“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” This quote from a TED Talk by Bill Gates makes a powerful amount of sense but doesn’t connect well with what people shared in a recent Gallup survey: “Only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.”
There are numerous possible reasons for this finding. It could be that the feedback employees receive is sugar-coated, and they feel it. On the other end of the spectrum, it might be that the employees are struggling to remove ego and defenses to openly receive the feedback. It could be a wide array of reasons, because each person’s reality is different. However, there are some key pieces that, if both parties are working to stay in accountability, create meaning and allow for growth opportunities in any organization.
Fostering and growing a culture around critical feedback doesn’t happen by chance. It takes key deliverables with a focused effort to take the idea of providing feedback intentionally and regularly and make it a reality in organizations. The following three areas are essential components to work toward making a feedback culture a reality.
1. The Ability to Be Curious
When all parties involved approach feedback with curiosity, it opens the door for various types of growth experiences. When someone asked Dell’s chief executive officer, Michael Dell, what CEOs needed most to succeed in difficult times, his answer was reportedly, “I would place my bet on curiosity.”
Fostering an organizational culture that values curiosity over things like judgment or self-preservation takes deliberate action. A large part of this process is building a culture where employees can assume positive intent when receiving feedback and have the ability to step into a mindset of curiosity toward the feedback. Feedback may be great at face value, but imagine what happens when people take that feedback and curiously reflect on what they can do with it. How can they take it further? Where can they build on it?
Netflix works to answer these questions by incorporating feedback into its culture and beliefs, which include an intentional focus on encouraging “independent decision-making”; sharing “information openly, broadly, and deliberately”; and being “extraordinarily candid with each other.” Imagine interviewing at an organization and reading these statements as part of your future employer’s culture! It’s important, as Netflix has done, to identify the feedback behaviors your organization is looking for to stimulate thought and open the doors to continued communication.
2. Devoting Time to Feedback
Giving meaningful feedback takes time. An annual evaluation to give someone useful feedback doesn’t foster an environment for the giver or receiver to build and improve on his or her feedback skill sets.
Food producer and distributor Cargill shifted its feedback process to a daily conversation between employees and leadership. With over 160,000 employees in the organization, this transition took a deliberate, dedicated focus. Afterward, Cargill found much different results from Gallup’s poll: Almost 70% of its employees “reported that they feel valued and have received useful feedback,” according to Partners In Leadership.
Even if the environment does present the opportunity for daily feedback, however, it doesn’t mean the employees are good at delivering or receiving it. Devoting additional time for people to explore their feedback skills is a must. Many organizations confuse awareness with ability. Awareness comes in the form of standards of behavior or culture statements, with statements like “We will provide timely and meaningful feedback to each other.” While these statements create awareness that the organization wants to create a workplace that fosters these behaviors, it must be matched by development time, to help employees grow in their ability to live these statements in reality.
How is your organization devoting time to feedback? Are you and your team focusing on both awareness and ability, to grow toward creating an environment that supports critical feedback-sharing?
3. Fostering Accountability
While devoting time to feedback and opening the door to curiosity are essential in helping create growth, the foundational piece of an environment that builds the psychological safety for feedback is accountability. Consider this statement, shared by Mike Scalin, chief executive officer of Born to Sell, in a Forbes article: “Accountability breeds trust. Managers need to have open communication and stand by their decisions and actions, so that all members of the team know the rules, know they will be applied equally to all, and have transparency.”
The environment Scalin describes sets the stage for team members to own their accountability, because they know that everyone is held equally accountable. No one is allowed to sit on the sidelines, withdrawing from giving or receiving feedback. This environment starts when leaders set the stage and continues when each employee does his or her part. An engaged, accountable culture is one that doesn’t rely solely on leaders to have critical feedback discussions but also opens the door for employees to have these discussions with each other.
“The improvement of the understanding is for two ends; first, for our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver and make out that knowledge to others.” When philosopher John Locke wrote this sentence, he was describing reading, but it also captures the importance of giving and receiving feedback. It can be intimidating, and it starts by actually doing it, by being open and by assuming positive intent.
As you work to develop your ability to give and receive feedback, reflect on how curiosity is involved and how you can foster it, how you are devoting time to it and going beyond awareness with your team, and how to remain accountable. There is no perfect recipe for feedback, but these three ingredients will help you continue to grow and improve what you, as a coach and a leader, can bring to others.