Five points for feedback best practice in NHS and Pharma

Don’t just turn up with a problem – bring the solution along as well

I can’t remember where I was the first time I heard the above phrase, but it has always stuck with me.

It applies to not just NHS providers in the Pharma, MedTech, and Devices industries but also NHS practices, federations, and networks.

Anyone can turn up with a list of moans, groans, or things they’ve decided need to be changed. That’s easy. But if you’re going to make progress and resolve those issues, you’ve got to have some idea about how you will do it.

It takes courage to offer feedback, and you must be prepared to get your hands dirty. Otherwise, you risk never finding the answers to the problems you’ve dug up.

There’s no use in just complaining

The value of this approach was illustrated to me recently when an email landed from a GP federation client who also works with a primary care network I support. It came through from a member practice and amounted to essentially the network and the federation asking me for some help and guidance.

I was presented with an email string containing a diatribe from a practice, a huge list of everything they were unhappy with and, in their view, needed to be changed.

But, out of this long catalogue of problems, there was no suggested solution to any of them. So while they were more than happy to complain, they didn’t think to say, ‘Oh, and by the way, here are some ideas on how we could do things differently or better.’

Be part of the solution

When you have a long list of complaints, be sure to present alternative ideas and creative solutions that get everyone where they want to be. There are two possible scenarios here:

Scenario 1: “Here are all my complaints – I haven’t given any thought to how we might solve them, my place in helping to solve them, or the effect just dumping these on you will have on your workload or your opinion of me. I just want them solving.”

Scenario 2: “Here are all my complaints – I know it wasn’t your or anyone else’s intention to cause me all these problems, which I have found upsetting and annoying. But suppose we could work through my suggested solutions. In that case, I reckon this could easily be resolved to my complete satisfaction, and it’s a process you could follow in the future to avoid these issues from ever occurring again.”

The approach in scenario 2 makes more sense, and their stance is much more open, honest, and reasonable – all traits likely to help solve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. They could even list the pros and cons of their alternative ideas to be truly inclusive.

But what nobody should expect – particularly in a GP federation or PCN – is unconstructive moaning and complaining. The practice is a member of the PCN or federation, possibly both. It is, therefore, part of the solution. The federation did not know what to do with a pile of unconstructive feedback, which is why it ended up in my inbox.

Constructive feedback is key

We get opportunities to provide feedback every day, and yet, in most cases, we don’t bother. By avoiding giving any direct feedback, people often develop convoluted processes to work around issues, which results in a worse situation, such as the one I received above.

Feedback is the only way we can let people know how they’re doing with a task they’ve been set or an outcome they’ve been asked to deliver. It allows us to discuss the impact they are having on us, positive or negative. 

And it also allows people to learn and change their behaviour. I’ve seen it numerous times – someone has good intentions, but the impact they are making is poor. The person who is suffering through the lack of impact doesn’t say anything because they know the other person had the best of intentions, and they don’t want to hurt their feelings.

If you get bad feedback, you can always ignore it. But I’ve always tried to receive it in the given spirit. So my view is we should be grateful when we get feedback, good or bad.

Five points for feedback best practice 

1. Give the feedback as close to the event as possible – don’t delay it, or you risk the person receiving the feedback not remembering the issue.

2. Always thank someone for feedback, whether it is positive or negative. And if I give negative feedback, I always start with a positive.

3. Don’t make it personal. Focus on behaviours. Everyone’s intent is usually good, but the impact of what they say can be negative. People want to give out good advice, but often it’s how they do it that’s the problem. 

4. Always be crystal clear on what the issue is. There’s no room for vagueness.

5. Make sure you are clear on why you are delivering the feedback. What you are hoping to achieve by offering feedback is key. Offer ideas for improvement, and don’t moan unconstructively.

Stop, think and provide solutions

Suppose people work to develop the skills needed to give and receive feedback. In that case, negative feedback becomes less about outright criticism and more about collaborative, rather than accusative, constructive suggestions to help.

So I encourage all my practices and networks and federations to see feedback as a gift, both in the giving and receiving of it. Keep it constructive, allow people the time and space to develop and change, and they will respond. And if you want feedback and are prepared to act on it, people will respond to you.

The next time you’re tempted to raise a complaint about anything, I encourage you to stop and think about offering a solution or two that would avoid your complaint. By doing that, you are, by definition, more effective in resolving a situation.

Don’t just set out a load of problems – offer some ideas of what a good solution might look like. You might be pleasantly surprised at the response.

In the meantime, I’ll be penning a response to the person who emailed their complaints over, with a pile of questions to put the ball back at their feet and tease out of them what solutions they might envisage – because a pile of complaints without any form of solution means a mess for everyone.

Scott McKenzie offers strategic insight and troubleshooting for NHS providers, pharma, med-tech, and device companies. If you want to get your products fully embedded into treatment pathways, we can help you. We’ve doubled revenue for our clients and can share these processes with you too.