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This Time It’s Personal

MFG Archive, Opinion

In his latest viewpoint, David Bonbright from Keystone Accountability discusses what a personal and rigorous approach to feedback offers.


As organizations start to get serious about feedback, things inevitably come to the moment where feedback gets personal. To be really useful, feedback must touch on an individual’s performance.


This is tough stuff. People resist feedback in many different ways. A growing part of Keystone Accountability’s Constituent Voice work with organizations is to help staff recognize auto-immune-type resistance, and overcome it. For a great book on this I strongly recommend Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone’s great sequel to Having Difficult Conversations, called Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.


 I want to introduce another way of thinking about the personal dimension of feedback. This is the immediate, here and now, face-to-face opportunity that a rigorous approach to feedback offers.


When embarking on my journey to Constituent Voice some ten years ago, I studied companies with a reputation for truly outstanding customer service. Among them was Cisco, whose corporate affairs director Peter Tavernise, introduced me to their secret sauce.


At the end of every engagement with a customer, the Cisco representative asked “Did you get what you wanted?” The answer was quickly discussed there and then; the Cisco representative scored the answer and recorded it for management review. (Sometimes the answer was, “No, but I got something better.”)


The whole process was handled developmentally in the company; it was not punitive or part of some form of professional appraisal. Long-term analysis of the practice yielded something pretty obvious, but powerful:


Simply knowing that you were going to ask for feedback led to a better experience for the customer.


This self-fulfilling quality is one reason why it is so important to close feedback loops. Here’s a litmus test for credibility in any feedback system: do feedback providers expect that they will have a chance to discuss feedback findings?


Maybe the most complete expression of this logic comes from mental health services. Since the 90s, mental health services has moved fast toward Routine Outcome Monitoring (ROM) involving different outcome indicators. These include patient-reported outcomes (feedback) on things like the quality of the relationship with the therapist, whether a particular session was relevant, and whether the therapist’s approach was good.


Between 2008 and 2013 a growing number of studies showed how Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT), as this practice has become known, led to improved patient outcomes by reducing treatment failures and in other ways strengthening patient-therapist relationships. There was evidence suggesting an intriguing causal hypothesis — that because they provided feedback patients got more from their therapy.


More recently, however, impact studies suggest that feedback is not enough by itself to improve outcomes. This has led to a shift away from feedback as monitoring for accountability and toward the potential of feedback as a tool to develop more effective therapists. In other words, the pay off comes when therapists learn from and improve through feedback. Again, it’s time to get personal!


session scale image



The trend in health care toward greater use of patient reported outcomes is driven by cost considerations, and is growing. Much of it is focused on creating a more efficient health marketplace by steering referrals towards therapists with demonstrated track records of effectiveness. These system-level improvements are welcome, but it is essential to remember that they are built upon a foundation of individual practitioners using feedback to improve.


These examples suggest that as we build Constituent Voice metrics into the ways we work in philanthropy and development, we would do well to ensure that it lands in individual, personal practice. As in…


I ask. I listen. We discuss possible solutions. We make changes. I ask again. Eureka, I improve and we achieve more together.


Many thanks to David Bonbright for his contribution, which was originally published on the Keystone Accountability blog.


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