By Claudia Leu on 17.10.2022 | 6 minutes reading time
The German-speaking world has seen a blossoming of cultures: cultures of acceptance coexist with cultures of discussion and cultures of safety overlap with cultures of freedom. So you might be asking yourself: "Do we also need a feedback culture?" Yes, because good feedback has, for a long time, been a factor in economic success!
How feedback is often received
According to a 2019 survey by the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), almost half of the employees surveyed are afraid to address their superiors (DGB, 2019). They are accustomed to, and generally expect, criticism from “above”. Feedback is primarily perceived as a demonstration of power by superiors — so it's often better not to request a conversation.
Praise? It’s common for superiors to avoid too much praise. They prefer “optimisation". Word is slowly spreading in our business environment that optimisation is achieved at a higher level with appreciation and mutual trust. There’s a growing awareness that feedback isn’t simply a "soft" niche topic that benefits the working atmosphere, but that effective communication and a feedback culture also pay off economically(Heer, 2019).
How it should be: What is feedback?
In many companies in the DACH region of Europe, feedback is typically still limited to the annual employee review. In itself, this is a minimal projection of feedback. If the feedback in discussions sounds like a mere assessment, things have already gone wrong (Schielke 2019). Feedback aims not to assess performance but to develop talents(Herzog 2020).
Feedback is synonym with reciprocal reactions. It’s about signals that we receive that help us understand how others perceive us. We can draw conclusions and learn thanks to the feedback we receive (Schielke, 2019). Feedback should be regular and pertain to our performance, behaviour and effects on third parties. Ideally, it’s shared openly and mindfully. Only then will feedback be constructive, encouraging and motivating.
On the other hand, disparaging and destructive feedback undermines motivation — unfortunately, this still happens far too often when meetings take place in the executive suites of European companies (v. Kanitz 2022, p. 26). Many companies should rethink their current feedback methods to establish a new feedback culture. The motto must be: no one receives too much feedback, but most receive too little (Engel 2020, p. 108).
USA feedback lighthouses
A look across the Atlantic shows that an open and constructive approach to feedback positively impacts corporate performance. In the USA, many companies already have a fundamentally different communication culture. A benchmark of the feedback culture in the US market highlights four particular companies:
- Pixar: Pixar Animation Studios specialise in computer-animated films. Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Inside Out are just a few of Pixar's Oscar-winning films. However, the progressive approaches aren't limited to the visions of movies. On "Notes Days", work stops for a day. All the employees regroup to share their thoughts on various topics and give open feedback. Pixar's feedback concept means that everyone is allowed to contribute with their opinion in open communication culture. All ideas are welcome. However, the feedback recipients, the directors, retain the freedom to make decisions. They can but don't have to implement the feedback (Razetti 2020).
- Patagonia: the outdoor outfitter Patagonia isn't simply known for its sustainable business and fair supply chains; it also wants to be fair to its employees. So for Patagonia, feedback has two directions: "upwards" is just as important as "downwards". And to ensure that these views reach the company's management, Patagonia regularly conducts job satisfaction surveys (Heath 2019).
- Netflix: the streaming provider has implemented its feedback method, the "4A framework": Aim to assist — Actionable — Appreciate — Accept or discard. It aims to ensure that feedback is consistently helpful. Secondly, feedback must be meaningful and actionable. Feedback must also convey appreciation for the employees. Lastly, they must be free to accept or reject feedback recommendations (Marsh 2021).
- Bridgewater: the hedge fund Bridgewater uses a feedback app through which employees distribute points to colleagues and the CEO — visible to everyone. Bridgwater's CEO, Ray Dalio, calls it "radical transparency". Thanks to this radical feedback culture, Bridgewater ensures that the best ideas always reach the top. Dalio accepts opinions on personal performance without prejudice in the interest of the company's overall performance (Vakil 2019).
These are just four examples, with Bridgewater being the most extreme. However, they all share a multi-directional feedback culture, and employees are considered co-decision-makers and taken seriously. This is precisely the feedback spirit that should prevail — even if not every approach is suitable for every company — so that the establishment of a productive feedback culture can succeed.
USA-Europe: how to successfully transfer this culture
All four companies provide a successful example of a feedback culture. However, it wouldn’t be the first time that practices from the USA couldn’t be replicated in the economic environments of the European and the DACH regions. So, what about the USA success factors for feedback culture?
Transparency, appreciation, openness and fairness are universal values that are suitable ideals in any corporate culture. After all, feedback isn’t a new concept: it’s been around ever since people started working together. We used to call it something different. And in fact, there’s a trend where many European companies are moving away from the classic annual performance reviews and toward more contemporary forms of feedback (Schielke 2019). The new feedback culture may have originated in the USA, but it isn’t American per se.
Evolving from annual feedback meetings to continuous feedback in a productive feedback culture isn't an easy path. First, companies must create a framework for fixed rituals that leave room for weaknesses and mistakes — without triggering bad feelings. This requires an atmosphere that reinforces trust and psychological security. Using feedback tools such as Pulse Feedback helps create and nurture such an atmosphere.
Feedback culture in practice
We’ve already observed that feedback culture also works in numerous European companies. For example, we’ve established a measurable feedback culture in a large Swiss company. Using our Pulse Feedback software tool, we’ve been conducting several short surveys per year for numerous years. This enabled the sustainable promotion of a feedback culture in the company: increasingly more colleagues participated and provided growingly more constructive — and especially critical — feedback. What USA companies exemplify — transparency and multidirectional feedback — may therefore very well be applied as an idea to European companies: individualised and tailored to the respective company.
Feedback with Pulse Feedback
With Pulse Feedback, measurably increase the feedback culture in your company. We’re happy to support you. Contact us for an initial, non-binding consultation!
Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB) (2019): Jede/r Zweite hat Angst, mit dem Vorgesetzten über Probleme zu sprechen. Abgerufen von:
Heer, N. (2019): Gutes Feedback ist eine Frage von Führung. Interview ZEIT Online. https://www.zeit.de/arbeit/2019-06/nora-heer-loopline-feedback-software-mitarbeiterzufriedenheit
Schielke, M. (2019): Wir brauchen eine neue Feedbackkultur. Radiobeitrag Deutschlandfunk Kultur. https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/arbeitswelt-wir-brauchen-eine-neue-feedbackkultur-102.html
Vakil, T. (2019): Building a team culture where the best ideas win – Ray Dalio radical transparency. https://newageleadership.com/building-a-team-culture-with-ray-dalio-radical-transparency/
Heath, A. (2019): Spotlight on Patagonia: core values key to employee engagement. https://wethrive.net/employee-engagement/spotlight-patagonia-core-values-key-employee-engagement/
Razetti, G. (2020): How Pixar Designed a Culture of Collective Creativity. https://www.fearlessculture.design/blog-posts/pixar-culture-design-canvas
Engel, M. (2020): Besser Führen. Mit Haltung und Vertrauen zu Loyalität. München: UVK
Herzog, J. (2020): So stärken Sie die Feedbackkultur in Ihrem Unternehmen. https://www.umantis.com/personalentwicklung/feedbackkultur?akttyp=direkt&aktnr=84834&wnr=04393689&utm_id=84834%2F04393689&utm_source=direkt
Marsh, A. (2021): How to give feedback, the Netflix way. https://www.rocketgtm.co/blog/how%20to%20give%20feedback%20the%20netflix%20way
von Kanitz, A. (2022): Feedbackgespräche. Freiburg: Haufe