Giving Negative Feedback - The right way

Lately I have been struggling a bit with giving people in my organization negative feedback. It seems like there have been some individuals in non-design functions bringing a few ideas to the org lately which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when I give them feedback i’m finding a might be leading them along rather than being honest. Most recently someone had a product idea in a market we no longer sell into, was aesthetically very weak and there was really no value proposition with the design other than utilizing a casting we already have tooled.

How do you give feedback to people like this? On one hand I want our org to encourage people thinking big and bringing ideas, but on the other hand I feel like they can’t take the criticism I have to give. I feel like I am doing the classic “Well this is good, but _____________” technique but often times I am having a hard time finding anything even good. I also am starting to think maybe design school de-sensitized me with having strong critiques, which is a double edge sword in good and bad.

So, how do you encourage an atmosphere where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, but where you can tell them when something isn’t good.


IN that specific situation i would take a “question approach” vs Telling them

Start off with : it is great that you have brought this idea forward, and im interested in understanding more. Lets talk through your though process a little.

Let them tell you why they think it is a good idea. Asks them some probing questions:

  1. Help me to understand the value to the market - is this solving a problem?
  2. How do you see this being of value to the company - do you think we can make money on it?
  3. I think we would need to better understand X - to help determine how this idea could advance, but we need to make sure we understand it’s value

the conversation needs to be encouraging and not discouraging for the person. Like you stated, you don’t want to have them stop bring ideas, but this may be an opportunity for you to help educate them on they way they need to think when evaluating ideas. Any feed back that is destructive and not constructive is a fail, honesty is needed but communicated in a respectful way. I have found that this approach sometimes helps me to see something that i may not have seen, and or see a path that if we where to build on the idea it could be come of value. While at the same time helping to grow the person with the idea on how they can evaluate other potential ideas they have.

At our organization, we thank anyone and everyone for their contribution. When they first give us the idea, we say we will evaluate the through our NPD process. So really nothing happens initially other than a thank you. We do take it through our process and many times we will kill it based on any number of factors. Business case is most common. Doesn’t hit our call points, poor margin, me too product, small total market, too much competition, etc.

If it does survive the low-hanging fruit round, we will then have the customer evaluate the idea. If they won’t buy it, it is easy to kill. If it gets through that, the first idea always sucks, whether it is from the outside or NPD, and we will need to develop it further. And like all NPD ideas, what launches rarely resembles the initial idea.

So giving immediate feedback is the wrong way to go because it is only your opinion and you will only get into a pissing match. But if you take the time to give the idea a proper evaluation, the answer to why the idea was killed or changed will be accepted by the person who submitted it. Be sincere and open, don’t make it personal, be timely and I have never had a problem.

A lot of good advice there from both Chevis and iab.

Giving feedback like this is hard. And honestly, somedays I’m good at it, and somedays I’m really bad at it (IE I’m juggling a lot of balls all at once, and someone caught me between meetings and throws something at me).

Having a standard response like iab’s org has is a really good idea. It give you a go to. When I was at my last job we had a joking response (not good, because people know) or “we will study that”… i.e., not going anywhere… which we borrowed from one of our vendors who said it all the time and then would never do anything… my typical response was more of a combination of iab and Chevis. Usually I’d try to schedule a coffee with the person. If the person was in a place in the org where I felt comfortable sharing, I’d explain about the opportunities we were working on and what we had up net in the pipeline. Then I would ask why they thought their idea should bump one of those, and which one? If they felt strongly about it I’d ask them to put together a one pager on the topic, summarize their idea, the business opportunity, and what it should replace in the pipeline… BTW, no one ever did that work so it took care of itself. Now if someone brought an idea that I thought was killer, I’d personally jump on it and work up a few visualizations and see where we could take it.

Personally, I think iab’s approach is a lot more systematic and fair. If I ever go back into a large org, I’ll be borrowing that one dude :slight_smile:

AV Club: Being a designer definitely changes your perspective on new ideas. As designers, we tend to have a lot of ideas so even 99% being going no where is no big deal to us. Also, we are used to using critique to make our ideas stronger. When dealing with non-designers, I often get the feeling that their idea is their one idea. It’s their only child and they can’t bear to think of something happening to it. I try to remember that every time someone pitches an idea to me.

Something that I found helps both the pitcher and receiver is to not give too much feedback right away. Maybe the idea is excellent, but you are busy or your head is in problem-solving mode and you are going to immediately try to kill it. Try to say, “Oh, that’s interesting. Let me thick about it.” That way, you have time to consider it when you are in the right mode to receive the idea and the pitcher feels that their idea is valuable (you are taking time to consider it).

For more ideas, I highly recommend this article:

Go to the section “Supervisory Encouragement”

Thanks everyone, there is some really good advice here that I can begin to implement. Infact, after I typed my OP someone said “Hey I have this idea I want to show you” and after he had talked to be about it he was like "I already ordered the parts and have some of the pieces in paint for a prototype and I was just kinda like :open_mouth: .

This is a tell tale sign for people when they come to me with things :wink: if i immediately see the value.

This is an excellent point I omitted. We vet ideas against our launch criteria. And most ideas can be killed in our 5% process, meaning we spend 5% of our time on them and that is all it takes to kill them. But if the idea is “good”, it will take a lot of resources to develop it. So is it sponge-worthy is a question for us to decide. What project is on top of the resource list, which are on deck and which are on the shelf.

But again, we always keep the person who submitted the idea in the loop, no matter if it was killed early or it is top of the heap. We are as transparent as we can be, and it is always appreciated.

Why is that? How do you evaluate an idea without being visualized?

As long as their other duties are fulfilled, we trust our associates to manage their own time. We actually require them to work on unsanctioned projects/ideas. More ideas make for a better project outcome, not less.

Same at our company, understanding that people have certain decision rights. i.e ability to approve spendature… over 5g. i need to review, under 5 g if they feel there is value and they thought it out feel free. Now to many “why the heck???” and they lose the decision rights. The same would go for me.

I totally agree, but many of the ideas can be vetted out (and they have been told/shown this effectively) in a lower tech way without spending a good amount of money for components etc.

Many times that is the case.

But luckily I am in the position not to nickel and dime my people. They have signoff for anything under $500 and I don’t care if they make a “free” paper widget or a $499 SLA widget. Anything over $500, they need my signature. And quite frankly it doesn’t take much for me to sign, I am a part of an $11 billion company. A few thousand to get the job done quickly is irrelevant.

iab: That’s a smart policy. Often times, the best ideas can be proven or killed with a basic model.

Getting off topic for a moment…
Simply put, in our (most) science museum world that’s where exhibit/interactive testing starts, “Paper Testing”. Usually the Content Developer will go on the floor with, sometimes literally, pieces of paper and interact with the visitors to test an idea/concept.

… back to the main topic.