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Feedback can be scary. At least, that’s how many people — employees, managers, even CEO’s — can feel about it. Many of us implicitly associate “feedback” with “criticism,” sometimes making giving it uncomfortable and receiving it disheartening. When it comes to the workplace, the opportunity to give or receive feedback is often imposed by some compliance process, and often met with anxiety, resentment, and, too often, avoidance.
Yet, it doesn’t need to be that way. We know that with the right structure, support, and most importantly, mindset, feedback can be a gift — an organization-wide “unlock” that leads to improved employee experiences, team performance, and company success.
Ineffective Feedback Processes Still Reign
It doesn’t help that the most common mechanisms by which people give and receive feedback are often characterized by disruption, surprise, and conflict. Performance reviews and engagement surveys are the formal channels for feedback in an organization, for downward and upward feedback, respectively. As most know, these processes are typically tedious and time-consuming, and, as a result, are conducted on an annual cadence, or even less frequently.
What’s more, managers and leaders are often poorly trained to make these processes anything more than perfunctory, “check-the-box” exercises. In this type of setting, feedback has the potential to be poorly interpreted or quickly dismissed and therefore have limited impact.
Fortunately, a growing number of organizations are catching on to the immense value of eliciting, understanding, and acting on feedback. User-friendly technology and a heightened emphasis on people analytics are helping reduce the friction that has kept organizations from creating feedback loops that lead to continuous improvement. Below are a few practical steps that will help you improve your feedback processes and begin to create a culture of feedback at your organization.
Make Feedback a Habit by Understanding and Removing Roadblocks
In order to effectively revamp your feedback processes and drive continuous improvement, it’s critical to first understand what’s holding managers and employees back and identify how to resolve the issues. While these roadblocks may seem obvious to leaders like you, a comprehensive audit can be revealing.
In partnership with a range of key stakeholders, examine your organization’s current process(es) around feedback:
- How often is feedback being shared in either direction?
- Is regular feedback encouraged among managers, leaders, and teams?
- Do individuals feel comfortable providing feedback in general?
- Are they (individuals) comfortable receiving it? How about managers and leaders?
Once overarching practices and norms are mapped out, dig into the missing links and friction points:
- If individuals feel uncomfortable giving feedback, why?
- Are managers following up on development conversations?
- Is action being taken to improve engagement issues quickly?
- Do any stories demonstrate broken links causing these processes to fail?
When stories surface that exemplify the broken links that are causing processes to fail, collect them to identify themes and communicate your findings.
Further, assess the relationships among your various feedback processes. Most leaders would acknowledge a connection between employee engagement and individual and team performance, but are your systems set up to correlate the results as they come in? Are your feedback processes in step with your business processes, or are they siloed? Imagine what you could learn about your business if you could understand these connections.
When engagement is linked to performance and business results, feedback feels less like an unnecessary evil and more like a critical business process. Communicate the importance of engagement and development to your people to alleviate fear and drive faith in the process.
Provide Resources and Structure to Encourage a Continuous Flow of Feedback
The processes of giving and receiving feedback work most effectively when backed with a plan and a strategy. The goals behind each feedback mechanism should be a) clearly understood by HR and leaders and b) communicated to the givers and receivers of feedback before the process begins.
In the case of both engagement surveys and performance reviews, we believe the goal is to help people be happier and more successful at work. Engagement surveys surface environmental and team factors that hold employees back from being happy so you can rectify them, while performance reviews aim to provide guidance and support for individual employees to grow and improve. Being explicit about the purpose of each of these functions helps employees in any role separate guidance from criticism, and frame feedback commentary as a necessary and welcome vehicle for improvement.
Providing managers with a structure for leading two-way, open discussions is invaluable. This could be as simple as communicating a short list of questions to guide the direction of the conversation. These questions should be bereft of judgement and blame, and designed to encourage honest, fact-based discussion between managers and their employees.
Recognize and Reward Good Feedback Habits
As the adage goes, what gets rewarded gets repeated. Consider what it would look like to recognize and highlight desirable feedback habits that align with your company’s culture and values. Encourage managers to model good feedback habits in both formal processes and everyday conversations. Train them to respond productively to being challenged, and support them in recognizing individuals who provide constructive feedback to peers and bosses.
When possible, share stories of feedback gone right. Storytelling is one of the most powerful change agents we have. Pass on examples of teams who have established good habits, even if they’re only getting started. These stories will demonstrate the positive impact of constructive feedback for other teams, and give managers ideas for implementing similar practices on their own teams.
This behavior should be modeled first and foremost by leaders and executives. Encourage leaders to ask for more feedback than they give. This creates a sense of comfort and safety for employees, who may feel anxiety around sharing feedback with senior team members, and demonstrates a commitment to encouraging and nurturing a culture of feedback.
Remember the “Why”
It can be scary and uncomfortable for individuals to begin giving honest feedback, no matter how well-intentioned. Creating a culture of clear, constructive feedback within an organization is an ongoing process that won’t be perfected overnight.
When giving feedback, always remember the why: feedback is important because it strengthens teams, and helps individuals learn, grow, and achieve their potential. The same should apply when one receives feedback. When receiving feedback, keep an open mind, remain curious and assume that the person giving feedback has your best interest at heart.
Feedback builds a stronger, more dynamic workforce, leading to improved business results. Done right, feedback can be the greatest gift you can give (and receive from) your people.
December 21, 2018 at 01:05PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs