The importance of building a feedback culture

Our Tandem’s Aisling Teillard shares five key differentiators between a novelty approach and a habit.

Building a healthy, constructive feedback culture means that employees and managers feel comfortable giving feedback to one another and see the benefit of doing so.

Receiving feedback enables employees to be recognised for their achievements and understand areas for future growth and self-development.

A typical Our Tandem client sees 20 percent of feedback given being upward (from employee to manager), which builds team empowerment, strong leadership, and performance improvement.

Further merits of having a strong feedback culture have long been documented. Notably, the link between feedback and business performance has been proven with studies such as Zenger and Folkman’s.

The study proved those who engaged in strong feedback practices saw the top third of companies reporting much stronger financial results than the bottom third. This included profit margin, return on investment, return on assets and return on equity. So the business case is there, and multiple studies show the beneficial impact on engagement.

There are also all the returns that strong employee engagement delivers. So, if you are convinced by all the rich data that tells us that putting plans in place to build a strong feedback culture is worth doing, the question is, how do you go about building a culture that sustains long past the novelty value of an initial push, in an effective way?

Being a Continuous Performance Management provider of enterprise corporations around the world, Our Tandem witnesses companies building their feedback cultures and embedding these new habits into their organisations.

Here are the five key differentiators that make the difference between a short-lived novelty approach to feedback, to a sustainable ongoing habit that lives on and deepens in value over time.

1. Create a disciplined habit
This sounds more severe than it is, and it can be light, easy, and fun. Simple tactics such as ‘Feedback Fridays’ as promoted by Laura Grealish and Tamra Chandler in their brilliant book, Feedback (and Other Dirty Words): Why We Fear It, How to Fix It. can create consistency.

A ‘Feedback Friday’ can be implemented in organisations by simply sending a ‘nudge’ through a Continuous Performance Management platform such as Our Tandem, or an email to remind employees to give feedback.

This prompts employees to consider which colleague impressed them that week, or which of their colleagues excelled during a task.

These can also create an ongoing sustainable way of ensuring people build it into their Friday habits. After enough Feedback Friday communications, everyone settles into the new way of working.

2. Role modelling
A good body of data clearly demonstrates that where managers engage in feedback, employees will follow. It’s not rocket science, but here’s the good bit: they will not only receive and share feedback with others, they will also engage in greater levels of peer feedback and are more likely to deliver upward feedback. Yes, that’s employees brave enough to give their managers feedback.

Isn’t that the holy grail of feedback? We have a client who got their role modelling so right that 94 percent of their employees sent upward feedback to their managers in the first month of Tandem usage.

3. Make feedback easy
Too often initiatives are focused on how we get people to give constructive feedback. Here’s the bad news: they won’t, upfront.

They will only engage in constructive feedback if they have formerly built a habit of giving feedback. To deliver good constructive feedback, you need to have a bedrock of trust, otherwise you risk destroying that relationship.

The 5:1 ratio is a well-researched one and a good one for us to lean on here. If you give five positive feedbacks, it gives you a licence to deliver one constructive one.

By the way this one works in relationships too (try it out with a spouse!). This well researched model shows that if we are delivering five positive feedbacks we inspire trust. We know that person appreciates and values us.

So, when we go to deliver constructive feedback it’s in the context of a trusted relationship and is far more likely to be well received. So how do we make feedback easy? Start with little hints and tips about what great feedback looks like. There are some super new models out there to use.

4. The art of receiving feedback is just as important as giving
Sometimes we focus all our attention on helping people give feedback, but we forget that receiving feedback is just as important. Setting up the right environment to receive feedback is key.

If feedback catches you at the wrong time, it can create a fight or flight reaction. Also, different profiles respond differently to feedback: introverts need to digest it before they respond so will often go quiet, while extroverts will often have a more immediate reaction but can sometimes jump to a place of defensiveness before digesting it thoroughly.

5. Think about the setting
The environment in which they receive feedback matters. Catching someone unaware and ambushing them with feedback can backfire.

That’s why technology is a good channel: people can leave their feedback privately. This gives the person the time to digest it before they show up for the chat or follow-up conversation.

That way nobody is caught unaware, and they are both prepared to have that follow-up at a time that they are both ready and in the right mindset to share and receive the feedback.

Other helpful practices are to give training or tips on how to receive feedback graciously. There’s an art to it and we can’t take for granted that everyone instinctively knows that art.

Building a feedback culture isn’t an overnight journey but there are specialised methodologies you can deploy to ensure that the habit builds sustainably over time. Nudging people with the right messages can really deliver the right outcomes, but be careful out there.

Avoid messages such as ‘challenge yourself to get some feedback’ – nobody wants that challenge. We tried it in our early days, and it got zero engagement.

Replace it with some behavioural science nudges that motivate us to help each other and share feedback generously. There’s lots more to share, but for now, good luck with your feedback journeys. As the data will show, the outcome is so very much worth it!