As consumers we now take for granted the ability to provide instant feedback about our interactions and transactions with all kinds of businesses. Think of the review and feedback opportunities available to us within online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. Sharing economy businesses such as Uber and AirBnB rely on the rating of drivers, passengers, accommodation and guests as part of their business model, helping ensure consistently high quality experiences. Even on the high street there is evidence that things are moving in a similar direction; retail brands are starting to position feedback terminals at the exits of their stores to allow us to provide quick, on-the spot, anonymous feedback – capturing our opinions ‘in the moment’ while the shopping experience is still fresh in our minds.
Yet, this isn’t usually the case in our working lives where – in the main – companies collect employee feedback annually (or not at all) and reviews happen within the same timeframe. Research by Questback suggests that 90% of organisations only ever run employee feedback surveys once a year or every other year. There is often little opportunity for staff to provide broader feedback that drives decision-making about their place of work. For example, less than half (45%) of the organisations polled in the research use employee feedback to ensure that staff are aligned to strategic priorities and goals and just 48% applied staff feedback to improve business processes.
Team Sky and GE pioneer instant feedback
Thankfully, things are beginning to change. Some forward looking organisations are now starting to wake up to the advantages of capturing employee feedback more regularly using web and mobile channels. General Electric (GE) enables its 300,000 employees worldwide to receive instant feedback about their performance 24 hours a day through an app available on employees’ phones and other devices.
Continuous employee feedback of this kind can be applied to any number of different organisational settings. Professional cycling team, Team Sky, puts down much of its success, including winning the Tour de France, to a focus on capturing and using always-on feedback from everyone within the organisation. Its Winning Behaviours smartphone app sets out the key behaviours expected of the entire team, with individuals providing regular self-evaluation on their own performance and where they could improve on each area. It was deliberately kept simple and quick – with a range of emoticons, from happy to sad faces used to deliver feedback. This is backed up by regular meetings where feedback is discussed in more detail.
The benefits of the continuous feedback approach include being able to capture people’s views and insights quickly in order to identify and address problems before they escalate. An open continuous channel for feedback is more likely to encourage employees - who are often closest to specific problems – to come up with suggestions on how they can be fixed. There is also a general feeling among experts that providing frequent opportunities to provide feedback can boost engagement with younger staff – especially millennials – who were raised on instant communications such as text and online messaging tools.
The obstacles to instant feedback
However, implementing a continuous feedback model is not without its challenges. At Questback we’re fortunate to work with some of the world’s most innovative corporations when it comes to HR and engagement. Over the last 18 months a number of these have been adopting continuous feedback approaches using our software and it’s given us the opportunity to reflect on where the market is heading. Whilst every organisation has its own context it seems that there are some common hurdles to overcome:
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- You need to be agile and responsive enough to act quickly on feedback received through this channel – in real-time, not on in the old ‘annual survey’ way of doing things. If you can’t act fast enough then you will miss out on much of the benefit of gathering these real-time insights. If they feel that their suggestions are falling on deaf ears, employees will eventually give up on providing feedback and may be demotivated by the whole process.
- Similarly there is a risk that your organisation can potentially be overwhelmed with the mass of feedback you could receive if everyone responds at once. If you don’t have tools and systems in place to sift through the data and make sense of it – or it takes too long to do it – then again the benefits are missed.
- You can’t use continuous feedback on its own. It provides a snapshot of particular areas or moments in time, rather than the whole picture. You therefore need to be able to integrate this always-on feedback stream with other feedback sources (such as appraisals and more formal surveys) to generate a holistic view of employee insights.
The trend towards always on feedback is very positive with high profile organisations such as GE and Team Sky benefiting from the difference it can make. However, to be successful it is important that organisations introduce it in a considered and planned way. They need to have the right framework in place to help make data analysis swift, comprehensive, and easy, otherwise organisations will miss key trends and behaviour that affect their business – or spot them too late. It cannot be relied on in isolation and needs to be integrated with overall Voice of the Employee programmes to deliver real benefits that will increase engagement, insight and overall business performance.
About Paul Barnes
An experienced software leader, Paul Barnes has proven expertise in growing technology businesses, with a particular focus on the customer experience market. He is currently UK Country Manager of enterprise feedback management (EFM) leader QuestBack. Prior to this he was VP Operations at multichannel customer interaction management software vendor Eptica.
Paul has been at the forefront of innovation in the customer experience sector since 2000. One of the founders of speech recognition application pioneer Fluency Voice Technology, he subsequently established the UK business of multichannel and multilingual customer interaction management software provider Eptica. He has been involved in some of the largest customer experience transformation projects in the UK in sectors such as retail, banking, insurance and tourism. He is a qualified Chartered Accountant.