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Our guide to creating a feedback culture for your business

We know very well the value of feedback in workplaces. It’s a field we have some 30 years of experience in, be it through running engagement surveys or 360 feedback programmes. This makes us pretty well placed to observe trends or changes. And, based on what organisations are have been asking us for over the last year or 18 months, there’s been a definite shift.

What has changed?

The way in which organisations are thinking about and approaching feedback in the workplace is changing. Historically, with surveys and 360 degree appraisals, we’ve asked employees to provide their feedback on something or someone. And, often, this will be done in quite a transactional way.

Now, both surveys and 360 tools remain tremendously useful ways of soliciting and sharing feedback at scale but what we’re seeing more of is organisations prioritising how they create a feedback culture.

Why is this?

Feedback is no longer seen as a ‘nice to have’ in isolation. Rather, it is fast becoming essential to deliver strategic direction, fast. The current VUCA environment means that, now more than ever before, with seismic global changes outside of our control (e.g. Brexit, tech advances), organisations must move quickly to adapt.

There are some clear and specific patterns relating to feedback that are inextricably linked to coping amid an increasingly uncertain and fast-paced world:

– Feedback is more urgent: Because usually organisations want to bring about change swiftly, feedback is now much more about being ‘in the moment’ and not waiting for a meeting, end of a project or formal appraisal. Anecdotally, our engagement survey benchmark tells us that only 62% of employees feel the feedback they receive is useful. This could mean that the way we are giving people feedback at the moment isn’t supporting what they actually need.

– Feedback should come from all levels: Equipping employees at all levels of the organisation is becoming imperative. Traditionally businesses perhaps believed the more experienced you are, the more knowledgeable you might be. But there’s now a recognition that employees in the earlier stages of their career, and who may be more tech savvy, could offer valuable feedback on technological advances and ways of working. And yet only 60% of employees within our benchmark believe that senior managers seek and value employees’ contribution.

– People need to feel they can ‘speak up’. Being able to speak up has long been integral to employee engagement and it is particularly important in industries such as manufacturing and engineering from a health and safety perspective. With the speed at which decisions are being made, this is about giving a variety of employees a voice to give their feedback upwards to make sure that decisions being made at speed are the right ones.

What is organisational culture?

There are plenty of models and definitions that describe what workplace culture is but perhaps the simplest one is best. This is summed up in management literature is:

“Culture is the way we do things around here – even when no one is watching.”

So, in the context of feedback, we should take this as being about empowering (and equipping) people to provide effective feedback, even when they do not have a formal process in place that forces them to do so.

How do you create a feedback culture?

From our work with a number of very different organisations, here are the stages we see as being key to bringing about cultural change:

A checklist to help you create your own feedback culture

Through our work in this field, we’ve discovered a handful of points that are essential to success in creating and maintain a strong feedback culture. You can use this as a quick checklist to get started:

1. Be clear in your messaging
Why is a feedback culture critical to your business success, now? Make sure this message communicates urgency as well as excitement for the opportunity in order to secure buy-in.

2. What are your expectations?

What would a feedback culture look like in your organisation? What would people be doing differently? How should your senior leader population role model this?

3. What two things must change with your current culture?

As with any culture change initiative it is important to focus on fewer, critical behaviours and push these through.

4. Remember, it’s difficult to be perfect in giving feedback
Giving feedback, particularly in the moment, is not easy to get right. Bear in mind that your employees will need to help and support each other in developing this kind of culture. Too often feedback is withheld through fear of it being received negatively!

5. Provide support with receiving feedback
Knowing how to receive feedback is just as important as giving it in the right way. Educate employees that, when receiving feedback, they have a responsibility to help and encourage the feedback-giver. This includes accepting that everyone may not be perfect at it, yet.

6. How will you support employees to embed feedback behaviours?
We’ve found the most successful programmes involve a level of observing people in their day-to-day work environment having these feedback conversations. This supports an individual in making a direct link between the theoretical concept of a feedback culture and their own role.

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