Feedback is the killer app

Feedback is the new killer app

Posted by Josh Bersin on September 3, 2015. Originally published on Forbes

Over the last several years, we’ve pointed out that employee engagement, culture, and gaps in the leadership pipeline have become top talent issues around the world.[1] More than 80% of all companies struggle to define their culture and only 17% feel they have a good handle on the engagement issues among their workforce.

At the same time these issues rise to the top, so does our frustration with the annual performance management process. As we like to think of it, “performance management is management” – so when we give managers a complicated, rigid process for evaluation of people, we essentially make management harder (or less effective). No wonder more than 60% of all companies are in a redesign of the appraisal process.

Well I would suggest that a new “killer app” has emerged: Feedback. A new category of HR software is unleashing the power of feedback in all areas of business, HR, and management.

What am I talking about? It’s very simple. Ask anyone in your company to tell you what you could do better and you’ll likely get an earful. We all have opinions about how we could better serve customers, how we could better pay and manage our people, and how we could make our workplace more productive, enjoyable, and safe.

Where are all these powerful ideas and suggestions going? In most companies, nowhere. People are often afraid to speak up (I know this, I’ve talked with dozens of companies), middle managers are unwilling or afraid to hear what they don’t want to hear, and CEOs and other top business leaders get filtered information.

I talked with a software executive recently who told me a frightening story of his last company and how it was acquired. Their product, which played in the telecommunications space, was intended to be integrated into the acquiring company’s product line. But after a year of work, the engineering team became distracted (poor management) and eventually the product became so unusable that he believed it simply would not work. He asked his engineering team what they thought and 90% of them told him “this will never work.” But they plugged ahead and tried to finish it on time.

Why didn’t they speak up? In that particular company, people were afraid to deliver bad news – so this particular executive got the courage to meet with the senior VP and tell him what the team believed. What happened? The company cancelled the product and these engineers were able to redeploy to new areas.

This kind of thing is happening in companies all the time – but people are afraid to speak up, they worry about their mangers labeling them as “trouble makers,” or they simply are too shy to talk with upper management.

Well this problem is about to go away. A new breed of pulse survey, always-on, and anonymous feedback tools has hit the market – allowing companies to “rate their boss” and “share their opinions” in an open and honest way. Is it scary for HR and business leaders? Yes, it is to a degree because some of the “feedback” may not be positive. But don’t we want to continuously improve, so shouldn’t we just make this as easy and open as possible?

Websites like Glassdoor, Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter are exploding with unfiltered feedback – why don’t we just give our people an opportunity to provide this to us in a managed, respectful way? Our research on High-Impact Learning Culture found that the #1 driver of innovation and business growth is “willingness to listen to bad news.” These tools open up that channel, in a managed and scalable way.

Think about your own company’s culture and tools for feedback – are you really listening to what your people have to say? A new era has emerged, and I encourage you to jump in.

To learn more, read the detailed article I wrote on Forbes, located here.[2]

I look forward to hearing from you on this important topic.

Josh Bersin is the founder and a principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Josh is a published author on Forbes, a LinkedIn Influencer, and has appeared on Bloomberg, NPR, and The Wall Street Journal, and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. You can contact Josh on Twitter at @josh_bersin and follow him at Josh’s personal blog is at

[1]. Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2015


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