3 Easy Steps to Creating a Culture of Feedback

This is part two of a series. Find the first post here.

Your company has a feedback problem.

Maybe the problem is “too much” feedback — too much critical feedback, that is.

SEE ALSO: Why your company needs organizational agility

At other companies, a culture of kindness can cause employees to hold their feedback in, rather than sharing ways to drive better success.

Changing even one aspect of company culture is a marathon, not sprint Click To Tweet

A good start is to create a sense of trust by encouraging a growth mindset. That is, your organization should be one in which people are encouraged to believe that they can learn, improve, and grow, that their abilities aren’t fixed. An essential component of fostering this mindset is meaningful positive feedback.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as common as it ought to be. Indeed, 37 percent of managers in the Zenger/Folkman survey admitted they never offered positive feedback at all.

To be effective, positive feedback needs to be an end in itself. It shouldn’t be a prelude to, or balm after, negative feedback. This arrangement can make genuine praise sound hollow, or dull the effect of the critical feedback you need someone to hear.

To ensure that people hear and appreciate positive feedback, Batista recommends:

  • Starting small. We miss opportunities to provide positive feedback every day because we have this idea that only big wins merit discussion. When we see any behavior we want to encourage, we should acknowledge it and express some appreciation
  • Praising effort, not ability. Growth mindset research suggests that praising persistent efforts, even in failed attempts, helps build resilience and determination, while praising talent and ability results in risk-aversion and heightened sensitivity to setbacks.

Change Is About People

Whatever combination of feedback is right for your company — annual reviews, quarterly check-ins, a combination — it’s unlikely to be effective if your employees don’t feel that the organization is a safe place for offering and getting feedback.

Watch the webinar: Training managers to lead effective 1x1s

If you’re making a big change in how feedback is given, it’s important to pay attention to “people’s readiness for a challenge and their emotional state in a given interaction,” according to Ed Batista, executive coach and an instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“When you sense someone starting to bristle, set aside the feedback for a moment, and show them that you have their best interest at heart.”

It will make a big difference if you and your team know each other as individuals. You don’t have to be bosom buddies, but you need to trust that feedback is coming from a good place.

Employees giving and receiving feedback need to be able to talk about their emotions. It is, Batista notes, “a critical feature in any group that aspires to share effective feedback, not only because feelings are at the heart of most difficult feedback, but also because feedback inevitably generates difficult feelings.”

If you’re doing it right, people will be able to talk about “ugly” feelings like embarrassment, disappointment, and frustration, even anger.

The First Three Steps

  1. Think of feedback as a retention funnel. Consider all the stages of the employee journey, and how you want your team to feel about their job and the organization at each stage. Where and when does feedback need to happen in order to facilitate those goals?
  2. Once you know the goals, create a framework for your new feedback-rich culture. Everyone needs to know who is giving and who is receiving feedback. How often should it occur? Under what circumstances? What is the goal?
  3. Commit to a culture of feedback by giving everyone a common language for both providing and responding to feedback. Train folks how to give and receive feedback. If your team isn’t in the habit of providing feedback to each other, starting with a regular schedule can help. Normalize the process.

That commitment includes ensuring leaders set the example. If leaders aren’t on board or appear exempt from the new initiative, their behavior gives the lie to the whole enterprise.

“Employees are more sensitive than leaders to gaps between espoused values and actual practices,” according to research from Harvard Business School. There are few things more likely to induce resentment than being asked for feedback you know won’t matter.

Integrating Feedback

Once you’ve hit the third step, there are two major ways to integrate feedback into the culture: building your own programs and incorporating outside tools.

Programs might include weekly one-to-ones between managers and employees or scheduling regular feedback sessions at specific project milestones that allow teams to align on group objectives, create agreements, and share individual objectives.

An active, ongoing approach to feedback makes an organization more agile and adaptable, with each employee on a clear growth path.

Simply incorporating a framework for feedback into a regular meeting can work. The “Stop/Keep/Start” framework has people offer feedback on three questions:

  • What should I stop doing?
  • What should I keep doing?
  • What should I start doing?

HR tools are another way of normalizing feedback. For example, 1×1 Agendas and the ability to request feedback from team members are key features of the Reflektive performance management platform.

Quick team- or company-wide polls can be used to gather feedback, including whether or not employees feel they are getting enough or the right kind of feedback. They can also measure workers’ sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness, i.e. the SCARF model, five qualities that help shield us from a threat response.

One study even found a perception of fairness produces reward responses in the brain similar to the brain’s reaction when eating chocolate.

Share the results of feedback with employees. Was a decision made as the result of feedback? Have there been improvements in performance? Public recognition of feedback reinforces its value and helps sustain the habit.

It’s okay to get it wrong sometimes when you’re working to create a culture of feedback, but remember, changing even one aspect of company culture is a marathon, not sprint. Listen to how employees are responding to feedback and adjust accordingly.