keep updated.

Why? There’s lots of input to collect, and by storing it in a digital place, you may be able to use reporting or filters to determine trends and draw conclusions. The types of data I’d start with include:

  • Date – so you can report on frequency
  • Source – who was it from?
  • Source’s Discipline – so you can report on what types of people have problems
  • Category – what is the general area of feedback / complaint?
  • Tags – what are a few more granular descriptors so you can search/report on those?
  • Target – was this feedback about another person or another discipline?
  • Surface Occasions – have you surfaced the feedback to your boss, their boss, others leaders?

Wrap up:

Go forth and put a plan into action. Keep your eyes and ears open to all forms of feedback and input, both good and bad. Take notes in an organized way. Turn it all into quantifiable reasoning that results in action for your team or organization.