As many of us know, powerful trends like automation, the war for digital talent, and the emergence of agile and cross-functional teams demand that we change the way we work together. Despite this, actually instigating that change can feel daunting and unmanageable. Where to begin? Who to persuade? These are just two questions that might spring to mind when considering changes you’re passionate about, and figuring out how to overhaul your feedback culture is no exception. The good news is that with a healthy, active feedback culture, it gets easier to realise change further down the line.
Firstly - a quick recap on the long-term benefits of good feedback culture. Feedback helps companies to not only learn, but adapt and stay ahead of the game. Equally, feedback enhances team level communication by promoting the exchange of constructive information, roadblocks and experiences. For individuals, getting regular feedback fosters a sense of development and growth, making them happier employees.
Taken together, these benefits make it possible for a company to scale and transform without losing its sense of collective identity and purpose. So feedback culture is much more than a millennial nice-to-have. And yet “culture” is a topic that tends to be difficult to sell and implement among all those hard-fact initiatives.
But don’t worry: by splitting a feedback strategy into four distinct elements, implementing feedback can be manageable and structured. Those key elements are skills; willingness; mechanisms; and role models. When these are nurtured side by side, company-wide changes become easier. Make sure you don’t leave any out, though, as the elements depend on each other for success.
There’s no use expecting people to give and receive feedback if they don’t know how. In the short term, workshops and training sessions can be really handy - not only do they provide a framework where people can practice giving feedback without fear of repercussions, but everyone gets to feel like they’re learning together. To keep up the momentum, hire a long term coach or internal expert who can give employees feedback on their feedback!
To quote Mickey Mikitani, company buy-in is “when everyone understands what we are doing, why we are doing it and how our goal is achievable.” If people don’t want to give feedback then your feedback dreams will flop: emotional investment is essential. You don’t have to persuade people with endless spreadsheets (unless they want them!): just make feedback a positive experience from the get-go; remember that celebrating success at work is just as important as giving constructive feedback. This could be as simple as doing an exercise where employees spend ten minutes telling each other what they appreciate, and what they’d appreciate more of. People are usually surprised by how much they learn.
Role models are invaluable when sparking interest in a company’s new habits. Think of them not just as trendsetters who make the first step, but as “lighthouses”: they guide employees and show where to aim for. Ideally role models are not only good at giving or receiving feedback, but passionate about it too. Humans are social creatures and when we have inspiring examples around, it isn’t long before we want to emulate them.
To set yourself up for long-term success, make use of structured mechanisms wherever possible. Offline, for instance, you could set up weekly meetings where teams and employees give feedback on their own progress. Online, you can use a feedback tool to help your feedback culture run like clockwork. These mechanisms ensure that new ideas turn into commitments, otherwise it becomes too easy to push unfamiliar habits to the bottom of the to-do list, or forget about them altogether!
Of course, you should tailor your goals for each element based on your company’s current position. Maybe your employees are totally on board with improving their feedback culture, but would really struggle to remember to give feedback because of their busy schedules. In this case, you could choose to make a basic strategy for the element you’re already strong in (willingness) and focus on forming a more defined strategy for the element you feel least strong in (mechanisms).
Companies usually find role modelling to be the biggest challenge because this element requires input and know-how from executives and management. The next biggest challenge tends to be keeping up feedback once initial enthusiasm has worn off, and that’s where having good mechanisms really comes in useful. Feedback tools help get into a rhythm of giving feedback, and because everything’s organised in one place people can use them to compare feedback they were getting 6 months ago and feedback they’re getting now (if only all self-development were that simple…!)
Another common hurdle can be getting support from company executives, especially when asking for financial investment. If they’re not sold on the prospect of building a company whose employees feel driven and valued, don’t be discouraged: make a case for the proven ROI of feedback [link to ROI blog post]. You can always start small by financing training for the HR team, so they can then pave the way for the rest of the company and lead their own training sessions.
Once you’ve figured out implementing and sustaining a brand-new feedback culture should feel not only exciting, but realistic. As you would with any other long-term company objective, set yourself a specific time period for your company to learn about feedback and your approach to feedback; make an investment plan; find (or teach!) a team of perfect role models and then reap the rewards of a more connected, self-optimising workplace.
A big thanks to Claudia Braun whose ideas inspired this blog post. Find out more about Claudia and her people management consultancy Return On Meaning GmbH here, or if you want more information on feedback culture, look out for our upcoming feedback eBook where we’ll share everything you need to know about feedback in more detail.
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