Building a culture of feedback is no easy feat.
For many of us we are triggered by the word ‘feedback’. When we hear the words, ‘I’d like to give you some feedback’ we often feel like we’re about to be given negative or critical information. This sets off our amygdala and our limbic system (the system that governs our emotion and memory), putting our brain and body into a state of fear. We are not able to take on board what is being said and we automatically assume that the message is a critique of us rather than as an opportunity to develop.
So, before we go any further, let me answer a few simple questions.
What is feedback?
Feedback is, generally, an opinion or view about a person’s performance of a task or the performance of a product with the intention of a means of improvement. Often, feedback is subjective and should always be timely and considered.
Why is it important?
Given in the right way, feedback can be extremely beneficial to individuals, teams and at an enterprise level. It helps to understand how people are feeling, how someone might develop and learn, how to do something more efficiently and effectively and to ensure a focus on the right things. I say, given in the right way, because there is no point telling someone at their year-end appraisal that they’re failing in their job when they might have been able to make improvements months earlier had they known a better way to do it.
There’s a better way than the sandwich
I am not a fan of the ‘feedback sandwich’, instead I like to ask an individual to appraise their own performance. For example, ‘what do you think you did well? What else do you think you did well? What else? What would you do differently next time? How might you go about doing that? Would it be ok if I make a few observations?’
It’s not just employee opinion surveys that count as feedback, there are loads of everyday encounters that are far more impactful than waiting for an annual survey.
I was part of a team conversation recently where someone had presented on a process that affected everyone in the room. After the presentation, another member of the team said to the presenter, something along the lines of, ‘Maybe you could have asked us all if we had any thoughts on the process rather than if we had any questions’. Before responding the presenter said, ‘thank you so much for raising that, it’s such a good challenge for us all to think about the questions we’re asking in order to improve our process. Thank you’
Two points here: 1. Feedback doesn’t always need to be formal, it can be a passing comment, it might be unsolicited (as in this case, although it needs to be in a safe environment). 2. Acknowledge feedback when it is given, e.g. ‘thank you’, ‘I appreciate you taking the time to share that with me’, ‘Do you have any suggestions for how else I might have done that?’
Role modelling a culture of feedback
As a leader, it’s your job to role model the desired behaviours you expect of the team. One way to create a culture of feedback is to ask your team, how they would like to give and receive feedback. Provide regular forums for team feedback (i.e. not personal), like retrospectives, where – as a team – you review the performance or delivery of what you’re working on and agree what steps to take to progress and improve.
The concept of a review process, like a retrospective, gives everyone in the team an equal voice to put forward what is working and what is not, this is a form of feedback. It also provides an opportunity for the whole team to learn and develop – exactly what you want to achieve from giving feedback!
Another way of role modelling is asking for feedback from your team, peers or manager, ‘what do you need of me to support you better?’ and take action on their requests. Hopefully this will encourage others to be more deliberate in their own requests for feedback too.
Whatever you put in place for you and your team to share feedback openly, you need to act on it. Listening with intent when someone offers feedback is just as important as the feedback itself. Often, organisations and leaders score badly on employee opinion surveys because people don’t feel listened to. If someone makes a suggestion or provides feedback to their superior about a process change that can’t be changed, it’s up to the leaders to acknowledge what has been suggested, why they’re not able to address it or what they might do as a step towards addressing it (if they can’t do it all). For example, if your employees are asking for a better HR system the response might be, ‘we can’t change the whole system because we’re committed to a licence for the next 3 years but we will look to improve some of the processes for the system that are within our control to improve’ (and then take the action to actually do this!).
Creating a culture of feedback takes time, as does any cultural change, it starts with role modelling, listening with intent and taking action on feedback when it is given. I would also recommend routine reviews, both individual and team, where you have the chance to regularly check-in and discuss improvements and development – and, at an organisational level to provide training in how to give appropriate and timely feedback as well as how to run a retrospective.
If you would like some help to drive cultural change in your organisation and create a culture of feedback, get in touch email@example.com.