“See something, say something” is easier said than done: if it takes effort to provide feedback, then distraction, procrastination, and undervaluing our own opinions are enough to keep valuable feedback from being returned. For a feedback culture, it is important that every opinion is heard and counts.
Why bother with a feedback culture?
Feedback-rich culture nurtures a growth mindset. I first heard the term “growth mindset” a few years ago in a note from my kids’ principal, and it has stayed with me since. A growth mindset is a state of mind in which you are in control of your own ability and can constantly learn, improve, and get smarter. In a growth mindset, the brain is capable of overcoming the challenges it faces in new areas of learning, and feedback provides opportunities to improve.
How do I build a feedback-rich culture?
To create a feedback culture you must normalize the process of collecting responses—ideally as a part of everyday life. Feedback (for example, a performance appraisal) should not be a rare event scheduled at the end of the year. You should establish multiple channels and efficient ways for people to be candid with each other. Transparency is extremely important to build accountability and trust, and to encourage people to share what’s on their minds without fear of being judged.
There are various effective ways of collecting feedback. Here are some methods I have personally tried with my teams.
- One-on-ones: Use one-on-ones to get to know people. Be careful to not convert them into status meetings. Not only do one-on-ones offer an opportunity to understand where your employees are coming from, they also give you an inside look on what influences their thought processes, aspirations, concerns, and perceptions of the office. One-on-ones can also offer an opportunity to get feedback about improving their satisfaction or happiness at work. If difficult conversations aren’t happening, this is a good place to reflect if you have succeeded in creating a safe environment for your employees. You can gain this level of confidence by letting your workers provide honest feedback without fear of repercussion.
- Post-mortems, pre-mortems and retrospectives: Sit the team down for an hour to talk about what went well, what didn’t go well, and how we can improve. Creating an opportunity for group venting and praise has a powerful impact on morale. Another tactic that has proven to be successful is variation, which is an effective tool to collect actionable feedback.[b] One way to test out the team is to fast-forward a few months and create a scenario of an imaginary disaster in the foreseeable future. Lead the team through a pre-mortem to determine action items for prevention.
- Speed feedback: A team splits into pairs, and each team member takes a turn to give their partner two minutes of positive evaluation. After receiving individual responses from all members of the team, each person presents to the group what they’ve learned about themselves and one or two actionable things to work on and improve. For this exercise to be effective, the team must align and learn the concept of constructive assessment. Word choice matters: criticism cannot be too harsh, or the person receiving can become defensive and unreceptive. The entire team must be on board from the beginning.
- Open-door policy: Management must ensure it is always available and approachable, so team members can reach out whenever they may have feedback.
- All-hands and “ask-us-anything” meetings: These meeting’s objectives are to offer clarity about ongoing management decisions and companywide operations and to encourage employees to gain clarity by asking questions that are on their minds.
To give and receive truly candid feedback, people must have a sense of safety and trust.
This doesn’t mean that everyone in the team has to like each other, but there does need to be a basic level of respect. There needs to be a positive, warm environment in which everyone feels comfortable in their own skin and welcome to put opinions out there. Understanding each other’s perspectives and forming mutual trust and camaraderie influences our “fight or flight” instinct.
You need to be able to feel comfortable to disagree, have passionate arguments, change sides, or respectfully agree to disagree and be able to move on. A positive environment influences our ability to have an open mind and accept feedback. The more you learn about your team and where they come from, the more meaningful your conversations will be. In a positive, respectful environment, we process information more objectively, and we feel less judged and less vulnerable.
To create safety and trust:
- Be genuine
- Be honest
- Earn people’s trust
- Get to know the people in your team (truly invest in positive relationships and assume positive intent)
- Listen and be truly empathetic to enable yourself to resolve conflicts effectively
Real feedback is generally hard for people to give. More often than not, they’re less than candid for self-preservation or fear of being perceived as a negative person. Sometimes it’s because people want to bring solutions, not problems. People fear the reaction of an unpredictable boss, and do not want to be the unfortunate messenger who gets shot for delivering bad news.
It is extremely important that the team truly understands the goal, and that you, as a manager, both value their feedback and insight and make them feel your gratitude. Not only will people feel that they have been heard, but they could also give you a head start to working on potential solutions.
Positive feedback is as important as negative feedback (or as I like to put it, “constructive developmental opportunities”). Too often we deliver negative feedback wrapped in positive feedback to cushion the blow. This reduces the value of both: people are quick to ignore the positive and focus on the negative.
Developing a feedback-rich culture means encouraging your team to give direct positive feedback to each other more often. A study published in the Harvard business review reviewed daily survey responses and found a direct causal relation between a person reporting progress at the end of the day and a self-report of happiness. A happy state showed a direct causal relationship to having received just one positive feedback during a typical eight-hour workday from a colleague or manager. The power of positive feedback showed a significant and fundamental impact on the quality of progress as well. People who received positive feedback recorded their progress as meaningful and more gratifying and their job satisfaction was positively influenced.
Having a feedback-rich culture also means that management owes feedback on the feedback. Employees need to see that giving feedback is worth their time and that management cared and took real actions. It is extremely important to provide actionable updates on feedback to keep it coming. When a manager or leadership makes a decision or implements process change or improvement based on direct feedback from the team, it is very important to bring visibility and to highlight such decisions to encourage more folks to come forward.