Feedback is underestimated as a problem-solving tool 

By Christian Masotti

In manufacturing environments where optimization and efficiency are key business goals, and where achieving these goals requires strict adherence to safety and quality guidelines, feedback is a critical communication tool. 

In addition to providing a means for conveying information, feedback offers an opportunity for relationship building, tracking progress, and problem-solving. When done well, feedback provides positive criticism and allows us to see what everyone can change to improve their focus and results. 

Unfortunately, many supervisors and managers underestimate the need for, and impact of, feedback. This is a mistake. You may not know it, but according to, companies that implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are 14.9 per cent lower than for employees who receive no feedback. Statistics also show that only 14.5 per cent of managers strongly agree that they are effective at giving feedback.

Sadly, though, most feedback conversations focus on highlighting what isn’t being done well. As such, only 26 per cent of employees say the feedback they receive improves their work. And, shockingly, four out of five employees who received negative feedback are job hunting.

Over the years, I have devised a feedback method that is a unique approach to managing potentially difficult, complex, or crucial conversations, and that supports problem-solving. The method uses civility in a systematic and strategic way. In addition to improving rapport, diminishing potential conflict, and building trust, using this approach increases an organization’s ability to align the business priority with its organizational values. This results in high performance work environments and high accountability. Supervisors and managers who consistently adopt this feedback approach will find themselves acting proactively versus reactively. They will be better managers in terms of meeting output objectives while concurrently fostering trust, respect, and humanity at work. 

While giving feedback is not new, the way I suggest supervisors and managers give feedback is innovative because the approach considers: 

a) Behaviour triggers, e.g., fear, culture, labels, and habits (of both the person giving and the person receiving feedback)

b) Consequences e.g., extent to which individuals are held accountable for behaviour 

c) Assumptions and unconscious bias, e.g., “this is how we do it here”

d) Measurable, quantifiable behaviours and outcomes 

e) Tone and experience, e.g. the communicator initiating the interaction determines the overall experience 

What I have learned is that tone and experience is a critical piece of effective feedback. A leader’s ability to manage difficult communications with tact and civility is a rare skill, but it is civility that makes all the difference. 

The strategy is best applied as an intervention tool. You would use the approach, which incorporates behaving and speaking in a civil way, when: 

• You observe errors on the floor i.e. through a job observation – use the intervention strategy BEFORE you engage in corrective action 

• You hear or observe miscommunications that potentially impact safety, production, quality, or cost – use the intervention strategy BEFORE you engage in repetitive and/or ineffective communication, in writing or orally 

• You observe positive behaviour – use the strategy as soon as you observe the behavior 

So here is an abridged description of how this feedback method works: 

Step 1: Build rapport and ongoing trust. Supervisors and managers should anticipate they will be required to provide ongoing feedback to everyone they supervise, and they should anticipate having to give feedback when things are going well as well as when there are issues or challenges. 

Step 2: Address supervisor’s accountabilities to the employee first. Before you consider writing someone up or taking any corrective action you need to ask yourself the following five questions, if you answer “NO” to any of these questions, you should not proceed to corrective action: 

1. Did I train this person to do the job?

2. Did I document the training?

3. Did I give specific directions and details?

4. Did I follow up and check that this person was doing the job properly and effectively? 

5. Did I give this person effective feedback? 

Step 3: Give feedback daily, if possible; weekly at a minimum. The typical process for feedback in manufacturing is to give feedback during periodic job observations, during standard operating procedure reviews, or when a crisis or issue arises. With my method, the goal is for supervisors to build relationships with their team such that they are interacting and communicating daily. 

Step 4: Give fact-based, quantifiable feedback. One of the mistakes most managers or supervisors make when giving feedback is that they are focused on their own feelings and perspectives. They get emotional and lose sight of the end in mind, or they are too focused on who is doing what, and why they are doing it, versus WHAT should be done. The reality is most often the motives of the action-taker do not matter. 

Step 5: Document the feedback session. You should have already documented data regarding observation and assessment, and now you can add to that information by including questions that were asked and the responses to those questions. 

• When documenting observation: 

– Include only facts

– Use measurable language 

– Record quantitative observations based on set guidelines and procedures

• When reviewing standard operating procedures (SOPs), discussion should cover: 

– Roles 

– Responsibilities 

– Importance of the job 

– Urgency of tasks 

– Timeline 

– Key indicators, including safety, efficiency, and quality 

– Criticality and the level of risk

– Steps of how to do the job

The bottom line is that how you treat people matters. A great many of the day-to-day problems that arise on the manufacturing floor are people problems. 

When you understand that people problems are best resolved by building trust through direct, civil, and consistent communication, it is easy to see how effective feedback is often underestimated as a problem-solving tool.

Christian Masotti is the leading expert on civility in manufacturing and consultant with Civility Experts Inc. With decades of industry experience with some of the world’s largest manufacturers, he is a continuous learner who combines technical skills in continuous improvement with social intelligence and cultural competence. He is author of three books: Manufacturing Civility, Social Competence for Manufacturing Supervisors, and co-author of Lean on Civility: Strategies for Changing Culture in Manufacturing Workplaces.