Have you ever been in a staff meeting that went like this?
Non-Profit Director: "Does anyone have any feedback on the draft strategic plan?"
Marketing Manager: "Well, I thought it was pretty clear on the type of social media posts we will need to launch next year. I'll get my staff working on this right away."
Non-Profit Director: "That's good, but we can't launch anything until the Board approves the plan. Let's table that until after the plan is adopted. OK, anyone else?"
Volunteer Coordinator: "If we are going to do all this, we need more volunteers! How are we going to get more volunteers?"
[insert 10 minute discussion on getting more volunteers]
Non-Profit Director: "Those are good ideas...But, well, now back to the strategic plan. I have a hunch that we may not be on the same page. What you do you think?"
Executive Secretary: "Speaking of pages...I thought the format was good...pretty well-laid out...and I liked the pictures -- that was a really nice touch!"
Non-Profit Director: "Thanks, but that's not what I'm looking for here."
What IS this Director looking for? How could the Director's request be more clear and simple?
Ask for specific feedback (why, what, how, who and when)
Our friend the Non-Profit Director may think that a question like "Does anyone have any feedback on X?" is clear and simple enough, but the listeners may not have a clue of what kind of feedback is wanted or needed. They need more detail.
In other words, even the phrase "clear and simple" is a bit ambiguous.
To get useful feedback, the Director needs to aim for making the request “simple (easy) for people to understand" not making “simple (short) requests."
In order to be clear in our requests for feedback, we need to provide basic details, as follows:
Why -- Why do you need feedback? Do you need to make a decision or are you just curious? What is the context?
What -- What kind of feedback do you want? What details would make the feedback understandable to the person giving feedback, and meaningful to you? Do you want their off-the-cuff opinion or a detailed proposal? Is it about color, cost, timing, format or what?
How -- How do you want feedback to be given to you: in writing? verbally? in a specific channel (e.g., in email, in slack, by text, in a shared document)?
Who -- Who do you expect to respond? Who are the stakeholders? Name people by name, or qualify the type of person you want to respond, such as "people who have concerns about this proposal" or "members of the steering committee".
When -- Last but not least, when do you need the feedback? ALWAYS describe the time frame for giving feedback. And, if you can, add a reason. Examples: "Please respond by Thursday so I can summarize the feedback before the council meeting on Saturday morning" or "I won't accept feedback on the business deductions after March 15th because the taxes are due April 15th."
When we are specific about exactly what we want, it's more likely we will get more of what we want -- when we want it -- and less of what we don't want.
If a request isn't clear, ask for details
And conversely, if we receive a non-specific request for feedback, we should ask for more information. We can ask clarifying questions, such as:
"What kind of 'quickly'? What's your deadline?"
"How shall we get back to you? Are texts OK or do you need us to put our comments in the draft plan itself?"
"What's your purpose for asking?"
"That's kind of vague...would you please put that in an email that tells us what you want, by when?"
If each of us took a minute to think through what we are asking for (or are being asked for), it would make communication clearer, avoid misunderstandings and save time in the long run.
Back to the NonProfit Director's request...
Our Non-Profit Director could have saved a lot of time if the details were clearly stated, like this:
"I want feedback from the supervisors about how this draft plan may affect your staffing needs over the next year, so that we can start budgeting to hire people to help us implement it. Please send me a short list of the number of people you will need and what they might do. I want an email from each of you by next Friday, before I meet with the Board President on Monday."
OH!!! THAT's what the Director wants!
Give me some feedback
Now, I want to know what you think about this post. Is that clear?
(I’m teasing you)
To be more specific:
What: Can you give me an example of how being unclear about "what they want from whom by when" led to a negative outcome in your organization? Or when being clear had a positive effect?
What: I know, I asked a yes/no question, but I’m not asking for a yes/no answer. I'd like it to be a short story, perhaps a few sentences long.
Why: I'm just curious, and your story might help someone else understand this concept better.
Who: Anyone who has a story to share that would demonstrate how specific requests (or lack of them) improved (or harmed) an outcome.
When: Please post your story by December 31, 2023. I have other things to share in 2024!
Where: Share your feedback in the comments below this post on Linked In so others can see it and chime in.
Thanks in advance!
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