By definition, culture is a shared set of beliefs, values, and practices. And as Netflix stated in a their famous deck about culture, culture is ultimately the culmination of behaviors and skills that are valued in fellow employees. By defining specifically which behaviors and skills employees are contributing to the company culture, it becomes possible to measure positive and negative shifts in culture and provide the appropriate feedback to employees before it’s too late.
For example, at Netflix, one skill an employee can exhibit that reinforces a culture of strong communication is: “You are concise and articulate in speech and writing.” Objective and measurable, this specific skill can be tracked directly within day to day interactions in real-time as a metric that helps culture become much more real, manageable, and effective as the foundation for high-performance teams.
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In recent research by Gallup, engagement has a significant effect on key performance indicators within a company, with poor engagement contributing to costly issues like turnover, absenteeism, and quality. If a company is able to successfully build a healthy, sustainable culture of feedback to cultivate engaged employees, they can outperform by 202 percent. In fact, research has shown that by increasing employee engagement investments by 10 percent, companies can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year. Here are some strategies for building a sustainable culture of feedback and cultivating a workforce of engaged employees.
1. Clearly define your company’s culture
What are key elements of your company’s culture that are important to its success? If you’re a startup – it might be agility. If so, what specific skills and behaviors should your employees practice that reinforce a culture of agility? Define those skills and behaviors to develop a strong culture code.
2. Educate employees on expectations and assessments
Develop ways to clearly communicate to managers and employees the skills and behaviors that are expected within the company’s culture. Be transparent, consistent, and clear about how those skills and behaviors are measured and assessed. Ideally, employees receive feedback on these skills and behaviors on an ongoing basis throughout they year. In some cases, they are also are used to form the foundation of a solid performance management process.
3. Train managers and employees alike in the art of giving and receiving feedback
Frequent feedback is crucial in helping to prevent problems from becoming bigger than they need to be. The problem is, most organizations typically only train managers on how to deliver feedback, but don’t necessarily prepare employees for receiving it, defeating the purpose and sometimes causing the process to entirely backfire. According to Harvard Business Review, training should be baked into a company’s culture. If learning, curiosity, and failure become less taboo and understood as byproducts of other important cultural pillars, such as taking risks, experimentation and innovation, all feedback becomes constructive and appreciated.
Gallup also discovered that by focusing on employees’ strengths rather than weaknesses, companies were able to achieve a groundbreaking ratio of 60:1 engaged vs. disengaged employees. Why does this work so well as opposed to other feedback tactics?
“Focusing on people’s strengths is a crucial way to show them that they matter. Employees with managers who focus on their strengths begin to understand that they are unique and that they can contribute based on the talents that make them unique. They also understand that they are not just a cog in the wheel, but an important part of something greater than themselves,” according to Gallup.
By frequently providing positive reinforcement and recognition to employees when they exhibit skills and behaviors that contribute to the company culture, higher employee engagement and a sustainable culture of feedback can be achieved. To avoid having praise seem forced or sound hollow, focus on praising employee effort to encourage determination and resilience amongst your workforce.
4. Make it systematic — implement tools for capturing feedback in real-time
Even if the cultural expectations around skills and behaviors are clear, people get busy and forgetful, which is why it becomes crucial to find ways to make feedback systematic. To address this, the next generation of performance management systems are becoming more real-time. One example, Reflektive, seamlessly integrate into an employee’s existing workflow, making it easy to capture feedback on an ongoing basis. This real-time feedback can then be used to pre-populate a performance review with actual data.
In addition to facilitating more real-time feedback, Reflektive incorporates features like a goal system to help keep goals visible and top of mind as well as real-time engagement polling mechanism to help managers keep a pulse on company culture. An analog example that is the NikoNiko calendar, pioneered at Toyota, which allows managers to gauge the happiness levels of employees. On days with many red faces, they would try to identify the root cause (Did someone forget to turn on the air conditioning? Did the manager give out some pink slips?). With advanced tools like Reflektive, companies can identify these patterns digitally based on real-time inputs from employees as they are completing their work.
Implementing tools that integrate with an employee’s workflow can dramatically improve communication and lead to a sustainable culture of feedback between team members. By making it systematic, documented, and measurable, it holds both those giving and receiving feedback accountable.
5. Gather and interpret insights and iterate
With the new generation of productivity and performance tools that allow companies to gather rich information around employee sentiment, taking advantage of this valuable data can provide companies with a strong competitive advantage. Analytics and reporting from these tools can allow managers to catch red flags and negative patterns of behavior early on and address them. Insights from data can also inform longer term organizational strategy, from hiring to reporting structures.
Investing time and effort into these strategies will prepare your organization for a feedback-rich culture, which ultimately will lead to strong long-term performance and more engaged employees.