How do you close the feedback loop with Acknowledgements in a world full of “reactions”

Petros Vaxevanakis
How do you close the feedback loop with Acknowledgements in a world full of “reactions”

“Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our future. Let people see you value both feedback and ideas.”
Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

Feedback is a gift to give & receive 

Every employee wants – and needs – to have their say. However, it’s no good having that voice unless the company really listens. Pretending to listen is worse than not listening at all. Asking for feedback without really acknowledging or actioning it is a sure fire way of making employees more disengaged than they were before.

Research shows that when we don’t get feedback at work, we become nervous, suspicious, and less productive.  We worry about how others perceive us, don’t know how well we are doing, and feel uncertain about our future. Conversely, this also works the other way around. When we share feedback but don’t receive any in return, we become worried we said something wrong, or that our opinions aren’t valued.

On the contrary, when employee feedback is acknowledged and recognised, employees reciprocate with discretionary commitment and effort towards their employer (Sacks 2006).

Recognition is “the mother of all rewards”

Think of recognition as a form of gift. It’s no different to a tangible or monetary reward. Although conventional wisdom – and most management practices – dictates that people are motivated by financial rewards, most studies have shown that non-financial – or intrinsic – rewards are what actually drives performance.

Employees feel involved as their feedback is taken into consideration. It amplifies their emotional bond to their organisation when they feel they are actively participating in the direction of the company. Another way to look at this is that motivation results from a match between outcomes and inputs; in this case the two-way exchange of effort and recognition, feedback and acknowledgement (Adams’ Equity Theory). 

At Peakon we work hard to make feedback a frictionless process. Our goal is for everyone to feel involved, recognised, and valued. This is a constant process of customer-driven and data-driven innovation; the latest of which is Acknowledgements and @mentions, which was a collaboration between our design team and data-science team.

The fight to a deserved response for everyone

Mads Viktor, head of design explains:

The first version of Acknowledging comments was released in October 2016. Managers could only give one form of Acknowledgement for a comment, whenever a more-detailed conversation was not necessary. 

Acknowledgements turned out to be a great learning opportunity for us. We observed the patterns on comments with higher chances to be acknowledged rather than being ignored, and we started to understand the rationale of users who chose to acknowledge rather than engage in a detailed conversation.

Our users were getting more familiar with the feature after each round. The Conversations were growing at a steady rate, while the Acknowledgements were growing exponentially. As expected from our product team; they were complementary behaviours.  It was exciting as more employees in total were getting a response, which is a vital part of our product objectives – to close the feedback loop.

It wasn’t enough though.  Employees would often still get no response. According to research we conducted with our clients, they often felt reticent to use the Acknowledgment feature, as it didn’t offer enough context for a quality response. “No response” seemed better than “an inadequate response”. Our goal became clear; how do we minimise response time while still adding context?

The road to design

Mads, Peakon’s Head of Design, had the idea to search for conversations without the use of question marks. He also tried to understand more about the most popular short comments. However this was getting quite complex from a design perspective, so to narrow it down he reached out to the data science team.

Joe Cainey our data scientist said:

Comments and conversations are widely used features of the Peakon platform, and ones that we know provide enormous value to both employees and managers. From the massive dataset of over 1 million comments left to date, we were able to select a sample of comments that we could see led to very short, one-sided conversations. We were able to recognise that a vast majority of these conversations were in fact just acknowledgements by the manager, which led to the realisation that we could improve the speed and efficiency of using Peakon by making these acknowledgements easier to give. We manually analysed a large sample of the acknowledgements and selected the most common and universal types of acknowledgement. 

The Data and Design teams focused and collaborated on input and outputs:

  • Managers handling a large number of comments? Minimise the average time of responding.
  • What defines responses to acknowledgements? Data “comments responses” outcome into design language
  • What does the user relate to? Create a relevant approach to the ways people receive acknowledgement in their daily life.
  • Incentivise the two-way communication? Encourage behaviour by simplifying the user experience.

Mads, head of design continues

These new observations from the data team and our clients feedback guided us to form the design principles for the acknowledgements:

  1. They should summarize the most common behaviours in a visual, everyday language
  2. The reactions should be globally understood while sharing the right relevant context.
  3. They should become a frictionless way of recognising and reassuring more employees that their feedback is taken into consideration in a relevant way

From that point, we put our effort into understanding what that means to the user, and how it could be incorporated into their Peakon dashboard. We decided to approach it from their everyday experience of receiving and giving acknowledgements in the other apps they use. From their Uber, “driver compliments” experience when in need of an effortless ride, to their Facebook « reactions” for an empathetic acknowledgement that they have been following their friends’ news. 

We had to find the behavioural habits which would make the process familiar, while still highlighting the fundamental differences between acknowledging social versus work feedback. 

Guntis UX/UI designer 

With the design principles and data points in mind, we started researching the most common practices on how companies approach comment recognition, both visually and functionally

 Here’s some examples from Uber “compliments” and Facebook “reactions”

Joe’s research revealed the final set of acknowledgements needed. Michael, our employee engagement researcher, contextualised them further from the user’s perspective so that we could bring them to life. My first step was to figure out how each acknowledgement should be visually presented and illustrated. 

Each acknowledgement had to be expressed with a simple icon that is universally understood and unique.  

It quickly became clear that Emojis were not the way forward. Currently, they are used to visualise each comment score in Peakon’s comments section, and it would have been too confusing to add more. Besides that, the main difference between social and work feedback is that our acknowledgements are meant as short responses to employee comments. They don’t express emotions; they are approval or invitation for further discussion with the manager.   

Next, I had to find a solution that communicated meaning even when seen at a relatively small size. The use of Peakon via a mobile screen is increasing – especially for comment responses –so making it work for smaller resolutions was a priority. Based on this we boiled it down to simplified flat icons that represented each acknowledgement phrase, with a visual design that both managers and employees could relate to. 

 

The selection of icons was influenced by popularly understood representations. There was no need to reinvent the wheel. Flat icons have established a language that our audience already understands. The research was narrowed by how these four most common responses are represented in social networks such as WhatsApp and icon libraries such as Flaticon.  For instance, the most obvious example being “Great Idea”; usually represented by a light bulb that conveys an idea, discovery, or thought. 

Adding the icons in a band and making sure both the responder and receiver “get the message in the right away” were two additional problems. The manager responds to a comment by choosing the right acknowledgement. The employee receives an email recognising their feedback and confirming the action. In both cases, the first thought must be a signal of alert.

The most common way to do that is by colour coding, so each acknowledgement was assigned with a unique colour that reflects the meaning of the icon and the response. For example, for “Great Idea”, we used a yellow colour, the lightest hue of the spectrum, meant to inspire original thought and inquisitiveness.

Once we were confident with the design, it was time to figure out the functionality on the interface of the sender and the recipient. 

So far our users were used to just one type of acknowledgement. The Acknowledgement function is widely used across our users, and previously only involved one click to perform. We could not completely change this behaviour. We built on what we had while improving it even further by simplifying and highlighting the interaction. A button was introduced with an outline and a plus icon, indicating for the user that you can add an acknowledgement. By hovering it the user could now see all four acknowledgements simultaneously. The icons would be presented in a dock model where the user could explore each of them further by hovering. The icon enlarges while a short phrase tag appears on top. 

Launching something new on top of an existing popular function needs caution. To ensure that users have given the intended acknowledgement we decided to add an approval modal, which makes sure they have chosen the right response whilst they getting used to the new functionality. As with most functions in Peakon they have a choice to remove this extra step.

The final step was to figure out how the comment card on a dashboard with hundreds of comments should look like. It had to be easily recognized when scrolling. We decided to add two points to the comment card where it will be indicated. First one being the acknowledge CTA that would change accordingly to the given acknowledgement. The button will change the colour and text according to the acknowledgement given. The Second would be an enlarged icon on top of the existing question score emoji. 

The colour code makes things much easier for the user to recognise each of them when scrolling through comments and gives them a pleasant experience while using the feature. 

We hope you enjoy using this new feature. As always we’d love your feedback. Feel free to drop us a line via the usual channels, or support@peakon.com

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