Feedback can be considered one of the main components of success. That’s because it offers us the unique opportunity to understand what went well and what didn’t. It helps us gather different viewpoints on how we can improve. But how often do you think about external feedback?
As an HR leader, if you are able to build a strong culture of feedback, you will see that teams become more open, communication skills improve, and there is greater alignment with company goals.
However, giving and receiving feedback is not the most common practice in all organizations. People often fear giving feedback and/or dread receiving it.
Yet, if we want to improve in anything that we’re doing – whether that is a skill or a project, and take away valuable learnings, we need to not only learn how to be open to feedback and how to give it but also how to establish it as a serious, ongoing process in our organizations.
And we’re not talking only about feedback between peers. Working in an agency, for example, poses certain challenges when gathering feedback from clients or contractors because they are technically not part of your day-to-day ecosystem.
It’s difficult to know how your external parties feel about the work of specific individuals they collaborate with from your organization, especially before a project is over. The same goes for freelancers and other contractors that your organization works with on a regular basis.
This article is dedicated to helping you understand the value of requesting external feedback to improve learning and outlines how you can streamline that process within the workflow of your organization.
What is external feedback?
External feedback is information that we receive from outside of ourselves (such as coaching) or outside of an organization (such as customers). It provides valuable information on behavior or business practices and patterns as perceived from the outside.
This degree of separation can help shed light on areas that could otherwise go unnoticed. And taking the steps to analyze and act on external feedback can make a huge impact on both business and personal growth.
Examples of external feedback
External feedback is the information that an organization receives from outside sources. Here are some examples:
- Feedback from partners
- Feedback from external vendors
- Feedback from a coach
Internal vs. external feedback
Much like intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, internal and external feedback function differently.
Internal feedback is the information we solicit and receive from individuals within our organization. Examples of internal feedback include employee engagement surveys, peer feedback, and 360 reviews.
On the other hand, external feedback comes from outside of the organization. As we mentioned above, this can be through feedback from partners, vendors, or coaches.
Why is external feedback so important?
To start with, organizations often understand the value of feedback, yet underuse it. Especially in cases where they work with external parties, they tend to either not collect feedback about individual performance or focus on gathering insights through vague general questionnaires in email form.
That’s not an effective method to learn and improve. The problem with that approach is that:
a) every project and client is different (so these surveys should be customized to an extent)
b) the feedback is often solely about the project itself not about how people collaborated with one another or how working with certain individuals was
c) the feedback collection happens after a project is done so if there was something going wrong throughout the process, no one could have reacted on time
Feedback should be looked at as an ongoing process, a loop if you will, in order to continuously learn, iterate, and improve. It’s not about crucifying people or judging mistakes that happened along the way.
Instead, feedback should be embraced as a mechanism to spark meaningful connections about what is going right so your people can continue to do it, and/or discuss what needs attention so it can be corrected before it’s too late.
There are several benefits to adopting the process of requesting external feedback. Here are some of them:
- It introduces a continuous learning curve so improvement never stops — your people are in a constant state of iteration to create their best work possible.
- When requesting feedback from people who are not part of your organization, teams get different objective feedback about projects and individuals.
- A holistic picture is painted of how teams and individuals work together internally as well as how they collaborate with others outside the organization. One can understand how your establishment is being presented and how the whole working relationship with clients can be improved.
- Individuals working on team-based projects get personalized feedback on how they are performing throughout the whole process. That’s important because it can pinpoint what skills and competencies certain individuals can improve.
- For longer projects, you don’t have to wait until the end of the project to be over to obtain insights. Teams and individuals gain more frequent checkpoints.
- It can also save costs and improve efficiency. Many longer-term projects have BIG budgets and waiting a year to get the feedback could be financially devastating.
How to give external feedback
Pay special attention to the questions
The questions within your external survey are key to gathering the right feedback. They are what will determine the quality of the feedback you receive. If you keep it shorter, there’s also a big chance that it will affect completion rates positively.
You should keep in mind that managers or project owners might want to customize certain questions to gain insights about specific aspects of a project and/or individuals.
That’s why it’s important to let managers and project owners compose their own questions, with your guidance if you see fit, in order to actually learn about what matters most and involve them in the process. Flexibility is important.
Also don’t forget that when asking questions, it’s important to create them in a more engaging and less formal way. On one hand, you assure that people understand what they’re actually being asked. On the other hand, you break down the mental barrier for them to be more honest and genuine with their answers. After all, you’re speaking to a human who will be inclined to answer to the best of their abilities.
Plan out the different stages of the process
Distribute the feedback to everyone involved externally and internally at the same time. For example, if you worked on a project with several external stakeholders, urge managers to compile their questions and then send out the feedback request straight away to everyone at once.
Delaying feedback is not ideal as studies have shown that the longer you wait to give feedback, the less accurate it will be. People tend to forget things the more time passes by. Having everyone provide feedback at the same time is crucial as impressions will be still fresh and feedback will be gathered in one go.
To ensure you gather as much feedback as possible and know that we are all very busy at work, sending a reminder to all survey participants will bring the feedback request to the top of your mind. That way you follow up and make sure the feedback requests don’t go unfilled. You can also customize the message to make sure your reminder is personal and well-thought-out.
Once you’ve collected the feedback you can focus on documenting and storing all the information in one place. That will benefit individuals and their managers greatly as they can arrange a 1:1 to discuss the results of the survey.
Create an external feedback loop
You should aim to create an external feedback process in a place that can be easily replicated so that eventually there’s an established continuous learning loop. That makes the process scalable.
As this process will provide team members with valuable feedback throughout the year, they will have a better idea of their performance and where they stand. This will feed the annual performance reviews and teams won’t fall into the trap of receiving feedback only once a year about projects they worked on with external parties.
Start by mapping out how you can build this feedback process into the existing workflows of managers and their teams. The idea is that you want to create as few barriers as possible in order to increase adoption.
Managers have busy schedules so a complicated process that eats up a lot of their time will not encourage adoption. That’s why making use of tools and integrations that fit into their day-to-day operations will help you and them greatly.
Don’t forget to share important insights from these employee engagement surveys within and across teams in order to optimize and accelerate learning. There’s really no point in gathering external feedback if no one will act on it and if no one will learn from it.
Start gathering external feedback
Gathering external feedback is not as simple as just sending out a generic survey to parties outside of your organization. Also, you can’t have a “one size fits all” approach to this process.
It’s a process that needs customizing and conscious effort to create in order to get feedback that is actually valuable to teams and their managers. Since it involves people outside of your organization, you need to think about how you and your managers can involve these parties and merge that with the existing workflow teams currently have.
Our advice is to pay attention to the following when setting out to create a continuous learning loop through external feedback:
- Be mindful of which feedback requests can be reused and which ones need some customizing. Every project is different so a lot of the questions you share with external stakeholders will have to be tailored.
- Craft your questions with genuine curiosity and in a less formal way. That will help with participation rates and the quality of the answers.
- Don’t wait too long to send out questions since the longer you wait, the more people forget. Send in batches to speed up the process.
- Remember to document and store all information in one place so it’s easily accessible at any time.
- Make sure before you even start sending out feedback requests to map out how you can incorporate this into the workflow of teams as easily as possible so there’s a low barrier to adoption.
The future of work is changing and moving quickly. We know that your workforce is learning how to adapt to change, uncertainty, and the unknown ahead.
In order to thrive, your workforce needs to be able to openly ask for feedback. But underneath every feedback mechanism is a bedrock of psychological safety, inclusive leadership, and trust. In order to garner meaningful feedback, your workforce needs meaningful connections.
BetterUp can help. With BetterUp, you can unlock the full potential of your workforce to start building a better tomorrow.