The Importance of Feedback in People Development

We see too many clients who have gaping holes in their business purely as a result of not having training or development programmes in place for their people. It’s a simple equation, without training and development people do not progress and grow and anyone who is any good will simply move on to different pastures leaving the business with people who are loyal, but aren’t going to set the world on fire.

If businesses are going to lead their markets they must be committed to training and developing their biggest asset – their people and within that category, in particular, their management.

Let’s examine this a little more closely and look at one ‘tool’ in the trainer’s toolbox – feedback. Why is feedback important to the development of an individual? People with little self-awareness are often puzzled by the behaviour of other people towards them. They might ask themselves ‘Why don’t people involve me in casual conversations?’ ‘Why is it me that ends up in heated arguments?’ ‘Why didn’t I get chosen to lead this project – I am far more knowledgeable than the person who was picked?’

Feedback from management and subordinates (if relevant) and peers can help enormously when a problem like this exists. Getting feedback from (let’s say) a dozen people, from different positions and different relationships with the individual, provides compelling evidence as the individual’s manager or trainer is able to compare the individual’s self-ratings with those of people around him or her. Combined with accountability this provides a strong impetus for the individual to change – because not everyone can be wrong!

In our experience, people are sometimes pleasantly surprised by the differences between their own opinions of themselves and the observations of others. There are usually a few pieces of feedback that are confusing and cause the individual to question, “Why would someone think that?” However, all of this is good because it expands their self-awareness and they learn more about their strengths and weaknesses. As a result, the world that they are experiencing makes much more sense to them. You also find that the person will reflect on a particular comment or piece of feedback and say something like ‘I have heard that before – my partner often says that about me but, to be honest, I never thought it was that important’.

In Management when a number of people collectively observe that the leader isn’t a good listener, for example, the message is much louder and much clearer. Engaging others in providing their opinions on an individual and feeding this back to the person underscores the seriousness and credibility of the feedback.

It is important to maintain anonymity in the process not revealing the names of the individuals who have provided the feedback but more from which part of the company they come. This means that the feedback is requested from the individual’s colleagues only on the understanding that all feedback would be confidential. The result of this approach is a far greater honesty and candour from the participants and a more accurate portrayal of how the world sees the individual who is being assessed. We have handled this process many times and we have almost never seen messages that are intentionally barbed or mean-spirited, so accuracy is not compromised by emotion.

As we often say, to improve any business, changes need to happen regularly. A powerful feedback process for trainees, when done right, greatly increases the chances that change will occur. When people find out that others see them differently than they intend or want to be seen, they have a simple choice, either they redefine how they see themselves, or they change their behaviour.

As an example, if others tell me that I’m too set in my ways and don’t listen to a different viewpoint, the next time I’m in a discussion about a controversial topic, I will be more inclined to stop myself and listen. If I continue to argue and hold tight to my views, I’ll be faced with the realisation that the others’ perceptions of me were correct.

Embark on this as a company-wide exercise – there is an increased likelihood of change if a number of people go through this together. Re-enforcement from the group makes it easier for everyone involved to be more receptive to new ideas and feedback. This is why working with a coach can help a manager to change; the coach holds leaders accountable for their commitments to change their behaviour and follows up to see if they have.

Another good reason for a person in management to change their behaviour is that by doing so they will see a definite positive impact on measurable outcomes, such as the engagement and improvement in effort from their reports. When managers understand that altering the way they lead can result in better performance, they’re much more likely to follow through.

With ongoing and regular training through a well-rehearsed feedback process, the retention of valued employees, the level of customer satisfaction, company profitability, productivity, and employee engagement all improve significantly.

Take a look at the graph below. This shows the results from assessments on nearly 100,000 managers. Each manager was rated by their direct reports on 49 behaviours that differentiate poor leaders from great ones. The horizontal axis is the average score on these behaviours — an overall leadership effectiveness index. The vertical axis shows employee engagement (e.g. satisfaction and commitment) from the leader’s direct reports. Note that for every decile of improvement in overall leadership effectiveness, engagement increases by more than five percentile points.

More-Effective Leaders Have More-Engaged Direct Reports

For every decile of improvement on overall effectiveness, engagement increases by more than five percentile points, according to data from 97,000 leadership assessments.

Source: Zenger Folkman, 2020

When a leader improves their effectiveness, it doesn’t just benefit them or their direct reports. Other people throughout the organisation benefit, too. As one leader improves others are motivated to do the same, creating a ripple effect that lasts over time.

In fact, all levels of leadership in an organisation are influenced by the collective capability of the top team. Research shows that if the top team scores just above average in overall leadership effectiveness, each successive layer below them will have lower scores. In contrast, if the top team has aggregate scores at the 80th percentile, it creates an “upsurge” in the organisation, and scores are higher at every level. This illustrates that investing in development and particularly leadership development can pay big dividends. What better influence can a senior team have on a company than to make clear that the top team is collectively working on becoming more effective in their roles?

To get these outcomes training and feedback as part of the process has to be implemented in a way that engages leaders, so they are compelled and motivated to become better leaders. When leaders learn through feedback whether others’ perceptions of them are different to their own, identify a weakness to fix or a strength to build and understand if their leadership is affecting the productivity and engagement of their direct reports, they can use — and act on — that information. This improves them and the Company in the process.

For advice and help on how to train and develop your Management and People more effectively contact us at, or call on 0116 232 5231


The Tinderbox Team