How Association Leaders Can Get Constructive Feedback From Members
by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky
Associations need to incorporate constructive feedback from stakeholders – especially their members – to survive COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions amid today’s turbulent economy. To meet the expectations of their stakeholders, leaders must ensure that they obtain regular feedback from them, since these people make decisions that determine the success of the organization.
Securing constructive feedback is critical in helping you find out which decisions are working and which ones are not. Yet, many organizations fail in engaging effectively their stakeholders due to reluctance to incorporate and act on feedback. This results in communication gaps between executives and their stakeholders.
To address these problems, leaders need to adopt best practices of getting constructive feedback from stakeholders. These practices are a product of insight obtained from both external research, and my interactions with senior organizational leaders.
Why You Should Seek Stakeholder Constructive Feedback
Learning to incorporate constructive feedback is vital for building a trusting relationship with stakeholders. It provides you valuable insight into how they view and make decisions.
Recently, I met Alisha, my consulting firm’s client, who is the head of membership engagement at a professional manufacturing association. Alisha shared how communication gaps between the organization’s executives and its key stakeholders had strained their mutual relationship. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the association requested an in-depth, neutral, third party investigation into the opinions of its members and the quality of outreach to them.
Alisha approached me for advice. She realized that to work effectively as head of membership engagement, she needed to learn the best ways to infer the truth about the stakeholders, their opinions, and the quality of the organization’s outreach.
Mental Blindspots Thwart Progress
Obtaining accurate feedback is key to stakeholder engagement. It ensures that you have an accurate picture of what’s working and what’s not.
Unfortunately, we often believe that we know our stakeholders well enough to fully understand their requirements and thus fail to seek their input about essential matters.
This dangerous judgment error, termed the false consensus effect, causes us to mistakenly believe that others share our beliefs. It is one of many dangerous judgment errors called cognitive biases. These mental blindspots impact decision making in all life areas, ranging from business to relationships. Fortunately, recent research has shown effective and pragmatic strategies to defeat these dangerous judgment errors, such as by constraining our choices by focusing on the top available options, for example by using this comparison website. By doing so, we can improve our stakeholder engagement.
Members often suggest changes that make executives highly uncomfortable. Therefore, some leaders fall for the status quo bias, a desire to maintain what they see as the right way of doing things.
We have a natural tendency to avoid accepting information that counters our beliefs. This is another dangerous cognitive bias called the confirmation bias.
Learn to Love Constructive Feedback
When I met Alisha, I told her that it’s vital that she work to inculcate a new workplace culture fit for the future of work. The culture needs to encourage all organizational leaders to appreciate and obtain constructive feedback. This approach also allows them to utilize such feedback to engage with stakeholders effectively.
Our inclination to avoid information that opposes our beliefs due to confirmation bias is very dangerous for our modern-day organizations. This behavior stems from our evolutionary history, when it was more important to align our perceptions of reality with our tribe than to determine the truth.
Constructive feedback allows leaders to identify the perceptions of the stakeholder accurately, rather than what we would want it to be. I explained to Alisha that perceptions and reality matter equally in stakeholder engagement. Thus, leaders must learn about these filters to effectively engage stakeholders. Naturally, getting constructive feedback is a great way to achieve this goal.
How to Gain Effective, Constructive Stakeholder Feedback
There are several ways to obtain constructive feedback from stakeholders. The easiest is active feedback. This means asking targeted questions to yield precise answers.
We can also apply social intelligence to get passive feedback from the stakeholders by analyzing their behavior, words and actions. Social intelligence refers to the strategic capacity to evaluate and influence other people’s emotions and relationships.
Research in cognitive neuroscience shows that it is our emotions, not thoughts, that determine the majority of our behavior.
I shared the following methods with Alisha to help her receive quality stakeholder feedback from during their outreach assessment meeting.
- Getting Active Feedback
- Ask how they feel about what you’re saying to explore their emotions on the topic.
- Ask them what they think about what you’re saying.This gives you an insight into their beliefs about the topic.
- Ask how well their experience aligns with what you’re saying. Learning about their personal experiences provides insight into the influences behind their perceptions.
- Formulate other topic specific questions. Each kind of question about feedback will help you understand their filters.
Alisha decided to arrange a meeting with the stakeholders. The meeting atmosphere was initially tense. However, the mood lifted as members were actively asked questions and they realized that she was sincere about understanding them.
Eventually, the members started to express their opinions on recent decisions. Alisha was able to address their reservations by offering reasonable explanations for each point.
- Getting Passive Feedback. You can also learn about stakeholders indirectly through passive feedback.
- Give them time to absorb what you’re saying. Offering sufficient room for response allows them to express themselves comfortably, giving you an understanding of their filters.
- Observe their communication with others about what you’re saying. This intercommunication is an insight into their perceptions.
- Observe comments on social media, blogs, and other public interactions.This offers you an unguarded understanding of their personal filters.
- Depending on your topic, there can be other passive feedback methods.
You should acknowledge feedback and adjust your actions accordingly. Gradually, this feedback will help you understand your stakeholders and improve your stakeholder engagement.
Three months after her consultation, Alisha shared great news. She told me how the association implemented my suggestions and noticed a significant improvement in their stakeholder engagement. By bridging the communication gaps, the C-suite found it much easier to reach amicable compromises on points of contention.
Leaders often fall prey to cognitive biases that prevent them from incorporating feedback from stakeholders. The best way to ensure that you stay on the same page as your stakeholders is to obtain regular constructive feedback. You can achieve this by proactively applying best practices for seeking active and passive feedback. By doing so, you will be able to bridge communication gaps and improve stakeholder engagement.