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Do you have a thriving feedback culture?

Take a moment to think about a conversation you’ve had recently, where you received feedback about your work. Was it a positive experience, or a not- so-great one?

  • Did you feel physical signs in your body that you were becoming defensive?
  • Did you find yourself listening for what you don’t agree with?
  • What emotions emerged for you?
  • Did you feel inspired and excited to learn something new?
  • Was the person delivering the feedback in an honest, empathetic, calm and clear way?

If it was a negative experience, it usually signals that the person delivering the feedback (who is most likely also dreading the conversation) hasn’t been taught specific skills to have the conversation well.

If you want to put people on edge – tell them they’re going to be receiving some feedback!

The threat response in the brain is similar to that experienced when you’re walking down a dark alley at night and think someone is following you! Unsolicited feedback elicits an even stronger threat response.

YET research tells us that a healthy active feedback culture is critical for fast adaptation, course correction, developing a learning culture, upskilling, innovation and creativity. Feedback done well grows Psychological Safety.

Feedback is the very axis on which organisational culture turns, and without it, people can easily become frustrated, demotivated, unappreciated…and disengage. 87% of employees want to be developed, but only a third report actually receiving feedback. We want to learn, grow and expand our skills, and at the same time, either we’re getting NO feedback, or what we DO get is delivered poorly and doesn’t help us! 

So, what can your organisation do to improve the quality of feedback?

As a leader, you have a great deal of influence over a number of people. Think back to your current and past managers and what made them great. It’s often because they were excellent at both asking for and giving feedback that was clear, kind, honest and deeply invested in connecting people to their fullest potential.

Dr Brené Brown says there is a mindset the feedback ‘giver’ needs to bring to the conversation. She calls it the Engaged Feedback Checklist. This is a valuable tool to focus your attention, and be intentional in bringing positive constructive energy to the conversation.

Every manager responsible for delivering feedback needs to reflect on the following questions:

  • Where are your feedback strengths? What are you good at doing in a feedback situation?
  • What is one specific behaviour or practice that will help you improve?
  • What are your top two personal values and how can you use them to help you give engaged feedback?

There is one specific thing you can do to improve your feedback culture – switch from giving feedback to ASKING FOR IT!

Research is suggesting that this switch helps organisations tilt their culture towards continuous improvement. Both sides (giver and receiver) feel less threatened, the feedback is given in real-time, it’s less biased and people get the specific feedback they’re needing (relevant to the projects they’re working on at that point in time). 

So, how can you grow an “Ask for Feedback” culture?

Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  • Train managers to empower their direct reports to ask specific questions of them, for example:
    • What specifically was good about the report I submitted?
    • What 3 things could I have done better?
    • How did you find my facilitation of the session yesterday? What can I improve on?
    • How can I improve my daily updates to make our communication more effective?
    • What could I be doing better in terms of my email communication?
    • What am I doing well when it comes to stakeholder relationships?

  • Build feedback rituals into your culture, for example:
    • Managers create space in their calendars to connect with each direct report for 12 – 15 mins each week/fortnight, where they are available to hear the direct reports specific questions and to the provide engaged feedbackAsk for Feedback Fridays – where every person in the organisation askes one other person for specific feedback relevant to the work done that week. People are encouraged to ask different people each week. This includes the most senior person in the organisation (and should include Boards as well)Reserve 12 -15 minutes at the end of a meeting once a week, where the chair of the meeting invites feedback on how the meeting was experienced by all attendees, and what changes can be made to improve the meeting
    • Use post-it notes where each person in the team is invited to write a feedback question, and ‘turn and learn’ where all post it notes are turned over at the same time. Someone in the group then chooses a question they’d like to respond to which opens up a discussion for the whole group

  • Grow a culture where Acknowledgement is encouraged, for example:
    • At the end of a meeting, invite each person to say what they’d like to acknowledge themself for (this can easily be done using the chat function if the meeting is virtual)
    • Acknowledgement Wednesdays – where every person in the organisation finds an opportunity to thank one other person for the positive impact their work is having on the team (specifically naming the contribution)
    • Managers make the effort to thank team members for their unique contribution, how it makes the team feel and the impact it is having. This can be done through email/handwritten cards/phone calls/internal communication channels

By improving your feedback culture, your organisation will surface issues and challenges more quickly, lessen interpersonal conflict, build trust, motivate and engage people.

We can’t ignore the fact that a 5% increase in customer loyalty results in 25% increase in profit. So, there’s a huge ROI, both in employee engagement and organisational profitability.

It’s a no brainer!


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