What is Actionable Feedback?

April 12, 2017

Feedback is difficult to get hold of, so you’d think that the feedback you receive will be worth all the effort you expended trying to collect it. Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll receive feedback that isn’t constructive or can’t be helped. This feedback can come from both employees and customers, for various reasons. Your customers probably aren’t going to write a novel for you, but the tendency to not report any issues or provide one-sentence feedback means that it’ll difficult to act on that feedback.

With employees, it’s more complicated and directly related to how people perceive their workmates and their superiors. A climate of fear is by far the worst situation to be in when asking for serious, constructive feedback, as employees will attempt to moderate their own feedback to avoid punishment. It’s simply more important to employees to protect their jobs in case someone takes offense to constructive criticism.

Sometimes this is just due to bad management that reinforces the unhealthy attitude that employees need to be kept in line through intimidation and fear, but realistically this can apply to anybody. Things that may be seen as socially transgressive by some employees, such as gender or sexual minority groups in leadership roles can also contribute to this attitude through prejudice.

We also need to define what makes good feedback different from bad. Constructive criticism is something that an individual or group can act on: that is, the feedback is actionable. Bad feedback issued to employees can include things like asking them to be more extroverted during meetings, or less anxious during customer service calls. Most of the time, these are characteristics inherent to the person that can’t be changed easily, or may sound like you’re asking them to change their personality solely for their job.

On the other hand, constructive feedback isn’t as simple as being positive. It doesn’t matter how you approach it if the feedback is about a perceived personality flaw, so unless they’re utterly unsuited to their job role it’s best to focus less on their personality quirks and more on the intended outcome of the feedback. Instead of suggesting that they’re “too introverted”, perhaps they might have good ideas to communicate that they just haven’t brought up yet.

Actionable feedback is a feedback approach lacking in the business world, as many managers would rather sugar coat their feedback to avoid offense or end up insulting their employees without realising it. Instead of focusing on personality traits that can’t be improved easily, focus on how the feedback can improve their confidence in their job role.

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