In this article, I will be discussing using feedback to improve your organisation. Unfortunately, feedback is an issue that is not always handled exceptionally well in the corporate world, let alone in community organisations amongst volunteers.
I recently spoke with someone about a meeting they attended in their capacity as a member of a community organisation. When General Business came around, one of the members present raised an issue regarding another member. What followed could only be described as a personal attack based on the information that I was given.
First of all, let’s address the issue of criticism. Of course, it must be constructive, but before that is decided, you need to address something even more critical. That issue is the form that the criticism takes. All too often, people criticise other people instead of their behaviour. If you have a constructive conversation around a contentious issue, you will get much better results by focusing on the behaviour instead of the person.
Focusing On The Person
People have a tendency (it’s called human nature) to go into defensive mode whenever they are being criticised. You effectively attack their self-esteem and self-worth, and they put the defences up to protect that. Can you blame them? Are you any different? I would suggest that we are all the same when being criticised as an individual. Communication is a funny thing in that for it to be effective, the person to whom it is directed must listen to what is said. I would contend that people don’t listen as hard when feeling personally attacked as they would when discussing an issue or behaviour.
Focusing On The Behaviour
Focusing on the behaviour instead of the person makes the issue targeted and singular. You can identify the behaviour, discuss the problems and consequences and suggest solutions. You can do all of this with a manner of kindness. It is much easier to be kind when focusing on behaviour. On the other hand, some people can become a little aggressive when focusing on an individual. As a result, nothing is achieved, and matters are possibly made worse.
Modifying The Behaviour
Assuming your criticism is justified about the behaviour and requires modification, there is another essential aspect to remember. That aspect is that the person who needs to modify their behaviour owns the solution. People generally have a hard time implementing the advice of others if they don’t own it themselves. So you need to have skin in the game to change. It may take longer to get to this point in the conversation, but the results will be worth it. Otherwise, you may well have to revisit the situation in the not too distant future.
What Are We Doing Well?
It is always more productive to focus on the positive than the negative, and there are well-founded scientific reasons for doing so. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Zenger and Folkman conclude that the ideal ratio of positive to negative feedback is 5.6:1. You could reasonably argue that this ratio would be falling far short of the optimum in many community organisations.
By asking what you are doing well, you will have the opportunity to celebrate the wins, which you should always do. What we are doing well can be about the organisation or an individual within the organisation. Asking the question gives people the opportunity to reflect and celebrate the positive. This can also have the effect of recognising and reinforcing good habits and sound systems.
What Could We Do Better?
If people know that reflection is a standing item on the meeting agenda, they will have an opportunity to prepare. It should be noted that the question here must focus on behaviour and not people. It makes complete sense if you look at the first question. There is no point congratulating John because he is a good bloke. That tells him nothing. However, you might say you thought John chaired the last meeting exceptionally well and handled the debates on motions properly. As you can see here, we congratulate John on his behaviour, not his person. The same thing must apply to what can be done better.
So focus on the behaviour that needs improvement. You will find it is much easier to provide kind and loving feedback to help the individual who it might be focused on than criticising the person. Don’t “wing it” if you have criticism to level against the behaviour of either an individual or the organisation. Be prepared. Document the issue and try to come up with several solutions you might suggest for consideration.
Feedback and reflection are vital to any community organisation. Consciously engaging in these activities provides the opportunities to celebrate the wins and grow members’ skills. As members’ skills are improved, so is the organisation’s overall value. Therefore, using feedback to improve your organisation will create a win for both the organisation and your members.
This item is now included in our Agenda Templates, both General or Committee Meeting and AGM, available for download free from this site. Your feedback on this article and your experiences with reflection processes in meetings would be most welcome. Feel free to engage in the comments below or email via the Contact Form.