How to rid your organisation of 'The Iceberg of Ignorance'

Adam Murfet
January 29, 2021
How to rid your organisation of 'The Iceberg of Ignorance'

Most people will be familiar with the Iceberg of Ignorance in some capacity. It highlights an organisation that potentially has either poor leadership or poor information flow.

From speaking to the thousands of HR professionals I have had the privilege of exchanging calls and conversations with, it is more evident that most organisations experience the "S*** rolls downhill" experience of information, without the feedback "rolling back up the hill again".

It is not too surprising. If you think of the game Chinese Whispers, what starts off as the original message is very rarely the message you get at the end. Feedback loops go up one level at a time, until it either just stops, or becomes so diluted or distorted that it doesn't even resemble the original message/problem or feedback. No wonder Senior Executives don't hear about all the problems. They are rarely ever presented to them.


Most organisations have tried to implement some form of feedback loop - whether it is feedback sessions with Line Managers, or implementing a solution that collects information in the way of survey questions. However, the issue with these forms of feedback is they are not truly anonymous.

I know for certain we have all probably worked in organisations where feedback is said to be "anonymous" and yet it is very easy to determine who it is that is replying. I know for certain I have not answered some feedback questions honestly as I knew for certain it was easy to identify who it was that was giving feedback (in one company I had to give my job title as part of the survey, and yet I was the only person with that job title. Am I truly going to be honest if it's that easy to work out it is me? NO!)

Especially if you don't understand the reason for giving feedback. Most organisations do surveys because they think that it is a normal thing to do. However, they don't necessarily understand what to do with all the feedback once it is collected. And even if they do, then once it is collected and analysed, it is normally reviewed 4-8 weeks after the original survey. Therefore, is the feedback even accurate any more?

So, how can you create a better feedback loop in order to break the Iceberg of Ignorance in your organisation?

Well, it needs to be structured in a certain way in order to allow for more visibility and better results. Here are some top tips that can help:

1) Ensure the feedback is truly anonymous!

This one seems easy. And yet it truly isn't. Most employees are sceptical when it comes to feedback surveys and don't tell the whole truth, because they do not trust the process. So, when the time comes to implement the surveys, explain the process you are implementing and that responses cannot be viewed to granular data by one individual. The ideal solution is to have it that no team is less than 5 people, and therefore you cannot view results of less than 5 responses, so it cannot be narrowed down.

2) Ask questions more frequently

Most organisations do an annual survey. Imagine doing an annual survey in 2020. Especially in January 2020. By the time you have summarised the survey and gotten ready to act on some of the feedback, the global pandemic hits and most of your employees are probably working remotely, or put on Furlough. That means you wasted time, money, and resources. Of course, you couldn't see the pandemic coming. However, the point still stands that you are analysing out of date information.

What was true in January might not be true in March.

A top performing employee unhappy in January might have left by March for example. Therefore, it is imperative to so smaller, more frequent surveys. I would recommend weekly to start and asking no more than 4 or 5 questions. However, at least monthly is a start. But really, if you want real time feedback to be shared upwards, weekly or bi-monthly should be the minimum to start.

3) Ask different questions to different teams every week

Employees get survey fatigue. They answer the same questions every period to the same survey and nothing ever changes. I am sure everybody reading this has experienced that. Therefore, having fewer questions, that take one minute to respond to, on a more frequent basis, will yield better results. On top of that, ask different questions to different teams. It feels more personalised, caring, and it really looks likes you care.

One week you might answer questions on the organisation as a whole, and another week you might answer questions about your manager, or how you feel about your role. Also, take this opportunity to look at diversity, inclusion, and mental health. Asking questions around these aspects could really uncover problems on a very micro level, that will allow you to get ahead of an obstacle instead of being reactive to a severe problem.

4) If you uncover a problem, ask more questions to that team/department to uncover more

Again, this seems obvious. However, it is rarely done. If you have somebody answering in a negative way about their line manager, maybe ask questions to the rest of the team to see how they feel. Is it a one person issue? Or is it the team as a whole who feel like this? Imagine you, as an HR Manager, having access to that level of insight? It would be a gamechanger and highlight issues that would allow you to drill down and find the source of wider problems. This could be true for Mental Health, Diversity, Inclusion, Poor Communication etc...

5) Share the results with the Senior Executives

This goes all the way back to the beginning. Senior Executives want to know what is going on. Having a robust feedback loop with data insights allows you to share the real problems in the organisation with these Senior Executives and is giving them anecdotal evidence from every team and every department. This means the CEO doesn't have to go on "Undercover Boss" to get the insights by disguising as an employee. They can just have you report the finding, understand the challenges and problems, and implement plans to fix them.

6) Share the results with Managers and the whole organisation

There should be a constant process of sharing the insights back through the organisation. That includes sharing results, insights, trends and also the action plan to counteract the problems. By sharing these results, people will buy into the feedback process. Imagine an employee raising they were not happy, that they didn't have the right equipment to do their job, a point raised by several employees, and then they end up being heard and getting the right equipment.

How would those employees feel? Motivated? More productive? Absolutely!

Sharing the results with the Managers and allowing them to be the conduit of information, both upwards and downwards is extremely important. It gives them a sense of responsibility as well as a sense of reward when they implement a change for the better of the team.

By doing this properly, you will not only have a happier workforce but a more productive workforce.

To quote the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) "There is a huge prize from improving how businesses lead, engage and develop their people"

"It makes business sense. Firms that lift their people management performance up from the lowest levels to the UK average can secure a massive 19% productivity uplift."

"It makes reputational sense. More than two-thirds of the public say that treating your staff well makes the single biggest difference in improving trust in business."

"And it makes economic sense. If the UK improved its performance on people management by 7%, £110bn could be added to the country’s income. That’s like adding the value of the UK’s construction sector all over again.

"Therefore, to implement this feedback loop, and being successful, doesn't just make your employees happier. It also makes the business more productive! Therefore, by implementing the right feedback loop, you are able to have a positive impact on the bottom line of the business, whilst also having a positive impact on the wellbeing and engagement of the people in the business. That is a win win.

At the end of the day, let's all work hard to get rid of the Iceberg of Ignorance in our organisations, especially as 2020 has been a challenge enough for organisations. So get yourself the ultimate ice pick, and implement a better, more frequent, more inclusive feedback loop today.

| Originally published as a LinkedIn article


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