Feedback loops. They regulate nearly every aspect of every system in your life, even if you aren’t aware of them.
Feeling hungry? That’s because your body is producing a hormone called ghrelin. When you feed that hunger with food, you’ll stop producing ghrelin and start producing leptin, a hormone that decreases your appetite.
When you want to heat or cool your home, you set the thermostat. Let’s say you want to keep the temperature to 68 degrees. Your thermostat measures when the temperature reaches in your home. If it drops below 68, it tells the heat to kick on. If it climbs above 68, it triggers the air conditioner.
Feedback is behind both of these systems. In the examples above, your body or your thermostat are using feedback, or output, to adjust behavior, or input. This creates a cycle, or “loop,” in which outputs are routed back to the system to form inputs.
Feedback loop: A process by which a system’s outputs “loop” back around to be used as inputs. In business, this refers to the process of using customer and employee feedback to create a better product, service, or workplace environment.
You can find similar feedback loops in many different systems: the cruise control on your car, your body’s immune system, and your increased activity levels while wearing a step tracker, to name a few.
When you consider how effective feedback loops can be at creating desirable outcomes for so many different types of systems, it’s no wonder that businesses choose to use them to inform their practices. There are two types of feedback loops in business: negative feedback loops and positive feedback loops. They are both used to draw attention to significant issues within the company and create long-term solutions.
Negative feedback loops
Negative feedback loops focus on customer concerns. In this process, the company listens to their customers’ complaints and then uses that feedback to improve their products or services. As you can imagine, this benefits both the customer and the business.
Customers feel like their concerns are important to the company, and they get the better products and services that they want. And businesses who use this process benefit as well. Not only do they gain loyal customers when they use that feedback, but they improve their business’ design.
Positive feedback loops
Here we find the real crux of our purpose here today. Positive feedback loops take employee criticisms or grievances and use them to improve the workplace or business operations. Employees clearly benefit when an employer take their concerns seriously and uses their complaints to make positive changes for the benefit of their employees.
And the employer benefits as well. Employees who feel like their needs are important to their boss are happier. Studies show that happier employees mean better productivity, higher stock prices, and better overall business performance.
It’s important to note that the manner in which a company collects feedback will influence which employees get to provide that feedback. For example, one common method for collecting employee feedback is the exit interview.
When an employee chooses to leave a company, it’s reasonable to want to know why they’re leaving and what recommendations they might have for improving operations or work environment. But the exit interview has its limitations. Namely, it only allows you to collect feedback from departing employees.
Similarly, companies might receive complaints from employees during the regular course of business. It’s important for managers to listen to these complaints and respond to them. However, your feedback loops shouldn’t be limited to this scenario, in which your employees come to you spontaneously whenever they notice a problem, because this scenario limits your ability to get a full and complete picture of how your employees are experiencing their workplace. It also means that you are only getting feedback from certain employees, like those who have worked for you long enough to feel comfortable complaining.
It’s a good idea to collect feedback in a routine manner, particularly by incorporating feedback loops into your employee onboarding process.
The importance of feedback loops to onboarding and retention
OK, you’ve hired your new rockstar employee. In the recruitment phase, you’ve likely made lots of promises. Fantastic benefits packages, opportunities to advance, and an enjoyable work environment are pretty common carrots that managers use to attract new talent.
Unfortunately, only 12 percent of employees agree that their employer has lived up to the promises they made during recruitment, according to a recent Gallup poll.
High early employee turnover rates. In fact, people are quitting their jobs in record numbers. What’s more, about 40 percent of people who voluntarily quit their jobs in 2017 did so within the first 12 months of being hired, according to a study by the Society for Human Resources Management.
The solution to this problem is to improve your onboarding process. Onboarding is one of the biggest missed opportunities for retention. There is so much that can be done to improve long-term retention, yet too many employers don’t take advantage of it.
New hires are often eager to start their jobs, and a little nervous about making a good impression. That’s why this is a crucial time for the company to make sure their newest employees feel appreciated and like they can make a meaningful contribution to the organization.
One of the best ways to make these people feel valued is to ask them for their feedback. Think about it from an employee’s perspective. When someone in a position of authority (like a boss) asks for your opinion, you get the sense that they view you as an asset. If the feedback you give is then used to make actual changes, then you feel like an important part of the team.
And your company gains the benefit of agility. When you collect and respond to feedback immediately, you’ll start to see problems before they happen. Then you can apply quick problem-solving. Your organization will run more efficiently and your business processes will thrive.
How to set up your feedback loops
Employee feedback loops involve four basic steps:
- Information gathering
Here’s how that would look during the onboarding process.
Encourage new hires to tell you what they’re thinking using structured feedback collection. You can use a written HR questionnaire, which you would give to each new employee and ask them to turn it in by the end of their first week on the job. You could also do an informal interview with new employees toward the end of their onboarding process.
Be sure to encourage employees to share their opinions freely, and let them know that you’re taking their ideas seriously. Ask tough questions like:
- Do you believe that the company has provided you with all of the resources you need to do your job? If not, what else do you need?
- What changes would you recommend to our onboarding process and why?
- What do you like about your job and our company?
- What do you think we can improve?
- Is there anything you don’t understand about your job or our organization?
- What’s been going well for you on the job?
- How do you see your job in relation to the company’s mission statement?
- Can you compare your impressions of the organization to what we explained it would be like?
- Do you know who to go to when you have questions about your job?
- Do you feel comfortable asking those questions?
- Do you understand what the organization expects from you?
- Do you feel like your ideas are valued?
- How well do you get along with your coworkers?
- Have you experienced any problems at work?
You don’t have to limit the information gathering to the first week, or even to these structured processes. Encourage your new employees to openly communicate their opinions to you by asking one or two of these questions regularly, throughout the first 60 days of their employment.
The information you gather is completely useless you analyze it. Write down the feedback your employees provide and compare it to your company’s goals and mission. Is your organization living up to the vision you have for your company? Or does something need to change?
If you’re doing it right, your feedback loop will help you see things that need to be changed. In order to be effective — and help your employees feel valued — you need to implement the changes as soon as possible. Preferably immediately. Make a plan and commit to it.
Finally, you need to let your team know about the changes you’ve made, and why you’ve made them. Tell them that you’ve heard their feedback and responded, and show them what you’re doing differently. This will let them know that you’re taking their feedback seriously, and make everyone feel valued.
Of course, you can use employee feedback loops with your tenured employees as well. It might be helpful to ask similar questions during annual or semi-annual performance reviews, for example. And your staff will likely appreciate it if you check in with them informally from time to time as well.
Effective and predictable employee feedback loops are invaluable to employers and their staffs alike. When people know that they have the opportunity to give feedback to their boss, they will feel valued and confident that their problems will be addressed quickly.
Employee feedback loops promote an organizational culture of mutual trust and transparency, and they encourage long-term retention among your staff. Your company will develop a reputation as a great place to work. What’s more, your top performers will recognize the excellent situation they’ve got within your company and stick around for a long time.