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Creating a Culture of Feedback

Why it matters in the workplace, and why a culture of feedback starts with you

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By VLADGRIN/Shutterstock
By VLADGRIN/Shutterstock

What do you think when someone says, “I would like to give you some feedback!”? Research suggests that many of us get the same uneasy feeling as if we were out on a dark night and someone came up from behind tapping you on the shoulder. It stresses us out. And really, I believe that’s why many of us procrastinate or avoid giving feedback all together.

The key to creating an environment where feedback is flowing and appreciated is to create a culture of feedback. And it starts with the leader. And the more senior you become in an organization, the more difficult it will be to get straight and honest feedback. Ask yourself what kind of feedback you are getting from your team(s) right now. If you only hear positive things, or maybe not much at all, you probably don’t have a culture of feedback.

To create a culture of feedback you need an environment of trust. And in my experience, you might also need to be a little creative.

After my team went through a turbulent time, I decided to recalibrate by doing a workshop that I usually lead with clients. As a creative way to discuss the current status (and receive feedback!) I had everyone draw pictures of how they saw the team at the moment, illustrating our communication, execution, team spirit, collaboration, goal achievement, and more. The exercise puts people at ease. Rather than sitting around and discussing the feedback, you can be creative.

My team LOVED this idea and got right to work. To my horror, one team came back with a picture of a frantic, high-speed flight, with me as the captain wearing a turquoise scarf (that I apparently wore too often to work) and the team members performing crazy duties in a chaotic environment. That picture is forever instilled in my memory.

While I didn’t feel great about this picture, I was proud of my team for being so candid. Now that our issues were out in the open, we could address them. I learned so much from them that day. And whilst we had a friendly tone laughing about the picture, I knew that my team checked out my reaction while we were discussing it. I also knew that my reaction was key to creating a culture of feedback. If I had been defensive or started to respond, discuss, or even argue about the feedback, I would have set a different tone. Instead, I thanked them for the feedback and asked them if we could together discuss how we all could contribute to a calmer and more focused workplace.. That session set the tone for our culture of feedback on our team. And for me as the leader, it became much easier to give my team members feedback. They knew and understood the rules.

Here are a few steps to get great feedback:

  1. Prepare people in advance and declare your intent. Let people know in advance that you will be asking for their feedback and on which topics. For example, “Tomorrow during our team meeting, let’s discuss how we all can contribute to give and receive better feedback. And please think about a few specific things that you think I, as a  leader, can do to make them better”.
  2. Ask for specific feedback. Using generic questions such as, “How am I doing as a leader?” won’t yield many insights. Provide additional information, along with  a specific area on which to work. I regularly ask my team, “What is one thing that you think I should stop, start and continue doing during our 1-on-1 meetings?”
  3. Listen empathically. Be present. Don’t interrupt. Control your emotions, listen and only ask clarifying questions. Forgive awkward delivery. Many individual contributors haven’t received training on how to give feedback and have few opportunities to practice. Look past the delivery and focus on the substance of what is being said and the intent behind it.
  4. Acknowledge the feedback. Summarize what you have heard. Check to make sure that you have understood. Thank the person giving you feedback. Remember, you want the person to feel so good about giving you feedback that he or she will do it again.
  5. Evaluate the feedback. You have three options whenever receiving feedback: take it, don’t take it, or do some additional research. But either way, know that what the person is saying is what he or she is seeing. In a sense, it’s their truth.
  6. Commit to action. Regardless of your decision in how you will handle the feedback, communicate your intentions to the person who gave it to you, either during the initial conversation or after you have thought it over.

All of the above applies, whether or not you are the leader of the team. You can always contribute to setting a culture of feedback on the team on which you are working.

To learn more about how to create a culture of feedback and how to deliver feedback, check out the book,  “Everyone Deserves A Great Manager” (visit www.EDAGM.com).

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