Why does an organization exist? In essence, to produce something, whether that is a product or a service. And in order to exist in the future, this production needs to be sustainable. It means providing high quality products and services at a reasonable cost (to the organization, the employee, the environment, and society). Two of the most important aspects in the organizational equation are the cost and the productivity of your personnel. As an organization, you want everyone to perform and produce optimally. You limit the cost side of the equation by ensuring a low staff turnover, low absenteeism, and stimulating (organizationally) proactive behaviors. And you improve performance by focusing on motivation, especially intrinsic motivation.
Sustainability is the key
When it comes to personnel, an emphasis on sustainability and sustainable employability is necessary. The sustainable qualities a team member brings to the table in a 21st century organization boil down to:
- Analytic qualities
- Creative qualities
- The ability to organize
- The ability to influence, including relationship-building skills
Challenge, facilitate, support
Analytic and creative qualities have both a general and an expertise-specific part to them, whereas the remaining two qualities are more general in nature. Part of a leader’s task is to challenge a team member to broaden the boundaries beyond the comfort zone they work in, and simultaneously, to facilitate and support the team member in this endeavor.
How does feedback fit into the sustainability picture?
The general problem with peer feedback is that it often feels like (or is) an excuse to lecture a colleague. When a leader stimulates team members to give each other feedback, what is he or she really asking? And why? When a team member isn’t functioning, for example, whose responsibility is it to address this issue? Feedback becomes interesting when it helps broaden a team member’s four sustainability qualities. The feedback team members really require is the knowledge that what they produce meets expectations, and that the way they produce their results is sustainable—for themselves, for team resources, and for organizational resources.
This means four different kinds of feedback are necessary.
Meeting end-user expectations
The obvious persons to ask for feedback regarding end-user expectations are the end-users themselves, perhaps using interviews or questionnaires with standardized questions regarding quality, service, and support, for example. Ideally, the organization’s quality controller should give feedback, too, or an expert who is able to assess the delivered product or service and suggest improvements. The focus should be on mastery, as discussed in a previous blog.
This region is about stimulating the four sustainability aspects above (analysis, creativity, organizing, and influence) and is a task for both the team leader and the human resources department. An ideal strategy is transformational leadership, supported by good career development, via coaching by the HR-department. Under organizing skills, you should also help the team member consider their own personal resources in terms of time and energy: does the energy expended balance the energy their work gives them (burn-out prevention)?
These days, products and services are seldom the result of individual endeavors—they are the result of collaboration. In the first instance, it occurs with the own team members; but intra-organizational and sometimes even extra-organizational collaboration may be involved as well. Feedback gathered from collaborators is the ideal source, yet the way it is collected should preferably be via anonymous questionnaires. Subjects questioned could include relationship skills, how they rate the team member’s expertise, accuracy and timeliness, for example. The main reason to use anonymous data is to prevent feedback from either being a pat-on-the-back on one extreme, to a dressing-down on the other end of the scale. Anonymity increases the chance for honest answers, which provides an accurate form of feedback. Who should discuss the results with the team member? Probably an independent coach from the HR department, or the transformational leader who is able to keep the focus of the conversation on mastery and sustainability.
In terms of organizational resources, feedback may be as simple as statements of actual costs versus budget, or some other way of determining whether the expended organizational resources match with the delivered product or service. The team or project leader is probably the person to give this kind of feedback.
Needless to say, none of these forms of feedback are one-offs. Rather, they are a continuous stream of information to aid the team member in being excellent, developing themselves, and remaining sustainably employable. The trick is to find the balance between too little and too much, and that it isn’t a chore or something needing to be ticked off the to-do-list.
Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on the 9th of December, 2019.