Why a Healthy Feedback Culture is Vital for Agile Companies

Exploring the importance of productive two-way feedback

Sep 29, 2021 - 6 min.

By: Pierre Verstraeten
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“Please can I give you some feedback?”

Think about how that question makes you feel. The likelihood is you instantly assume you’re about to be criticized.

And the response to that is – almost always – defensiveness.

Feedback is critical for any organisation, team, or relationship to thrive. Constructive feedback helps team members, managers, and leaders to learn and develop.

Performance, as a concept, needs continuous feedback in order to improve. As team members, we are often introduced to new tasks or roles and can also be performing familiar tasks but in an environment that’s changing.

That’s why constant feedback gives us the input or insight to build upon our performance and to continuously realign with external and self-expectations.

WHY IS FEEDBACK SUCH A GAME-CHANGER?

Feedback, by nature, is about learning and self-development.

In this vein, it’s essential that feedback in a manager and employee relationship is set-up as a two-way street.

The manager and the employee can then embark on a journey where they are continuously learning and improving. When this doesn’t happen and learning is stopped in its tracks, a team can quickly become dysfunctional with unspoken frustrations as mistakes are repeated.

Some of the Benefits of Effective Feedback:

- Optimization of work, shortening the length of tasks and projects
- A clear picture of mutual expectations and increased transparency
- Trust and positive relationships among team members, leaders and managers
- Confidence throughout the company, as employees feel their managers believe in them
- Higher levels of employee retainment. In fact, companies that implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are 14.9% lower compared to companies whose employees receive no feedback.

 

The common theme here is that people can become more engaged with their work. In fact, once feedback becomes a regular practice, employees can become three times more engaged than they were before.

SHIFTING THE PERSPECTIVE

Many times, the improvements we’re looking to achieve don’t come to fruition because the feedback isn’t given in a way that the receiver can embrace.

Research by Gallup revealed that only 26% of employees feel that the feedback they receive improves their work.

That’s a very low percentage considering the weight feedback carries.

And this is largely due to the feedback culture that’s instilled in the workplace. There’s a way of flipping the switch on feedback culture that allows the recipient to feel more in control and in charge of their own development.

The trick here is to encourage a culture where people are actually asking for feedback across the organisation.

Consider how you would feel asking the question: ‘Please can you give me some feedback on my latest work?’

Suddenly, you are in control of the situation. You’re not waiting and dreading feedback being given, but instead, you’re adopting a curious mindset to learn from a peer’s perspective.

Rather than fearing criticism, you’re thinking ‘what am I missing? What can I learn from this to improve my performance?’

This way, you’re listening to understand, not listening to defend yourself.

That’s the key shift that has to happen in order for feedback to be influential and constructive. And by encouraging a culture where feedback is actively sought, both parties benefit:

  • the giver who feels they are criticizing
  • the recipient who is feeling ashamed

EMBRACE ‘FEEDING FORWARD’

The concept of feedforward is that we flip the focus from the past to the future.

We can’t change the past, so it makes more sense to focus on a person’s development for the future.

Instead of putting emphasis on what someone should have done, you concentrate on how to improve the next time.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Reinforce what is working. Many people give feedback by diving straight into what isn’t working. When you feedforward, you lead with positive actions for the future –  essentially, you bring constructive input. For example: ‘the presentation will be clearer if you structure it as such’ or ‘the communication will succeed if you prepare it with this and that’. Aside from creating an interaction where the person receiving feedback feels more comfortable, you also plant the seed for repetition of the positive behavior in the future.
  • Coaching over criticism. The focus is not anymore on what has been done wrong, but on helping the employee find, from within, what he or she could do differently next time. Feedforward is empowering.
  • Offer your support for improvement. Depending on the level of experience of your team member, feeding forward can also be seen as a collaborative endeavor, not one person relaying their thoughts. If you offer your ideas for the next time – and your managerial support on how to implement them – you’re focusing on a positive future, rather than criticizing the past.

FEEDBACK RULES ACROSS THE BOARD

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to giving feedback, there are some general rules that you can follow to create a healthier feedback culture.

 

  • Make sure feedback is specific and fact-based. When the feedback is based on evidence it takes the interpretation out of the situation and allows the recipient to self-reflect in an objective way.

 

  • Get more feedback, more often. Again, this can differ depending on the organisation or team, but feedback should definitely be thought of as a process that’s happening regularly – not just in an annual performance review. In fact, most research points out that your millennial employees should be meeting with their manager for feedback once a week for optimal performance and productivity.

 

  • Encourage asking for feedback from peers, not just management. Asking your peers for feedback can create a healthy relationship dynamic. You are showing that you respect their opinion and expertise, while simultaneously demonstrating that you are approachable. Peer-to-peer feedback can give actionable input all round, that encourages growth and change.
  • Lead by example. Leaders and managers need to be showing that feedback can be a fun, productive process that’s not to be feared. They should be asking their team members for feedback on what they can improve, but also asking their own managers the same question.

 

When the team sees their managers behaving in this way, it will help them to feel more relaxed and confident to start asking for feedback themselves.

Final thoughts

Married together, feedforward and encouraging people to seek out feedback can be a key propellor for development. The combination can actually help to generate talent by uncovering new opportunities and carving out new roles.

Organisations should approach personal feedback in the same way they would ask for feedback on their product, solution or service. 

When you seek feedback on your company’s offering, the emotion is taken out because you are actively looking to improve its performance.

Imagine a personal feedback culture that works seamlessly and is more helpful, than painful.

Do you want more reading on healthy feedback culture? Here are some sources:

  • Neuroleadership Institute gives you a wealth of information on leadership, backed by science.
  • Gallup is an organisation that carries out valuable research into leadership, team dynamics and feedback culture.

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