Creating a feedback culture

Guest blog post from Rachel Broome, Director at training experts TalentStorm Ltd

Today’s fast-paced environments and more complex working demands mean that organisations are looking to foster cultures where feedback can be given ‘in the moment’. This marries well with the demands that today’s workers have, driven by the millennial generation and the culture they have grown up with of immediacy, being surrounded by stimuli.

Organisations are looking for new feedback models that can support this shift. Traditional feedback models such as the praise sandwich are not enough anymore. With its praise, criticism, praise approach it is not only predictable, but also undermines the value of the praise given (was it genuine or just made up to allow for the criticism to be delivered?). Equally its overcomplex approach could render it ineffective for giving praise or criticism in the moment.

Find a feedback model that works for you - Kim Scott-Lee, ex-Google and Facebook manager, has outlined a new approach in her book Radical Candor. Here she outlines a two-by-two matrix that has ‘care personally’ and ‘challenge directly’ as the benchmarks. Once managers and leaders learn to govern those two aspects they will be able to deliver feedback that is radically candid - showing that they care by challenging the individual.

By being aware of the other quadrants on the matrix (Ruinous Empathy, Obnoxious Aggression, Manipulative Insincerity) it is easy for managers to see the traps they may currently be falling into. The descriptive headings alone give a flavour for the behaviors that lie underneath. Radical Candor is a good example of a new approach to feedback that would support a feedback culture.

Promote your feedback model - Of course with any feedback model, managers and leaders will need training and practice. This is the starting point for building a new feedback culture in your organisation. Next steps could include integrating the model with existing training programmes, and internal communications.

Ask for feedback for yourself - Asking for feedback from direct reports at every opportunity will show that it is a two-way street and that giving feedback is not a ‘top-down’ activity. This role-modelling of practicing feedback behavior can be a great foundation for creating a feedback culture.

Encouraging peer to peer feedback – to truly build a feedback culture, feedback needs to be taking place at all levels and not just between you and your direct reports. Routinely inviting peer to peer feedback in all team and project meetings can help make this a regular practice.

How does this work in practice?

Aimee Swartz, Learning Lead – Design & Technology at global software organisation Exact shares their experience of introducing a feedback culture.

“When we set out to re-invent our performance review process, we knew we wanted to include a focus on feedback, especially peer-to-peer feedback as this was completely missing from our old process. As part of our development process we did a lot of workshops with employees as well as surveys and a pilot of the new process.

From all of this we discovered that feedback was an area where employees lacked confidence in terms of giving (and receiving) constructive feedback. Based on this we knew that it was an area that we would have to give additional support. We drafted a process guide that provided an in-depth look into all aspects of the process as well as a quick guide devoted entirely to tips about giving and receiving feedback.

In addition to this, simultaneously to rolling out the process, we provided feedback training to all employees in the organisation. The training was not about the mechanics of giving feedback in the tool (this was simple so little training was required) but instead focused more on the “why” and the “how” to give good, constructive feedback.

We understand that to truly develop a culture of feedback (where it previously didn’t exist) it will take time and a lot of nurturing. We are planning to offer further feedback training later this year and are also working with managers so that they can coach their team members about the quality of the feedback they are giving.

Ultimately our aim is to achieve a true feedback culture where employees feel secure in the fact that everyone is working together towards common goals. Everyone will understand that the motivation for providing feedback is to improve results and there is no need to feel defensive when receiving it.

Our employees have told us that they appreciate being able to gather feedback from the people that they choose. In a way it allows them to build a case about what they’ve been up to, their strengths and what other’s value in their work. Managers have also commented that their reviews are richer when they include feedback from other sources as it allows them insight into their team member that they are not normally able to access.”