Feedback loops are a well-loved tactic for advocating a culture of improvement and empowerment among frontline workers. But what happens when the feedback loops you have in place stop being effective? Sometimes organizations forget that these loops can’t simply be a “set-it-and-forget-it” solution. You must actively maintain these channels and manage them to ensure things flow.
While you may have done the work to put feedback loops in place, things can sometimes go awry. Things can go wrong when trying to capture feedback from your frontline employees.
When feedback loops fall off the rails, it can disrupt team dynamics and the trust you’ve built. It can lead to problems with employee engagement and psychological safety, which can take time to regain. And keeping an eye out for warning signs is just as important as having a way to resolve the situation when it happens.
Here are 6 signs that your feedback loop has hit a snag and how to get unstuck.
1. The feedback you’re receiving is too vague
Clarity and action are the name of the game: when it comes to feedback, unclear feedback can be worse than none at all. It can lead to miscommunications, reinterpretations, and misused energy. But vague feedback can often be traced back to problems with the feedback loop – from overly vague questions to a lack of psychological safety.
Here are a few ways to remedy an overly general feedback loop:
- If you receive vague feedback from an employee, work with their floor manager to ask for more details. Get specific when you give feedback and ask for that specificity in return.
- Encourage a “radical candor” approach with direct, clear language. Lead by example with concise, direct language when sharing communications or updates with your workforce
- Diversify your approach and offer different avenues for feedback, including open forums as well as anonymous and secure employee input feedback channels.
- Connect feedback to business outcomes. Showing your employees through action that their feedback has yielded a great outcome, and they’ll be more likely to share in the future.
2. Feedback is coming in from outside of designated channels
What happens when an employee has feedback but isn’t sure how to report it? Or if they are not using the tools in place to share thoughts or ideas? The solution comes down to education. Employees can’t provide feedback if they don’t know where to go. And if they use a non-designated channel, you run the risk of losing vital information in the mix.
Don’t assume all your employees know how and where to give feedback. Find ways to share your channels consistently and push the systems you have in place. Be clear and direct about the type of feedback you want. Coupling that with a digital communication tool (we know a great one!) can keep all your communication channels in one place and promote a culture of feedback with your staff.
3. Feedback is all the same
If you keep receiving the same feedback over and over from your employees, it’s not them. It’s you. Chances are there is a blind spot, or programs and processes in place may not be working to your advantage. If you receive the same feedback time and again from your team, it could mean one of three things:
- There are significant issues that need addressing
- You’re not processing feedback properly, and crucial feedback is going unactioned
- There may be some groupthink or hive mind inadvertently happening, and employees are hesitant to share their dissenting views
And that last one is particularly troubling. When combating employee groupthink, diversity may be the answer. Broadening your feedback channels and finding creative solutions can lead to better business decisions. Strong D&I efforts in the workplace foster high levels of engagement and a strong sense of belonging, and inclusive teams reportedly make better decisions 87% of the time. Bringing in different voices to help make decisions can help you avoid costly mistakes and smartly identify missed opportunities.
4. Feedback is getting lost, forgotten, or ignored
Now let’s go back to the issue we mentioned above – not processing feedback properly. Feedback loops are only as effective as the action you take afterward. Action is as vital as collecting the information itself. Inaction around collected information is a miss at the head office level and demonstrates a break in the process. If your organization doesn’t have the tools to capture and act on shared feedback, you risk alienating team members – not to mention miss out on valuable ideas that could drive better business outcomes. Plus, companies that collect and act on feedback are more likely to retain their employees.
And we know – processing feedback when you have hundreds of thousands of frontline employees can seem daunting. But these tips on acting on feedback at scale can help!
5. Your feedback flow is uneven…
Certain feedback loops you promote may function better than others. Some may bring great feedback, while others…not so much. But if you’re not collecting inputs from various sources, you’re not getting a complete picture.
Here, we share different types of feedback that you should be collecting. If you find that you’re receiving one kind of feedback most often (such as manager performance) and not enough of others (like knowledge sharing), then that’s your cue to intervene. Go deep into these areas, and use these tips on tracking and improving employee feedback programs on an ongoing basis.
6. …or feedback dries up altogether
Despite having these multiple channels in place, what happens when feedback stops coming in at a steady pace?
When the feedback stream stops flowing, there isn’t enough information for you, as a leader, to use to create new inputs for your processes. Without insight into your team, you won’t have a way of knowing what is and isn’t working. You will have a harder time reporting back about programs or finding ways to improve customer service. Not only does your team stall, but on a larger scale, your company’s overall growth may take a hit.
With deskless employees, finding ways to receive feedback continually is critical. They are the source of truth for an organization’s frontline problems. They’re your direct line into what’s working and what isn’t. Avoid losing touch with this vital resource.
If you find your well of feedback running dry, go back to the source. Whether it’s a widespread drought or specific channels that have stopped flowing, create more touchpoints with your employees, and be creative. Use mechanisms like surveys, Ask Me Anythings (AMAs), and build more face-to-face time into your days.
If that doesn’t help, look at the feedback culture you have in place. After all, you can’t have a strong feedback loop without having trust in place, and vice versa. When psychological safety is failing in a work environment, employees will believe there that they will face repercussions for providing upward feedback, voicing opposition, or making a minor error at work. As Stanford University instructor and executive coach Laura Delizonna, PhD., shares in a Q&A, “Frontline workers aren’t stupid. They’re not going to say things that are going to be poorly received or have negative consequences for them. They’ll stay silent.”
One final tip: collecting feedback is a daily responsibility. Avoid creating a culture where you only collect feedback once a year. In fact, according to one study, 58% of employees want more frequent employee engagement surveys.
When you open up opportunities for feedback, upward or otherwise, to all your employees, your chances of increased profitability and retention grow. But leaders must focus on making both giving and receiving feedback easier through technology and processes that encourage real-time sharing, ease of use, and closing the loop.