Feedback: why most of us fail at It!
Passionately developing careers.

Leadership and Management Blogs

Feedback: why most of us fail at It!

  Dec 6 2015

# Leadership and Management


By Samer K. Taher

Managing Director - Meirc Training & Consulting

It is ironic that one of the most used terms in management today is one of the most misunderstood. If you ask someone to define feedback, you will get all sorts of definitions with none, unfortunately, being close to half accurate.

You have the lot who confuse feedback with opinion and that is completely inaccurate. An opinion is a subjective statement about anything or anyone. It is not subject to any criteria except the point of view of the person providing it. As such it cannot be wrong, simply because it is a depiction of how someone sees something from their own perspective or point of view. Under no circumstances should an opinion be challenged for accuracy simply because it is just that - an opinion. If I'm asked about my opinion about a certain book, movie or individual then whatever I choose to say is not subject to challenge. You may have a different opinion and your opinion may have more supporters, still, this does not render my opinion wrong.

Then there are those who use feedback interchangeably with assessment, evaluation or appraisal, which once again couldn't be farther from being accurate. An assessment, evaluation or appraisal is an objective statement about something or someone based on a certain criterion or a set thereof. Such a statement can only be provided at the end of an act or a process and never during. If I'm asked to provide an assessment of a movie then I would need to establish what criteria I am evaluating the movie against. Without such criteria and unless I've seen the whole movie, providing judgement or evaluation of the movie is an exercise in futility. Similarly, if one wanted to appraise the performance of an individual, one would need to define the performance criteria and then wait until the performance (or the period during which it took place) has ended before completing the appraisal. Providing an appraisal without performance criteria or before the end of the period would render the appraisal unjust or inaccurate to say the least.

So if feedback is neither an opinion nor an evaluation, what would be a fair explanation of its meaning?

Google defines feedback as "information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement."

Merriam-Webster defines it as "helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc."

Although both definitions are academically correct they don't really help us understand what feedback is exactly from a practical and "standard" perspective.

Feedback is a three-pronged statement about an act or a performance which aphids be given using the following sequence:

  1. What you liked about the performance and why,
  2. What you did not like about the performance and why,
  3. What recommendations you suggest for improvement, going forward.

This last bit is what many pundits refer to as feed forward, which practically speaking is the most value-adding component of professional feedback.

So back to our movie, if I'm asked to provide feedback about a movie, my feedback would be as follows :

"I liked the movie because it had an interesting plot which kept me glued to my seat. Having said that, I did not like the action scenes because I felt they were too bloody and violent and that made me cringe frequently. In the future, less focus on action and more attention to real acting would significantly improve the movie's viewership."

Along the same lines, feedback on someone's performance could look like the following:

"Your overall sales figures were excellent because they were above target and this will help the company's bottom line. The revenue you generated from existing clients was unacceptable because it went down by 15% and this will reduce our profitability. Going forward, I suggest that you focus on your existing relationships while growing the new ones so the improvements can be across all areas."

That is what true feedback should look like.

Now, to see if I was successful in winning you over (or not), why don't you give me your feedback about the above!