How to Create a Constructive Feedback Culture in Your Organisation
Many surveys have been carried out over the years looking at the things people fear the most, with more people stating that they fear speaking on stage more than death.
Interestingly, nowhere on these surveys does ‘giving feedback to another person’ appear as an option….but it really should!
Feedback is vital for reinforcing learning, the right team behaviours and excellent leadership – all of which impacts customer service and the bottom line. Poorly delivered feedback is as dangerous for the organisation as no feedback at all. Inaccurate feedback is another one to avoid, i.e. distorting the message so as not to upset the recipient. This only leads to the person continuing to work in ignorance with an inaccurate and perhaps inflated view of their abilities.
I’ve coached lots of leaders, team managers and supervisors and the main issue that stymied lots of them was giving feedback to another person. Whilst this fear may mostly be down to the individual – fear of the unknown, negative past experiences – there are things that organisations can do to make it a lot easier to give feedback.
- It starts at the top – Leaders need to lead by example in giving and receiving feedback. Chief executives, directors etc. are all under intense scrutiny and none more so than by employees of an organisation. That means how a leader reacts to real-time feedback will reverberate across the organisation and indeed, the story is likely to get exaggerated the further away from the source it goes.
Running facilitated sessions with a chief executive and employees can be a good way to create the right kind of feedback environment. The number and kind of questions and points raised will give you an indication of the extent to which there is a constructive feedback culture.
- Make clear what ‘feedback’ means – having a clear definition communicated across the organisation is important, as different people will have different views. Feedback for one person will be something that is ‘just for managers to give’; for another it will be ‘something you get from customers’ etc.
If you have a clearly defined set of organisational values do they contain reference to constructive feedback? If you have a competency framework, is there a focus on the behaviours that create a constructive feedback culture?
- 360 feedback for all – okay so if a person doesn’t manage staff then it’s more like 270 degree feedback but you get the gist. I’ve taken this approach with teams I’ve led and it’s worked brilliantly to create a healthy, constructive feedback culture. This has ultimately led to high performance. By implementing such an approach, helps drive the understanding that feedback isn’t just manager to employee. Feedback is up, down and across and it’s continuous. What you should find by doing this is that slowly but surely, people will become more comfortable feeding back to each other outside of the 360 framework.
You don’t need to get an overly complicated 360 system in to do this (although there are some very good ones out there). It can be as simple as asking three questions, ‘What do I do well?’, ‘What do I do less well?’ and ‘What do I need to do more of?’ and then a central person collates the feedback for each person, which the team manager then facilitates.
- Time, quality and setting are crucial – when talking to managers, leaders and supervisors I never fail to be surprised at how many don’t think about and plan their feedback. These kinds of practicalities aren’t always picked up in training, either – where the focus can be on the softer skills around empathy, sensitivity etc. The practical stuff is just as vital as the emotional intelligence aspects. It can be the difference between a constructive feedback session and one that goes horribly wrong (thereby, reinforcing previous negative associations of giving feedback!)
Dependent on what it is you have to say, allocate enough time. There’s nothing worse than having to break a difficult or sensitive session in to two parts because not enough time was given.
Quality means ensuring that whoever is giving the feedback gives specific detail. Ambiguous, fluffy comments just aren’t going to cut it and aren’t constructive. If it helps, write down three key points you want to get across. In fact, you should be doing this anyway. Remember the saying, “Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail”.
Quality also means listening to and asking questions of the feedback recipient. That creates a ‘feedback loop’, allowing you to pick up on any cues which might help during the session.
Sometimes it’s better to step outside of the corporate office environment and go to a coffee shop or take a walk in a local park (if it’s a nice day!) I’ve seen people use these less formal environments to great effect as these environments are an instant relaxer for both the feedback giver and the recipient.
- Become adept at using digital technology – with more people working away from traditional office environments, the holy trinity of time, quality and setting outlined in number four become ever more crucial.
HR departments can help by creating guidance around online feedback meetings, taking in to account things like time difference and etiquette when meeting online.
Don’t assume that all employees at all levels in your organisation are adept and confident in using technology such as Skype or FaceTime. For those organisations who haven’t run learning sessions on these, including how to give feedback using digital technology, then now is the time to do so.
Readers should really take these five tips as a starter for ten. I’m conscious that some of the suggestions may not resonate with your company or even country culture. They are by no means definitive ways to create a healthy, constructive feedback culture. Rather they are intended to offer practical guidance based on my experience of approaches that have worked.
Hayley Lewis is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. She lectures on the MSc Organisational Psychology programme at City, University of London where her specialist topics include organisational development, performance and change. She is the owner of HALO Psychology, a consultancy working with leaders and organisations to achieve exceptional performance.