The Illusion Of Employee Feedback

At some point in the not too distant past, places of employment started asking their employees for feedback. It became standard operating procedure for bosses or departments to have their minions fill out questionnaires. They almost made it mandatory. I can't imagine they really cared, but it seemed reasonable that they would want feedback. After all, workers know plenty about how things really work in the trenches and bosses are often out of touch.

I get tickled when I'm sitting in a meeting and I hear that some department head or vice president of large salaries wants me to fill out a survey. "Guys, we really need your feedback here to work on our continuous improvement model." Those questionnaires remind me of calling the phone number on the bottom of a restaurant receipt, "Do you strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, or strongly agree?" Do I care about those work surveys? Not so much; I'm on to their game. In fact, I won't fill out surveys like these anymore.

These higher-ups really don't want my feedback. I wish they'd just stop pretending. What they want is the illusion of feedback. Companies want to be able to say they sought feedback from their "stakeholders"or "associates" or whatever they call the workforce. They may give me a questionnaire, so technically they did ask me for my opinion, that is if my answer is one of their choices. Now ACTING on the feedback is something quite different. I have taken, or ignored, many surveys and I have never, not once, sat in a meeting and heard these words. "Based on the feedback we've received, we have decided to implement some modifications to some of our systems and policies." That would be sweet but I'm not holding my breath.

Feedback that is solicited is sketchy. At the local sub shop the completed survey gets me a free drink and a bag of chips with any small sandwich I purchase. At least there they give you something for your answers. I don't know whether they do anything with the data, but at least I can stop thinking about it as I munch on some tasty chips and sip my iced-cold Pepsi. (I don't really drink Pepsi, I just feel sorry for it.) When work asks for feedback, the data seems to get sucked into a black hole.

Although I've seen lots of impressive and colorful charts in my meetings, I don't think our employee feedback has ever been quite as disseminated as the data involving sales, or test scores, or whatever fits your workplace. Sometimes, our feedback is displayed on a fancy PowerPoint, or Prezi, or in a fancy spiral binding. But, then what? What are you going to do with our feedback? Answer: Crickets. If the feedback your workplace asked for is not going to bring about change or improvement, then the sad truth is that the feedback is not valued.

If an employee feels strongly enough to really articulate some well thought out feedback and either writes it in an email or letter, someone needs to listen seriously to that person. I'm not talking about people whining around the coffee pot. There are always some of those types, I get it. But if an employee spends their valuable time to discuss an issue in an intelligent way, bosses really should listen. In fact, a systems check should always be sought from the longest tenured employees, they know what is happening, for real.

Once, on the comment section of a survey, I wrote seven sentences in perfect backwards cursive (It's a very useless skill, but I'm proud of it for some reason). In the reflection of a mirror, it looks perfect and is easy to read. Above the comments, I wrote "to read, hold in front of a mirror and read reflection." I never heard a peep! How can that be? Man, it was awesome and impressive. Oh, and my feedback was good too. Just proved my point.

Survey making people, please stop pretending you want our feedback for any real purpose other than to say you asked us for it. If you do compile and study the results, let us know what you are going to do with our input. Please? If you don't, you're wasting our time and your productivity. Think about it.

To any vice-president of HR that may be reading this, there's a little free feedback for you right there. You're welcome.

Follow Bill on Twitter @billyflan