Tip #645: How to Receive and Incorporate Feedback

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” Peter Drucker

There is a real difference between how an internal corporate curriculum designer and an external design consultant can receive and incorporate feedback from document reviewers.

An internal curriculum designer (ICD) can set deadlines for responses and reasonably expect the deadlines to be met. The ICD can specify and limit the type of feedback to corrections and suggestions. The ICD can use a corporate calendar to schedule a meeting to discuss any additional information or clarification that is needed.

It doesn’t work that way for an external design consultant (EDC). The EDC is contracted to create new curriculum and/or revise existing curriculum. In either case, the EDC must rely on technical subject matter experts (SMEs) to provide the necessary reference materials.

The EDC may be under a strict deadline to produce materials. Unfortunately, the SMEs are typically busy supervisors who are inaccessible due to daily responsibilities, crises, and travel.

The ICD will know or can discover if there are circumstances that might limit SME accessibility. Unless the client shares that information, the EDC is completely in the dark. Without access to their calendars, the EDC has no idea what is taking their time and when they might be available.

The ICD can have direct communication with the SMEs. The EDC often must communicate with the SMEs through a project coordinator. This can slow down the process, particularly if the project coordinator is also busy and occasionally inaccessible. This can also add confusion if the project coordinator misunderstands and so miscommunicates what the EDC wants or why the EDC wants it.

The EDC’s job is to develop materials that effectively get the client’s message across. The EDC has no authority to merely consider what they suggest. The client expects, and reasonably so, that the EDC will incorporate everything they provide.

The EDC can recommend a more logical flow for the content or point out that some content is missing or extraneous. The client may listen and agree. But if the client does not accept the EDC’s recommendations, the EDC is expected to make it all work.

Based on my experience as an external design consultant, I want to share some lessons learned regarding how to receive and incorporate feedback from clients.

Sometimes the working arrangement involves only a few knowledgeable people who are accessible daily. That is an ideal situation. However, if your client is a large organization, it helps to keep the following tips in mind. And if you are the client, you can benefit from this information as well.


  • Whenever you can, get direct access to the SMEs. You want their email addresses and their phone numbers so you can quickly connect to get clarification or additional information.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions if it is a highly technical subject. You need to have a clear understanding to communicate it through training materials.
  • When requests for information or clarification must go through a project coordinator, you run the very real risk that your message may be misunderstood, misstated, or mislaid. Follow up.

Large Files:

  • If you will be designing large documents and PowerPoint slides, find out as soon as you can the number of MB your client’s mailbox will accept.
  • Since many mailboxes will not accept documents over 10 MB, see if your client can access a drop box.
  • If your client cannot access a drop box, see if your client can accept links from an on-line transfer site.
  • If all else fails, thank goodness for thumb drives and express delivery!


  • It is acceptable to indicate that you need a response by a specific date.
  • However, if you want busy people to comply with a deadline, you may need to have management backing and support.
  • If all efforts fail to elicit feedback, you can indicate that, in the absence of responses, you will assume that the documents are acceptable and proceed on that basis.
  • However, if you do that you run the risk of spinning your wheels by designing something that completely misses the mark- which you will eventually learn when the original documents are eventually returned to you.


  • It is helpful to have a meeting or phone conference scheduled at least every other week to touch base and catch up on any changes to a program.
  • When clients work with a program every day, they may forget that you were not involved in the discussions. You need to stay informed.
  • Make sure you know who is responsible for different topics, so that you can direct your information or review requests to the most appropriate

Incorporating Feedback:

  • It is important to pay attention to detail to ensure clarity, consistency and comprehensiveness in the materials you design.
  • When busy reviewers quickly skim and note changes to a draft, it is your job to make sure the changes are logical, supported and in the right place. Since you are likely to be unfamiliar with the technical jargon or content, you can approach the material from the same perspective as the target audience. If you can’t understand it, neither will the audience.
  • You can certainly propose a different sequence for the information- or ask for a SME to fill in the gaps- if you think it will make it easier for the target audience to learn it.
  • Expect revision requests. If possible, have a phone conference with the reviewers rather than rely on written comments and changes in a document.
  • During the conversation, the reviewers will be able to explain their needs or concerns and give you the rationale for the revisions so that you have a better idea of how to format and word the desired changes.

Whether you are an internal curriculum designer or an external design consultant, you have an important role to play. You may just need to play it differently.

May your learning be sweet,


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