Back in the early 90’s, as a sales manager buying training services I was swayed by our training providers well compiled “feedback” reports that demonstrated 8 out of 10 cats preferred their training. As the person charged with demonstrating return on investment (ROI) for our training activities, there was a satisfying feeling reading our staff’s glowing reports of the trainer’s empathy and skill. I deduced that this trainer provided a unique and valuable service, and this helped win them my further business.

When several years later I entered the training room as a trainer, the feedback forms were a brilliant way of checking that I was getting the result the client had paid for. Working alongside other young trainers, our feedback scores soon became a competitive benchmark. However over the years, my studies of NLP, my experience, my study of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation theory, and the guidance of some wily old training veterans, led me to a position where I could virtually guarantee high scores. I became sceptical of the true value of feedback to the client, yet aware of their value as a sales tool. So I continued to use the paper form as much as I could.

Interestingly, when I became a shareholder and Director of a large training group, I was determined to re-evaluate the feedback mechanism to ensure it had real value beyond a sales tool! We developed LOVE-Learning, a tool that still ranks as ground breaking in its ability to measure ROI on training and development, and engage learners beyond the training room. Unfortunately not enough buyers were prepared to pay for a feedback service so it remains a white elephant.

Recently the debate about paper based feedback forms has reappeared at the Inspire offices. One of our colleagues is adamant that they no longer believe in paper based feedback forms at the end of each training session because the results are skewed. On further investigation, evidence is surfacing that seems to confirm this gut feel about feedback forms in the training room giving an inaccurate picture. By not providing an opportunity for feedback in the training room, and leaving some time (at least a week) before data collection, we are discovering revealing results.

So a few months ago, I became the test case for changing our own feedback systems. When I reviewed the results (feedback is provided through an online mechanism one week after each training session) some insightful, useful and sometimes critical feedback of my style and delivery was creeping into the results.

My first reaction was to write this off due to the time between the training and the feedback erasing participant’s memory! I then began to consider the unthinkable that my training capacity has reduced! However on reflection, we believe an improved feedback mechanism is merely providing more accurate, therefore more useful feedback.

Allowing people to reflect first, and then give feedback, is proving challenging to the trainer yet empowering for the participant. A recent course provided some valuable feedback which has already led us to radically change one part of the programme next time around. It has provided a genuine space for participants to tell us what they think in an environment they feel safe and supported.

The thinking we’ve done in relation to how our client’s feedback on our training programmes has made us reconsider the importance of feedback within organisations we work with. In fact, we are now reprioritising feedback models within our training programmes, and particularly within our leadership programmes.

We once designed and led a major development programme for a US based cereal company based on the GIFT model of feedback. Using Lumina to develop self and team understanding and a simple 4 step feedback model, individuals and teams radically altered their ability to give and receive feedback.

In the comfortable space of a five star hotel near Manchester, transformation took place in individual and team relationships through honest and well intentioned feedback sessions. Back in the workplace, many reported a real shift in their ability to give and receive feedback. Yet the long term feedback told us that at a senior level, little had changed. Key leaders used the GIFT model to give feedback, but never learnt to receive feedback. It took less than a year with an unreceptive leadership to return to the comfortable situation of feedback going one way – top down.

Great leaders know how to give and receive feedback in equal measure. They seek out feedback as much as they can and they support initiatives to gather feedback on the business in the most effective and honest way. This is another reason why Lumina Leader is being developed as we speak; the 360 feedback tool will be an invaluable addition to our toolbox.

Therefore our question is how do you ensure feedback is honest and effective, and that it leads to change within your organisation? Please comment on this article, call us to discuss your feedback mechanisms (or lack of them) and most importantly, vote in the poll below – we promise to listen!