Does this pattern sound familiar? The annual studies happen; client satisfaction, member opinions, employee engagement… they’re conducted, they’re analyzed, they’re reported, and they may even drive some minor tweaks in how you do business. But they may not.

While these regular feedback mechanisms are critical, they risk becoming routinized; ossified based on how the world looked when they were designed. And nobody gets enough information, fast enough, about the world they operate in. Unless you shake up your feedback mechanisms from time to time, you can settle into a rut where you won’t see change coming, because you don’t even know what you don’t know.

Here are five ways to give your feedback systems some feedback: 

1. Talk to different people

If you get most of your information about your clients from your sales reps, how can you find out what the clients have to say more directly? If you hear what your sales reps think only through sales management, can you get at their insights?  What do your customer service reps have to say about clients – and about their own jobs?

Are you talking regularly to people who don’t do business with you? People who, on paper, should be interested in your product, your service, your organization, but just aren’t biting – what’s up with them? Go find out.

2. Engage in new ways

Do you usually do an employee survey? (Do you really listen to the results?) Then try some interviews, or a townhall meeting, or a facilitated focus group.

Do you ask clients for feedback at the end of a project? What about asking them partway through? Do clients fill in a form? What about asking for a phone call instead?

3. Listen to what they are saying to others

The Internet and social media in particular give us an unprecedented ability to listen in on opinions of those who are important to us.

If you were to devote an hour a week to checking in on clients’ professional digital footprint (Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and LinkedIn activity) you would have a much better sense of what is important to them. Even if you find out that they don’t engage in these technologies can provide insight.

And this one is so basic but not everyone does it: do you regularly check your clients’ websites for new developments? Your competitors’?

4. Listen to what they aren’t saying

This often just needs some creativity and a fresh perspective. Take a blank sheet of paper and imagine what a thrilled customer or member or employee might say.

Doing a great job of this will require some psychic distance – one way to do it is to grab a piece of paper first thing in the morning and scrawl it down before you have time to let accepted wisdom corrupt your thinking. Or take yourself physically out of your office – go for a coffee and watch people for a while.

Then compare what you have written to what you are actually hearing from your feedback systems. Are there entire topics you aren’t hearing anything about? How does the ideal enthusiasm compare to what is actually being reflected back to you? Are you asking the right questions – or do you just not like the answers you’re getting?

5. Ask someone else to do the asking for you

We all speak a little differently depending on who’s listening. Having a third party ask questions and listen to the answers can transform the conversation and bring entirely different value. Consider this particularly for sensitive topics, to build or rebuild trust, or if you are concerned your perspective is narrowing. (If you find #4 particularly tough, it might be time for a fresh set of eyes.)

Shaking up your approach to information-gathering can yield surprises. Don’t just change for the sake of change, but evaluate the ways you gather the information based on what you might actually do with it.

If you want support in hearing new things from your environment and acting on the results, I can help. Contact me at meredith@meredithlow.com.