July 14, 2022

Dara Fontein

Feedback Culture: What It is and How To Build It

July 14, 2022
Dara Fontein

Feedback Culture: What It is and How To Build It

You might remember playing the “hot and cold” game as a kid. You’d walk around a room as someone else would tell you whether you were hot (close) or cold (far) from a target object. While a fun game, this might have also been one of your first introductions to the power of feedback.

Whether you’re being praised for a job well done or receiving guidance on a project that just isn’t seeing the desired results, feedback is one of the best ways to know whether you’re on track to reach your goals. However, this can’t happen within a workplace unless a healthy feedback culture exists.

In this post, we’ll explain what feedback culture is and its extensive benefits, and share our top seven tips for building and nurturing an effective feedback culture across your organization.

What is feedback culture?

Feedback culture is an environment where individuals feel free, safe, and encouraged to share and receive feedback. Feedback culture can exist in a workplace, a classroom, or anywhere else where people are empowered to communicate their perspectives and evaluations of situations without fear of retribution. Feedback can be aimed at other individuals, teams, superiors—or at processes and the workplace itself.

That said, a healthy and valuable feedback culture only works when strategies and boundaries are in place that help facilitate the reception and providing of feedback. For example, a workplace obviously can’t just be a free for all where employees are recklessly criticizing one another without consideration. It also can’t exist at the other end of the spectrum where everyone only gives positive feedback even when situations call for constructive comments or criticisms.

Just like introducing one optimization tool won’t magically create a high-performance culture at your organization, giving sporadic feedback now and again won’t instantly build a productive feedback culture. Developing a feedback culture isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time, dedication, and adjustments to continually build and nurture this way of working together. However, the benefits are well worth it.

The benefits of feedback culture

When done successfully, workplaces that can build and grow a healthy feedback culture see a number of significant benefits. These include more empowered and motivated employees, boosted engagement, more trust between leadership and employees, and better data. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of feedback culture.

Empower employees and boost engagement

Employees who are regularly encouraged to provide and receive feedback can develop a greater sense of ownership over their work—plus feel more engaged. A recent Officevibe survey found that “43 percent of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week compared to only 18 percent of employees with low engagement.”

When employees receive regular feedback, it shows them that their work matters enough to warrant a response (of any kind). For example, if a graphic designer worked on several projects and never received any comments or feedback on their work, it would be natural for them to start feeling as if nobody’s paying any attention to what they do. When others provide feedback—whether good or “bad”—employees feel that their actions are making some measurable impact.

When organizations offer employees the opportunity to provide feedback, it helps their people develop a sense of ownership over their work and the business's overall success. Regular feedback is critical in developing employee voice—“the ability of employees to express their views, opinions, concerns, and suggestions, and for these to influence decisions at work.” When this happens, employees feel invested in what they’re doing, more engaged, and much more valued and empowered.

Build trust

Feedback culture naturally helps build trust and mutual respect amongst employees, regardless of position or seniority level, across an organization. When employees can communicate openly and effectively with not only their peers but with their bosses and managers, they’re able to feel a deeper sense of understanding and connection with their colleagues. As the Harvard Business Review reports, employees at organizations that are considered “high-trust” experience 40 percent less burnout, exhibit 74 percent less stress, and are 50 percent more productive.

When people can give direct and honest feedback to one another, there’s no room for ambiguity or wondering if someone isn’t telling the complete truth. In a functional feedback culture, you’re rarely left guessing anyone’s true feelings. Instead, people can communicate openly, honestly, and respectfully.

Generate data

A strong feedback culture facilitates the free sharing of information across an entire organization. Within this information is extremely valuable data that businesses can use to optimize processes, gain a holistic view of the company, and improve all aspects of the organization. Rather than a once or twice a year feedback session during performance reviews, feedback culture encourages the continuous sharing of feedback. This means more data and information for managers, employees, and leaders.

For example, when a manager asks for feedback regarding a recent project (what went well, what didn’t, etc.), they can gain a deeper understanding of where things are functioning and where any opportunities for change exist. They might uncover a need for an additional project manager, find out that a specific team is presenting challenges and blockers (and slowing down the completion of the project), or that their team doesn’t think the specific project is a valuable use of their time. They could also find out that their employees enjoyed working on the project and achieved extraordinary results. Either way, by soliciting feedback and facilitating an open and honest conversation, they can measure employee satisfaction and make necessary changes and improvements.

In addition to feedback provided by workers, feedback received by employees is also an important source of data. When a manager shares feedback with an employee, it helps them understand where they stand, what they’re doing well, and areas they could work on. This information allows employees to gauge how they’re doing—and what they need to do to grow and achieve their goals.

Motivate employees

A recent Officevibe survey found that “78 percent of employees said being recognized motivates them in their job.” Whether this means receiving praise on a public staff channel such as Slack or during a private one-on-one, receiving feedback indicates that your work is significant enough to be recognized. As we shared in a previous post about hybrid workplace culture, “Employee recognition should be honest, authentic, meaningful, and timely. While there’s opportunity for creativity, it doesn't need to be flashy.”

While positive feedback and praise are rewards that provide employee motivation, negative feedback also has the incredible power to motivate workers. You may have heard the quote “feedback is a gift," which is especially true with negative or constructive feedback. When a manager gives their employee feedback, they’re offering up guidance that can help the employee grow. Not only can constructive feedback help an employee become more productive, but it helps with professional development.

For example, imagine you’ve just presented a campaign concept deck to a number of stakeholders. Afterward, your manager shares that they hoped you’d elaborate more on your ideas and do less direct reading from your prepared slides. While this feedback isn’t necessarily positive, it gives you the motivation and opportunity to work on and build skills you need to grow as a professional and leader

Tips for building a feedback culture

There isn’t one single way to build a comprehensive feedback culture. Instead, every organization must determine the best way to work with their unique employees and leadership team to create and grow a culture of open and honest feedback. Here are a few proven methods to get you and your business started.

Value the employee voice

A healthy feedback culture cannot exist if the employee voice is not valued and respected. This means that team members and managers alike can share feedback respectfully, while knowing their thoughts, opinions, and ideas will be taken seriously.

As we shared in our previous post, “The effective use of employee voice involves a dedicated and active strategy and accompanying program where workers can share their thoughts and have them responded to, addressed, or followed up with in a meaningful way.” Employees need to know that their feedback isn’t just being received and ignored, but it’s truly being heard and making an impact.

Respond to feedback

Feedback without any further action is just a conversation. An authentic feedback culture will ensure that not only is feedback shared and received openly, but that it is acted upon when appropriate and necessary.

For example, if an employee shares that they felt a recent project required an extra three days of working time, managers should note this, and build the timeline for future projects with this in mind. Or, if a manager shares in a one-on-one that they’ve noticed the employee tends to get excited about their own ideas and speaks over people in meetings, the employee should take this constructive feedback and work to avoid doing this in the future.

To make this happen, all of those involved when feedback is given and received should get together to agree on next steps—and follow up to keep themselves accountable.

Don’t just hear employee feedback—act on it.

Our free Employee Experience guide shows you how.
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Establish a culture of trust and psychological safety

Sharing feedback can feel scary—especially when sharing it with superiors or leaders within the company. One of the most important parts of feedback culture is ensuring that all employees feel safe sharing honest feedback. If there’s an ounce of doubt or hesitation, an organization’s feedback culture won’t work.

As Harvard Professor and Psychological Safety Expert Amy Edmonson says, “Do people feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment or retribution? Are they confident they can speak up and won’t be humiliated, ignored, or blamed?” These are critical questions to ask as you establish a culture of feedback in any organization.

One way to address this and help build this important sense of safety is by facilitating 100 percent anonymous feedback forums. For example, a collective intelligence tool like ThoughtExchange lets users pose a question and then receive responses anonymously from participants so that “ideas [are rated] on their merit, not on who shared them.”

Create formal feedback training

Giving and receiving feedback isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone—it’s a skill that needs developing. It’s important to provide everyone across an organization with standardized training, so they all understand how to participate effectively in a feedback culture.

Training could look like mandatory company-wide workshops and presentations, small group sessions, individual mentorship meetings, or any other format that would work well for your specific organization.

When it comes to training for a feedback culture, it’s essential to answer these key questions with whatever program or approach you choose:

  • Why is feedback training important to our organization?
  • What are the different types of feedback—and when should each be used?
  • How can employees provide and receive feedback respectfully and productively?
  • Are there any company-wide standards or procedures around sharing and receiving feedback?

When it comes to feedback culture, it’s important that everyone’s on board and understands not only how to participate—but why it’s essential.

Establish core processes and expectations

In addition to training, feedback culture can only exist when everyone in an organization accepts the correct processes. If only a few team members know how and when to deliver feedback, the system won’t work. Individuals who aren’t sure where and when it's appropriate to provide feedback simply will refrain from doing so—something that will undoubtedly restrict any feedback culture from forming.

For example, if your organization values continuous feedback rather than periodic feedback (i.e. feedback only shared during annual performance reviews), this must be well-known and practiced by all employees. Feedback needs to be continuously encouraged according to this approach, and there need to be the correct channels in place to facilitate the feedback. All of this should be covered in the organization-wide training (mentioned above) to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Setting clear expectations around feedback is one of the best ways to establish a healthy feedback culture.

People at the organization should understand:

  • Where to deliver feedback (ie. the correct channels)
  • When to deliver feedback and how often
  • Who they should be sharing feedback with
  • Who they can expect to receive feedback from
  • The next steps to take after delivering or receiving feedback

By establishing this knowledge as early as possible, companies can set the foundation for a strong feedback culture.

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See how Logicalis created their COVID-19 back-to-office strategy using employee feedback.

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Use multiple feedback channels

Feedback culture cannot run on irregular employee engagement surveys alone. To build a truly holistic feedback culture, creating and managing multiple channels for individuals and teams to share and receive feedback is important.

These include:

  • Slack channels
  • Town hall meetings
  • One-on-ones
  • Team meetings
  • Engagement surveys (as a part of feedback culture, but not the sole channel)
  • People management and feedback software such as Lattice (for both public and private feedback)
  • Employee appreciation and recognition tools (such as Guusto)
  • Collective intelligence software (such as ThoughtExchange)
  • Individual self-feedback forms

There are countless ways to share and receive feedback—you just need to find the ones that work best for your organization and people.

Ensure respect is a priority

If you’ve ever felt immediately defensive when receiving feedback, you know that things can occasionally get heated during these exchanges. As your organization builds a feedback culture, respect must always be at the forefront.

During your feedback training, ensure that all participants and team members understand that there are effective and ineffective ways of delivering and receiving feedback.

For example, the person providing feedback should:

  • Ask before delivering unsolicited feedback (even if it’s positive).
  • Stick to facts rather than incorporating personal feelings and emotions.
  • Focus on one main component or piece of feedback rather than listing several different topics or issues.
  • Ask whether the feedback was helpful (to determine their comfort levels with receiving feedback of that nature in the future).
  • Avoid the classic “sandwich” approach (where they say one positive thing, one negative thing, and then finish with a positive note). This approach is so well-known that the receiver of feedback will recognize it instantly, where it will undermine the positive feedback you deliver as well. This can negatively impact feelings of trust between both parties involved.

There are also ways to receive feedback to ensure the interaction is respectful and productive.

These include:

  • Being clear about boundaries and desire to receive feedback (or not).
  • Listen to the feedback without interrupting or immediately trying to defend yourself.
  • Watch your body language to ensure you aren’t crossing your arms, acting bored or defensive, or doing anything else that would indicate you aren’t taking the feedback seriously.
  • Thank the other individual for taking the time to provide you with feedback. As mentioned above, whether good or bad, feedback is a gift that should be appreciated.
  • Understand the core message and ask for clarification if needed by repeating what you believe to be the main idea. This helps the provider feel as if you’ve truly listened to what they’ve shared with you and lets them know that you have heard and understood what they’ve communicated.

More and more organizations are focused on making feedback a part of their daily business practices. By going beyond once-a-year engagement surveys and incorporating feedback at every stage of the employee experience, companies can expect to grow their business and create happier and more engaged employees.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Dara Fontein
Dara is a copywriter and content creator born, raised, and currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s written for companies including Hootsuite, lululemon, Article, and ThoughtExchange. When not playing around with words, Dara can be found updating her cat's Instagram account and wandering the aisles of home decor stores.

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