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Feedback Loops

6 October, 2015 - 11:36

Most systems have feedback loops, and communication systems are no exception. Just because a change message is issued is no guarantee that the message is heard. Furthermore, even if the message is heard at the time that it is issued, it may not be remembered later on. And even if the message is remembered, it may not lead to new behavior. Hence, feedback loops are essential for uncovering what was heard, what was remembered, and what new behaviors, if any, have resulted.

In addition to message assessment, feedback loops are also helpful in improving the change initiative, for a variety of reasons. First, the change designers may not see the entire situation, and feedback loops help them to broaden or refine their perspective. Second, some change initiatives are just wrong-headed, and the communication system should enable the rest of the organization to weigh in on its overall worth and efficacy. Finally, new things are learned as change initiatives are rolled out, and these lessons need to be distributed to the rest of the organization so that the lessons can be leveraged.

Barry Oshry points out that most feedback loops within organizations are “filtered” so that the established reality perceived by senior management, middle managers, or frontline workers goes unchallenged. Furthermore, in complex social systems, such as an organization, feedback loops often provide conflicting information. When this happens, most social systems tend to ignore the information because sorting out the discrepancies can be difficult, upsetting, and time consuming. 1 Effective communication systems have many feedback loops, and the information conveyed as feedback is weighed and considered.