Behavioral change is one of the most-studied, discussed and trendiest topics in the realm of workplace innovations. If an organization can alter people’s behavior, then it can become dynamic and most importantly, coachable.
While we all know feedback is the tool to achieve coachability, the issue isn’t that people don’t understand the connection between feedback and behavior change. In fact, Forbes reported 65 percent employees said that they want more feedback. Gallup also found that millennials want feedback, but are too nervous to ask.
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The average employee knows feedback can help them, but the daunting act often feels too much to take on for one person. Traditionally most companies focused on training managers and leaders on how to give more feedback. The approach often targets the quantity and cadence of feedback, but disregards the notion that people want to avoid uncomfortable conversations when they are unprompted or unwelcome. In fact, by forcing feedback to someone, one risks psychological safety by jeopardizing trust and rapport.
In moments of unanticipated feedback, the brain tries to process information and most often, the advice is not taken as positive, due to negativity bias. Negativity bias is when the brain is biased towards perceiving situations more negatively than they actually are — hence making a simple coaching conversation into a psychologically threatening experience.
Making feedback successful is dependent on creating a culture of trust and psychological safety. Researcher Paul Zak spent most of his career studying how the brain reacts when it feels various levels of trust. Zak found over ten years of neuroscientific experiments that positive recognition is significant for increasing oxytocin; however for when it comes to learning mistakes and having coaching conversations, trust was most stimulated when leaders and managers were vulnerable.
This means, when leaders identify areas that they can grow, people not only felt more trusting, but were inspired to do better themselves. Lastly, compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74 percent less stress, 106 percent more energy at work, 50 percent higher productivity, 13 percent fewer sick days, 76 percent more engagement, 29 percent more satisfaction with their lives, and 40 percent less burnout.
From research, we know that giving people feedback at random does not make for a coachable organization. So, when creating a culture of feedback, we must create the environment in which people feel safe, trusting and ready for the feedback.
Changing the Culture
If we consider Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, which posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. Hence, in order for change to occur, people must embody said change. But because giving feedback seems to be a hinderance to many, asking for feedback seems to “reverse engineer” the problem by starting the domino effect in a way that is safe, trusting and healthfully vulnerable.
By training managers, employees and leaders alike to begin simply by asking:
- How can I be 10 percent better on this project next time around?
- How can I do one thing differently?
- How can I support you more?
- What is one thing I am doing well and what is one thing I can do to improve?
Through simple questions, people are more primed to give the feedback and experience the safety of a coaching conversation in real time without the pressure of a formality. Furthermore, once someone gives feedback to a colleague, they are more likely to then ask for feedback because it has become more normative through the singular experience.
So, if we apply Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory to creating a culture of feedback, people can signal to others that they are coachable. The ability to become more coachable signals to others that you want feedback, you understand what kind of feedback you would like and most importantly; that you’re in a state where you’re ready to process the feedback.
By preparing your questions for more feedback in a specific, actionable and behavior oriented manner, the response can be something you are prepared for, you can process and you can control, rather than it becoming an event you were not emotionally or cognitively primed to handle.
Feedback By Design
When we began the design work on our feature of “requesting feedback” the design and product team ensured that every iteration aligned with the neuroscience, behavioral and psychological research on how humans function and respond to feedback. We wanted to build something that felt frictionless, while empowering and encouraging employees to gather more feedback.
Effective employee development is driven by employees, who take a front seat in their own career growth. This is key to building an agile organization that can adapt quickly to shifts in technologies, business models, and social changes.
We can’t change a culture without changing behaviors and we can’t change behaviors if we don’t study how humans learn them. Thus, by using tools that are rooted in research, we can strive for cultural agility more organically.
Sources: Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York, New York: General Learning Press.