Client Feedback Tool
  • Who Should Be Asking For Feedback?

    Posted on October 21st, 2011 No comments
    Who Should Be Asking For Feedback?

    One of the most common questions asked when we help organizations establish a feedback process is “Who should be asking for feedback?”  Somehow, the common perception has become that an independent third-party facilitator soliciting the feedback will produce “more honest” results.  Whether an outside consultant performs the surveys, or whether they all come “from the CEO” – this mindset is based on perceptions that differ from what we’ve actually observed within our Client Feedback Tool.

    There are many components at play in the dynamics of feedback exchanges, and it’s important to understand what the ramifications are for your feedback process design.  We can categorize feedback into three general groups:

    1. Peer Feedback – this feedback happens between peers working closely together.  Typically these will be members of the same team within an organization, however highly integrated project teams (IPD, etc) and very close/long-term clients may fall into this category.  Here, feedback is given from one person to another within the context of a safe,  environment.  Regardless of the feedback, these two people will continue to work together – either by choice or by force – and therefore any disruptions to the relationship are critical to address and fix.  You’re “stuck” with each other, so there’s a high incentive to optimize the work processes between you.
    2. Self Collected Client Feedback – these relationships are a bit more distant than those with your peers, and yet the people actually doing the work with a client are the ones gathering their own feedback.   The client has invested time (and money) into the relationship, and may consider you to be “up to speed” with his processes, preferences, and needs.  He has great incentive to continue the relationship, but can freely end it if the value proposition moves in the wrong direction.
    3. 3rd Party Feedback – third party feedback almost always comes from “the boss” of the persons doing the work.  While this may mean a principal or executive, often times a hired consultant (hired by “the boss”) is engaged on their behalf to collect feedback.  Ultimately, the client perceives the interviewer to be in some way able to affect the destiny of the people being measured.

    It’s important to understand these distinctions when designing a feedback process.  With this understanding, we can begin looking at the incentive and motivations for the person giving feedback, and from there, begin to understand where they will be “most honest.”

    What we’ve found, over seven+ years of research, is that your clients generally like you (and/or your staff).  They value working with the people doing their work.  If they didn’t, you would have received their feedback by their departure as clients.  Since they have trained you/your staff to their ways, there is an investment that, if lost, would be costly to recover.  They are typically motivated to maintain continuity in the relationship.

    Here’s where we turn common perceptions upside down.  Giving feedback to “the boss” doesn’t create more honesty.  Instead, since the clients like the people being reviewed, they tend to hide problems, gloss over problems, and heap praises for what’s good.  If they didn’t, then perhaps the boss might assign a different resource to them.  Even worse – the person they like might get in trouble, or at least in some way penalized, for doing less than a great job.  Not wanting to rock the boat, or get their “expert” in trouble (and maybe face retribution?) they provide moderate to positive scores, and rarely identify issues.

    The closer the relationship, actually, the more low scores tend to be given.  When a project manager gets feedback directly from his client, the client now has real incentive to nit pick, identify little opportunities for improvement, and generally tweak the process to better meet his needs.  The client doesn’t fear getting anyone in trouble, and he knows that the right person will get the feedback, interpret it more correctly, and most importantly – take action on it.  Where this interaction tends to be challenged is when it’s forced into a face-to-face interaction.  Conflict resolution is an acquired skill, and many people are not very skilled at it.  Thus, in-person feedback exchanges tend to be lightweight and avoid raising issues.  When issues are raised, the person receiving the criticism must also then be skilled at responding well – not getting defensive or creating excuses.  Here’s where an electronic system for feedback exchange presents a key advantage – with just enough separation to allow comfortable criticism, the Client Feedback Tool enables discovery of even little nuances in project delivery.  With time to process the results before responding, you and your staff can craft an appropriate and measured response that is helpful, constructive, and designed to build better results for everyone.

    Peer feedback takes this even further.  Being “stuck” with each other, both parties are equally incentivized to create a healthier, more productive working relationship.  When these people can share feedback openly and systematically, directly to each other, they build bridges upon which to base strong, lasting collaboration.

    But don’t just take my word for it.  We have data to prove it!

    Feedback Comparison

    Click to see larger view

    This data comes from a consistent set of our Client Feedback Tool results.  Over nearly 1600 responses are broken into the three groups, from left to right:

    1. Peer Feedback
    2. Self Collected Client Feedback
    3. 3rd Party Collected Client Feedback.

    No wonder so many people like third party feedback – it produces the most positive results!  And yet, this shows clearly that self-collected feedback increases the usable, critical feedback by over 300%.  The top-of-the-chart feedback is also reduced, helping clarify exactly where real value opportunities have been created in a more focused manner.  Remember, the goal of feedback isn’t to get the best scores, but to find the best ways to actually get better.

    The data shows an even more interesting trend – when electronic surveys are sent to a client by the person doing the work instead of by a third party, five times more free-form comments are added.  Again, the more personal relationship invites more candid, open, and strategic responses.  A score isn’t enough – the clients go one step further, investing more time in their reply, to really fine-tune the results and drive better performance.  Even when they give a high score, corrective actions will be referenced in the comments – so even those who are most fearful of criticizing find a way to have their voice heard.  Response rates are also higher with self-collected feedback versus third party (65% / 53% / 47%).

    Which brings us back to where we started – what is the incentive for someone to reply to a feedback request?  Ultimately, their only motivation is to have you do a better job for them.  The more likely they feel the time spent providing feedback will actually help them, the more likely they are to provide honest, genuine, helpful information.  The best person to do that, is you – the person doing the work.

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