Even the best communicators can recoil at the idea of giving—or worse, receiving—feedback. But feedback in the workplace is what drives growth and innovation. It's the difference between status quo and next-level.
Research proves that a healthy feedback culture in the workplace leads to happy employees which, in turn, leads to increased levels of productivity, creativity, and engagement. And as reports show that 51% of American team members today feel undervalued and disengaged, creating a positive feedback culture is more important than ever.
What is a feedback culture?
In its simplest form, a feedback culture is an environment in which employees, managers, and leaders feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback on a regular basis. Seems simple, right?
On the surface, it is. But when we take human nature and power dynamics into account, things get a bit more complex.
Performance management vs feedback culture
We’ve all heard of the yearly performance review, and there was a time when companies balked at the suggestion of abandoning their performance management culture. But as times and businesses change, so do the processes for employee appraisal.
The distinctions between performance management and feedback culture are clear:
- Focus on Accountability for Past Behavior
- Emphasis on Financial Rewards and Punishments
- Reliant on an End-of-Year Structure
- Focus on Continual Employee Development
- Emphasis on Improving Current Performance
- Utilizes Regular Conversations for Consistent Progress
While it may feel strange to abandon practices that seem tried and true, the vast majority of multinational businesses are doing just that, choosing the proven benefits of a feedback culture over the increasingly out-of-date performance management approach.
Tips for creating a healthy feedback culture
Building a positive and constructive feedback culture is more nuanced than simply inviting team members to openly communicate with each other. Here are some tips to get started:
Offer training on giving and receiving feedback
Creating a successful culture of feedback means making sure all executives, managers, and team members understand what that entails. Companies should consider offering learning around how best to give and receive feedback, starting here:
How to give feedback
You might be thinking, how complicated can giving feedback really be? But it’s a learned skill like any other. When it comes to giving constructive criticism, consider following this pattern: Seek permission to speak, share what you’ve observed, explain the action or behavior’s impact, listen for a reaction, then, finally, suggest a solution.
When to give feedback
When it comes to offering constructive feedback, especially when it’s critical, the “when” is almost as important as the “how.” A few options for timing include scheduling one-on-ones, setting up team-wide feedback rounds, and having open office hours.
The qualities of good feedback
A successful feedback session requires more than good communication skills. Feedback givers must practice empathy, psychological safety, and avoid bias. Feedback receivers must practice active listening, resilience, and readiness for growth. Which brings us to…
Build a growth mindset
Building a growth mindset—the belief that we’re constantly learning and improving—is a good approach in general, but it’s essential for a feedback culture. Growth, and an acceptance that we all have room for improvement, should be a core value of your business from hiring to investment and beyond.
Lead by example
As with nearly all workplace initiatives, creating meaningful and lasting change starts at the top. Executives need to commit to cultivating a positive culture of feedback by educating themselves and walking the walk.
Try offering your leaders discussion templates and conversation starters to help them better prepare for and feel confident in their feedback sessions. Blue Ocean Brain’s Leadership Guide for Winning at Feedback offers quick tips and strategies your leaders can add to their arsenal to help them deliver more personalized and productive feedback.
Maintain a feedback-safe environment
Without a sense of safety, any attempt at a feedback culture will fail. After all, employees won’t be honest and straight-forward with their feedback if they’re afraid of negative repercussions. Because of this, it’s important to encourage team members to politely and professionally engage in open communication, even when it involves criticism.
Build an infrastructure for effective feedback
No workplace culture initiative can thrive without the proper infrastructure to put ideas to work. The same goes for feedback. Whether your organization prefers one-on-ones or group feedback or a combination of types, companies must make giving and receiving feedback a baseline expectation and routine for all employees.
Focus on the positive
While negative feedback is sometimes necessary, the purpose of it should always be improvement. Because of this, make sure to focus on the constructive or corrective nature of the criticism. The point isn’t to tear someone down, it’s to acknowledge what isn’t working so a solution can be found.
As with other progressive workplace concepts, don’t let “feedback” become a buzzword or a box you check. Instead, focus on following feedback up with positive, measurable action. Don’t forget, the purpose of feedback is improvement—for the individual and company as a whole! And we all have to put the work in to make that happen.
Especially these days, we all know how important good communication is. Feedback culture asks us to take that awareness a step farther with a direct focus on open dialogue, psychological safety, and personal improvement. Beyond the obvious benefits of solving problems and maintaining growth, having a positive feedback culture in the workplace has been shown to increase employee engagement and performance.
Interested in learning how to build a feedback culture in your company? Check out this three-part learning series designed to help your teams level-up their feedback game.