Alex Wilke: How a Chief Feedback Officer can improve employee feedback

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Collecting and acting on feedback from employees and customers is becoming essential to successful business decision making, prompting discussions about the emergence of a new board level representative – the Chief Feedback Officer – to take control of the area.  What’s behind this idea and what exactly would someone with that job title do anyway?

First, to underline why it might be sensible to have a dedicated member of the senior management team oversee the feedback function, it’s helpful to examine three ways in which feedback is evolving and growing in importance.

  1. It’s part of a wider move towards data driven decisions

Perhaps the biggest reason why you’d want feedback to have a senior voice championing it, is that today there’s more data available from more sources than ever before, and businesses need to be maximising its value. For example feedback from (and data about) customers is increasing rapidly and starting to inform business strategy, especially when combined with employee feedback. This is an important part of the wider trend towards making decisions based on data.

Listening to employees and acting on their concerns is central to improving engagement and retaining talent. It also provides tangible business value – staff insight uncovers ways to make processes more efficient and highlights initiatives that make employees feel more motivated and productive.

At the same time, employees are a fantastic source of information about customers.  Staff on the frontline can provide insight on what customers are saying and doing.  They are in touch with the things that generate customer satisfaction or complaints, as well as what customers are saying about competing products and services.

  1. It’s becoming more timely and usable

There’s a growing realisation that if you can collect feedback from both employees and customers in a timely fashion and are asking the right questions, you can extract insights that can make a real difference to the business and to engagement and retention.

In HR feedback collection was historically all about the annual employee survey – usually a standard questionnaire, repeated every year (typically on paper) and primarily focused on measuring engagement. Slow and cumbersome, the annual survey tended to produce insights that could easily be out of date by the time they got to senior decision makers.

Today, this approach is giving way to more agile, always on feedback models, underpinned by technology that can collect staff insights across multiple channels –and devices, whenever they want to provide it.

Added to this, many companies are setting up online communities and panels with both customers and employees. These help provide much more qualitative information that can be used to back up decisions.

  1. Employee feedback is being integrated with insight from customers and other data sources

For most organisations employee feedback is just as important as feedback from customers.  And the most forward looking in this area are maximizing the value they receive by integrating the two feedback streams along with data from sales, finance and other parts of the business. It makes sense to also integrate feedback from other stakeholders such as shareholders and suppliers. In this way it is possible to identify and analyse trends and correlations that can fuel insights.

A Questback study of UK businesses found that companies that integrated employee feedback with customer feedback are seeing major benefits for example. 83% reported an improved customer experience and 75% felt it led to more motivated employees. The study also revealed that one of the biggest barriers for those who weren’t integrating was a lack of the right organisational structure, mentioned by 36% of respondents – perhaps pointing to an initial challenge that someone like a Chief Feedback Officer could address.

The role of the Chief Feedback Officer

Underlying all these changes is the fact that employees and customers, particularly millennials, are much more willing today to give feedback, and in the case of employees, receive it, as long as the process is simple and straightforward and they can see that their insights are actually being listened to and driving change.

So organisations are collecting more data from a variety of sources, much of it from employees.  And employee feedback is being collected in increasing volumes, in a more timely fashion and more likely to be integrated with customer and other business data.  What value might someone who calls themselves a Chief Feedback Officer, be able to deliver?  Their job description would most likely revolve around tackling four main areas.

Firstly, he or she would be required to take a strategic view of the feedback programme, directing and co-ordinating how it is implemented across the organisation.  A key focus here would be ensuring that investments in feedback are tied in to the company’s wider business objectives.  Do they address the most important goals and challenges so that resources are allocated wisely?

Secondly, they would be charged with making sure the separate feedback and data collection initiatives in the organisation are moving in the same direction.

Often data is siloed in separate departments with HR looking after employee feedback, customer service focused on the voice of the customer, marketing running its own ad-hoc surveys or buying external reports etc. And that is before you even factor in data coming from other stakeholders such as suppliers and shareholders. The feedback officer needs to find a way to unify these separate efforts, perhaps by creating cross-departmental teams that work together.  Or alternatively they might decide to build a central insight function that spans all feedback.

Thirdly, there’s an important role for a senior business champion to make sure that the feedback and data that’s being generated is actually being used.  Part of this is about making data easily accessible and understandable, giving real-time views of feedback through dashboards that business managers can use to drive decisions.  The other side of this is making sure that when decisions are made, managers are actually being disciplined about using the available data and insights to support them.

Fourthly, turning feedback into action requires process changes and a focus on action planning and review of its impact. The only thing worse than not collecting feedback, is collecting it and then not acting on it. The feedback officer needs to help integrate feedback into business processes, decision making and the creation of new performance KPIs.  There’s probably room to make it a part of performance reviews and career planning. With the influx of data, managers probably need support and training in using it to underpin their decisions and adopting best practice, so the use of peer to peer communities where they can share information, and automated recommendations is really important

Finally, of course as the voice of feedback within the organisation, the Chief Feedback Officer would be called upon to review and report on the impact of the feedback programme and the value it is delivering.  Is the business receiving the insights it really needs to support informed decisions?  And ultimately is feedback driving better business decisions?

There’s a huge explosion in the volume of data – internal and external – that is now available to businesses.  A significant part of this is valuable feedback coming from employees.  One thing that is becoming clear is that there’s a need for a senior management figure to oversee this area and ensure it is delivering, so expect to see more and more Chief Feedback Officers appointed in the near future.

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About Alex Wilke

Alex Wilke
Helping companies to gain insights through feedback and dialogue with employees, customers and stakeholders

QuestBack Group is Europe's leading and one of the world's Top 5 Enterprise Feedback Management vendors. QuestBack provides online survey solutions, panel solutions and social CRM solutions - web-based services for relationship development through the collection, analysis, and follow-up of business critical information. QuestBack's clients achieve better financial performance through increasing the satisfaction and loyalty among their customers and employees.

Specialties: Employee Engagement, Employee Feedback, Customer Experience, Market Research

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