This article is part of our collection on Leadership and Management
Honest feedback can save a business, but SME owners who fail to seek out and listen to comments about their business miss out on the opportunities and solutions it provides. How should you be asking for feedback, and from who?
Last updated: 11 Apr 2020 6 min read
When staff have the chance to give feedback, they tend to feel more valued – especially when they can see the things that are important to them being acted upon. Customer generation platform MVF, for example, was voted the Sunday Times’ second best mid-sized company to work for in 2018 – thanks in part to their commitment to staff feedback. They have a platform where staff can give feedback to anyone in the business – or actively request it – and they also use a tool called Peakon, which allows employees to send feedback to management.
“It sounds cheesy, but our slogan in our bespoke management training course is ‘Feedback is a gift’,” says PR director Grace Garland. “We have lots of open channels for feedback within the company, and this contributed to 94% of our staff saying that they feel their manager talks openly and honestly with them.”
Many businesses actively seek out feedback from staff – such as 111-year-old ice-cream brand Jannettas Gelateria, whose owner Nicola Hazel explains that staff have the opportunity to give feedback in person, on the company’s private social media pages or through a suggestions box. “Feedback is crucial,” says Hazel. “It can help to sustain continued customer satisfaction, the quality of our produce, staff engagement and ultimately stimulate growth for ourselves and the local economy.”
Richard Blanford, founder of managed cloud services and IT consultancy Fordway Solutions, says the best way to ask staff for feedback is to ensure they know that, whatever they say, they’re doing so in a safe environment – and that they also know you’ll consider their comments and, ideally, act upon them.
Blanford gets feedback in several ways, a key one being an annual anonymous survey that features over 70 questions, with lots of room for comments. “Being anonymous, it allows quieter voices in the office to have their say knowing there’s no comeback and that it’s going to be reviewed,” he says.
As for acting on the feedback, he looks for recurring themes: “If one person’s saying something, it’s interesting; if 10 are, it carries more weight. We also look at the urgency and practicality – some things are for the long term, other times we can make small changes immediately that will make a difference.”
Partners should regularly be asking each other for feedback, according to Jon Lucas and Jake Madders, who founded cloud-computing specialist Hyve Managed Hosting together in 2001. They say that partnerships need to be rock-solid for honest feedback to flow, however. “If your partner is someone you have to dress up the truth for,” says Madders, “then it’s likely that they’re not the right person to work with.”
Lucas adds: “In the early days of Hyve, Jake would sometimes speak to customers in very precise detail about our hardware. He was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the technology and wanted customers to hear about it, but I think sometimes it overwhelmed them. I gave him this feedback and he realised that this perhaps was too involved for some customer meetings.”
Madders took this on board, and it improved communications with potential clients. In turn, Madders told Lucas that he should perhaps be looking at the bigger picture rather than just development and coding. “Discussing this really helped us move the business forward,” says Madders.
Claire Bridges, founder of creativity training company Now Go Create, asks delegates to fill in a feedback form when they’ve completed one of her courses. “Your customers’ feedback is vital,” she says. “We’ve actually created new courses – resulting in new business – off the back of what they’ve said.”
If a comment surprises you, don’t panic. “Everybody’s experience is different – so try and look for obvious trends before reacting,” Bridges says.
“You’ve got to be able to listen. There’s no point having a mentor if you’re determined to do everything your own way”Jo Fleming, founder, Yorkshire Staffing Services
Customer comments can certainly offer glimmers of gold: Daena Borrowman, of online jewellery retailer jewellerybox, says that feedback from customers (which they specifically ask for, by email) has led to the company taking more photographs of their items worn by models, because buyers said they liked them. The team at Maxwell Scott, a Yorkshire-based luxury leather brand, meanwhile, says that feedback has inspired one of its new collections.
There are a multitude of ways to ask for feedback. Property management software company Arthur Online, for example, offers training days to clients – which doubles up as a perfect chance to get direct feedback from users. Retailer United Carpets and Beds in Birmingham asks sales staff to each call up 20 people they sold to that month and ask for feedback – using a simple scoring system. The salesperson with the highest score wins a prize.
Warren Davies, founder and CEO of IT specialists Utilize, says: “I look at feedback like the way a ship’s sonar works. The path you’ve agreed to take needs constant fine-tuning, and without continuous feedback, you won’t know how to get to the target.”
Business owners often avoid feedback because they don’t like hearing negative critiques, says Jo Fleming, founder of employment agency Yorkshire Staffing Services. The answer, she says, could be a mentor who knows your industry and whose comments are genuinely insightful. “But you’ve got to be able to listen, and let them help. There’s no point having a mentor if you’re determined to do everything your own way.”
Fleming’s own mentor nudged her towards a number of different working practices and goals that have greatly benefited the business. “I’d probably otherwise have kept on trying to do things the wrong way,” Fleming says.
Ask mentors about areas you’re not sure about and lean on their experience. You don’t have to act on every bit of feedback they give you – Fleming says it’s more important that you work together to find solutions that are right for you.
Workplace expert Amrit Sandhar, founder of business support company The Engagement Coach, shares his top tips.
Leadership and Management