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3 Guidelines for Collecting Quality Feedback from a Group

It’s a daunting prospect to collect quality feedback from a group. But at the end of the day, it’s how we assess performance and fine-tune operations for even better results in the future. Soliciting collective insights from a group can help leaders identify blind spots, strengths, weaknesses and areas for growth they may have missed on their own.

Whether you’re gathering feedback from customers, employees or students, it’s important to establish guidelines ahead of time to ensure optimal results. After all, the feedback will have real consequences for future processes, so it’s vital to make sure you’ve done everything you can to ensure it is honest, relevant and useful.

Focused Questions Elicit Better Responses

First, organizations need to establish what they should be asking and why. Let’s say you’re administering an employee engagement survey in the workplace. Your long-term goal is to boost employee engagement to reduce turnover and increase productivity. The survey acts as a window into the minds of your employees—what are they experiencing day to day that’s positively or negatively affecting their engagement?

It’s important to avoid vague questions or ones that depend on inner biases or speculation. As Harvard Business Review writes, “The best way around these problems is to ask questions about specific, observable behavior and let respondents draw on their own, firsthand, experience.” So, instead of asking participants whether they believe their boss has a firm understanding of the overall industry in which they work, you’d want to ask about the boss’s actions and leadership decisions. One is purely a matter of opinion and guesswork; the other is based on concrete, measurable actions. 

Anonymity Allows for Honesty

One problem with group surveys, particularly in the workplace or classroom, is that participants are highly conscious of the fact that they may be penalized for being honest. If people act skittish about offering up opinions, it’s not because they lack them—it’s that they fear judgment or ostracism if they attach their name to their honest opinion.

Using an anonymous feedback tool can help organizations overcome these barriers to collecting honest insights in a group setting. The ability to use a private mobile device or laptop tends to make respondents feel more comfortable because there’s no way to single anyone out for their answer. And when the informational display updates in real time to reflect responses, leaders can use the submitted questions, comments and answers to multiple-choice questions to start a discussion or verify a vote.

Timing May Skew Survey Results

Timing is everything when it comes to administering surveys. A good rule of thumb is to simply be as timely as humanly possible. As one customer service expert and Forbes contributor suggests, send surveys while experiences are still fresh. If you want to gauge how customers felt about their live chat experience, ask them at the end of the interaction. If you email them days after the fact, they’ll likely either send the message to their trash folder or answer with less specificity and conviction than if they’d just wrapped up the experience.

Organizations should also be mindful of big-picture timing. Asking employees to share their opinions during peak season may simple stress them out while they’re trying to work, skewing answers toward the negative. Asking employees to answer an engagement survey the day after they’ve all received bonuses will artificially inflate opinions. Voting on an action item immediately after a heated debate without a cool-down period may lead to hasty, passion-fueled answers. Try to choose a time that’s convenient and somewhat neutral to gather survey results.

Next time you try to collect quality feedback from a group, remember these three guidelines: Timeliness, Anonymity and Effective Questions.

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