12 Golden Rules for Building a Feedback-Rich Culture

Stuart is a performance management specialist with 20 years experience in human resources, both as an HR Director and HR/OD Consultant. He has spent the last 10 years working with organisations to improve their performance management processes and implement online systems.

We know feedback within a company is important. But how much do you know about building a feedback-rich culture? How can your company put practical, helpful measures in place to ensure feedback is delivered continually, and that it is well-received? 

Below, we’ll explore how the average organization can make feedback a regular and beneficial part of the work-life of employees and managers alike. 

Employee and Manager Need to Have a Trusting Relationship

Feedback can’t flourish in an environment of distrust. Before employees are confident enough to speak their minds and deliver feedback, they need to feel a sense of safety and trust.

Communication needs to be frequent and authentic to develop a more trusting relationship between employee and manager. If the only interaction employee and manager have is one awkward, intense annual performance review, there is little opportunity for trust and understanding to develop. The exchange of feedback will be greatly improved if the manager and employee can get to know one another. Consider implementing regular coaching conversations within your organization. These sessions should be informal, allowing employees and managers to discuss anything and everything on their minds, including processes, training, areas for improvement, and progression opportunities.

The more an employee knows their manager, the more open they will be to feedback. They will also feel more emboldened to deliver feedback of their own.

Provide Managers with Feedback Training 

Great feedback cultures don’t just happen. Not all managers are naturally gifted at delivering feedback — and that’s okay. Like many things in life and work, it needs to be taught. Managers should receive training on how to provide feedback in a way that won’t trigger an employee’s fight or flight reflex. When managers learn how to give feedback in a way that will make employees receptive and open to change, the whole process becomes more positive and constructive. Managers shouldn’t be expected to feel their way blindly through their jobs. As with employees, they need the tools to succeed.

 Let Employees Know They Are Safe to Speak Out

If employees are unsure or afraid to speak their minds, it should be no surprise that honest feedback will be limited. If an employee believes they might lose their job or be looked at unfavorably if they speak up against a given process, they’ll remain silent — and progress will never occur. This isn’t how dynamic, forward-thinking companies thrive. You don’t want to be surrounded by “yes” men who are happy to just collect their paychecks and disassociate themselves from the organization. You want engaged employees who care, and who have real ideas for change.

Let it be known that you are open to feedback, and people are safe to speak out — no matter how outlandish or untraditional the idea might be. Reinforce this by demonstrating real gratitude when employees deliver feedback — even if you believe it’s not the right fit for your company. 

Build Feedback into Your Company Values

Show your commitment to feedback by making it a company value. After all, feedback and new ideas drive innovation, motivation, engagement, and company growth. Poor feedback can be directly tied to slow (or non-existent) company growth. Be sure to keep this company value always in mind — especially during recruitment drives and when promoting. You want to be rewarding employees for their feedback and their ideas, and you want to demonstrate how important feedback and thought exchange is to your business.

The more an employee knows their manager, the more open they will be to feedback. They will also feel more emboldened to deliver feedback of their own.

STUART HEARN

Deliver Positive Feedback as Well as ‘Negative’

When developing a strong feedback culture, it’s important to remember that positive feedback as well as “negative” needs to be given. Sure, we want to know what we are doing wrong. We want to know where we can improve and what skills and strengths to develop. But this information needs to be supplemented with positive feedback. Don’t forget to tell your employees what they’re doing right. Let them know their efforts are recognized and that their work is making a real difference. This feedback needs to be as timely and specific as “negative” feedback for the best effect, which brings us to our next rule.

Make Feedback Specific

A simple “good job” or “do better” isn’t good enough to develop a feedback-rich culture. Employees need to know precisely what they have done and why it was so appreciated so that they can replicate this behavior in the future. Similarly, they need to receive real, practical guidance on how to improve. They can’t be told to improve without being told how – and without being given the right training and tools.

 Make Feedback Part of Your Routine

 As with all other aspects of life, practice makes perfect. Don’t make feedback a once-in-a-while activity. Incorporate it into your daily work life. It should also be incorporated into performance discussions. Emphasize that feedback should work both ways. So be sure to discuss employee feedback — and any feedback the employee has for the organization.

 Nurture a Growth Mindset

When delivering feedback, managers should be sure to praise effort, not just ability. Tangible results are great, but so is enthusiasm and dedication. Managers need to nurture effort to create a growth mindset, which will lead to resilience, motivation, and, ultimately, results. Employees with a growth mindset handle setbacks better and are more productive and engaged in the long run.

 Have Group Brainstorming Sessions

Feedback should also be a group activity. To get people amped up and in the mood to exchange ideas and insights, have group brainstorming sessions now and then. These sessions will normalize feedback, showing it doesn’t need to wait for a special occasion. They will also allow ideas to “ping” off one another, which means your company benefits from your team’s combined efforts.

Provide Alternative Feedback Channels

Rich feedback cultures should have more than one feedback channel. This should account for direct as well as anonymous feedback. It should also account for one-on-one feedback and group feedback sessions. Provide a number of platforms, including email, communication tools, performance management discussions, and group brainstorming sessions, to really encourage feedback. 

Ask Employees for Feedback

Feedback isn’t just something managers need to deliver to employees. Employee feedback is just as important to the success of an organization. We need to understand what employees find useful about our processes and where work gets tied up. Is there too much red tape, or are certain processes unhelpful? Is your software slow and cumbersome? Does your technology need an upgrade? Be sure to ask employees for their insights and opinions if you truly want your organization to flourish.

Act on Employee Feedback

This is, by far, the most important step in building a feedback-rich culture. Employees need to know the feedback they have given matters — and that you listened. If employees see change resulting from their ideas or concerns, this will inspire them to speak up more in the future. If, on the other hand, everything remains stagnant, and your employees’ voices remain unheard, feedback will be seen as a useless activity.

Feedback is a hugely valuable tool for any organization. Be sure to do all you can to encourage the exchange of feedback — vertically and horizontally — to make the most of your company’s potential and spur on company growth.

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