Our central nervous system plays a critical role in sending important information from the body to the brain. The brain, in turn, sends information back to the body to take the appropriate action. This feedback loop between body and brain is critical to an organism’s survival. Similarly, organizations need important information to flow between employees and leadership. This feedback is also critical to the organization’s survival. However, this is largely broken in many mid to large sized organizations.
Employee Feedback is an Organization’s Information Nervous System
Our central nervous system comprises millions of feedback loops between cells and the brain. Cells are organized in a way that allows for new information to be collected, transmitted, processed, and actioned. Place your hand on a hot stove and a pain message gets sent to your brain. Your brain moves your hand off the stove and the cells in your hand send a new message that danger is averted, but maybe do something to soothe the burn.
We can also use this as an analogy for the corporate information nervous system.
An organization’s employees know 100% of the organization’s problems, whether they’re related to customer experience, employee engagement, or operational inefficiencies. But unfortunately, organizational communication isn’t as effective as our own central nervous system. Many organizations are not equipped to gather information efficiently from all levels of the organization.
Sidney Yoshida first coined the term “iceberg of ignorance” as a way to describe how knowledge of problems does not travel up the hierarchy. In his study, leadership could only identify 4% of the organizational problems known to frontline employees. It’s scary to think that so few problems are known or understood by the very people responsible for taking action. Can you imagine if our brain only knew 4% of the problems our cells were aware of? Yet, that’s how many organizations try to operate today.
Feedback Enables the Agile Adaptation Needed for Today’s Constantly Changing Environment
Mid and large sized organizations need information to flow from their frontline, where most primary information is collected, to the central processing area — the brain/C-suite where decisions are made. To accomplish this, leadership needs to take an active role in soliciting input from the frontline.
One example of actively soliciting input from employees is the Genba (or Gemba) Walk. It’s a lean management philosophy that attempts to increase information gathering from where value is created at the frontline. Classically, a Genba has been a physical location where managers should regularly visit to gain insight into the processes that create value. Every organization has a Genba — the place they create value — but the location of that Genba is different for almost every business. In manufacturing, the Genba is on the factory floor. In retail, the Genba is in the store. In a hospital the Genba, is in the patients’ rooms.
This paper is another example and looks at how front line employees can be empowered to act on customer complaints and flow through insights to leadership. European manufacturer Grohe, for example, turned around a decline in market share and used its sales force more effectively after implementing a simple feedback loop from the distributors who sold the company’s products.
Another area that’s been a lot of focus is employee engagement. And there is perhaps no better use case for connecting front-line insights with decision makers at the leadership level. Moving from just employee engagement measurement to getting actionable employee feedback that addresses engagement issues is the future. An employee feedback loop can help management better understand, get ideas and act on engagement issues.
There are many ways feedback can be applied. But the key here is that it’s leadership’s responsibility to ensure that the tools and processes are in place to solicit, manage, and act on feedback from across the organization if they do not wish to be ignorant.