Creating a culture where people can give and receieve feedback effectively can improve performance exponentially. Gary Cole shares his tips on how to create one
Firstly, let’s all get on the same page about the real meaning of “feedback” in an organisational sense. I say this because, unfortunately, the term "feedback" has come to serve as a euphemism for criticizing others, as in "the boss gave me feedback on my presentation."
In day-to-day workplace parlance, the term “feedback” should be about a constructive conversation about the progress towards a goal as well as the possible actions and options available to meeting (& possibly exceeding) the goal.
At this point, I’d encourage you to rhetorically check your personal understanding of “feedback” and perhaps more importantly, conduct a quick assessment in your head about the levels of understanding across the individuals and teams you work with. I’m hoping you can see the 2 types of scenario I am trying to scope out here; those individuals’ or teams’ understanding of feedback which equates to ‘a positive opportunity to help me towards my goal’ or those whose understanding equates to ‘an opportunity for my boss or colleagues to criticize me’.
Every client we deal with is looking to fix, accomplish or avoid something. It would be fair to say that improved performance is the underlying goal rationale for most of our partnerships. So it’s worth just quickly pausing to consider what the foundations of performance actually look like. According to business academic David Clutterbuck, performance is underpinned by the operating environment/culture which can have as much as a +30% impact on it. .
To highlight this contrast in very simple terms, I’d encourage you to imagine 2 identical competitors in a marketplace where one has all of the above completely right and one has all of the above completely wrong. The competitor with everything wrong would effectively be operating at a -79% handicap and would probably go out of business very quickly. Now,in reality, no company has everything completely right or indeed completely wrong, but a vibrant, strong & prevalent feedback culture will go some way to maximizing on the +30% opportunity of the operating environment & culture.
Bringing culture to life
Educate and communicate the meaning and value of feedback
I strongly recommend that a good place to start is to achieve consensus in understanding how & why a feedback culture can help. Because if this common understanding is not achieved, it simply makes the function of feedback completely redundant before you’re even out of the starting blocks!
Train your line managers to maintain a Feedback culture
One of the biggest blockers to motivation and performance is the absence of periodic positive praise and well-executed constructive/developmental criticism. Training and developing your middle management tier to be consistently excellent in these skills is vital as a line manager can generate a +- 27% swing in an individual's performance. Furthermore, it is really important these line managers constantly seek and commit to act on 360 feedback to maintain and their performance.
Watch your ‘feedback ratio’
Some research by Heaphy and Losada published in The Harvest Business Review last year, examined the effectiveness of teams. They found that the factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments (“I agree with that,” for instance, or “That’s a terrific idea”) to negative comments (“I don’t agree with you” or “We shouldn’t even consider doing that”) that the participants made to one another. The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one. Line managers take note!!
Replace Annual appraisals with Quarterly appraisals
Am I alone in viewing the Annual Performance Review process as a turgid, irrelevant and uninspiring waste of time? To be clear, the function and purpose of the appraisal is potentially the lifeblood of any business - it's the lengthy frequency I have a big problem with. I would argue that quarterly performance reviews, underpinned by scheduling weekly or bi monthly 121s for all employees will drive outstanding performance and employee engagement. Amazing goals only get realised in bite sized chunks; it's really that simple.
Managing an individual’s stretch zone
For an added curveball, I would be intrigued to see at least 1 personal objective challenging the individual to achieve something truly special and challenging. Give up smoking, run that 10km run or learn a language. Whatever. The fact is that living in one’s stretch zone becomes a very infectious habit and it has a direct impact on positive attitudes in the workplace. Reinforcing & recognizing the effort and commitment the individual will make will grow their confidence and motivation.
Initiate regular 'honesty purges'
How often have you attended a fantastic one off company away day or team brainstorm and felt truly invigorated by it? It's amazing how cleansing and productive it can be to harness the 'real' views, opinions and feelings of teams and individuals. Contrast this to the way most of us operate; myopically and blindly focused on the day to day, nursing latent, demotivating frustrations about numerous things. So by providing a regular, safe environment to have constructive brainstorms, potentially including questions like “What should we stop/start/continue around here”? Or “What barriers can you see to our current operation and what solutions can generate?” Will make teams feel like feedback is 2-way. Especially when followed by a rigorous agreement of action ownership, you can really ease the pressure cooker and increase staff engagement.
Complete an express 360 survey in your team
This is the most simple, low cost and effective idea here. Instructions:
- organise a meeting to cover this or insert it onto an agenda of an existing meeting
- brief the attendees to prepare feedback for everyone
- each individual must rotate their turn to receive verbal feedback from the entire group.
- It would be worth encouraging all individuals to commit to acting on their feedback and for line managers to coach and support it:
- What one word or phrase describes me best?
- What do you value most about me?
- What one thing could I change for my own benefit?
- What one thing can I do to help support you better at work?
- What do you believe to be my greatest strength?
In summary, it’s probably useful to link back to the point I originally made at the top of this article; the real meaning of feedback. The very essence of the term “feedback” is a key function to meeting (& possibly exceeding) the goal(s) of your business. In an organisational context, this must mean that all individuals and teams should seek and receive feedback about their progress towards the organisational goal (s), in additional to their team goal(s). Furthermore, when this is cascaded down and managed superbly and consistently at an individual level, the power of a feedback culture will drive and maintain outstanding business performance. Good luck and get involved!
Gary enjoyed a 20-year career predominantly in commercial management/leadership roles in the digital media industry before retraining as an ICF Coach in 2012, when he set up his business, Archipelo. “If I can help anyone avoid procrastinating, please feel free to drop me an email or visit the website for more information.