Constructive employees discussing in front of the company building

By Nils Reisen on 27.11.2020 | 3 minutes reading time

Let me start with a personal story. When I took up a new job at a large corporation a few years ago, I quickly noticed that some of my new colleagues saw feedback as a threat. This surprised me because, throughout my personal life as well as my professional career, I was used to receiving feedback. From early on, feedback became a valuable tool for me to learn and improve.

When I started playing the cello at age 5, I regularly received feedback on my early attempts by my teacher and my parents, who play string instruments themselves. Same story when I wrote my PhD in behavioural economics. Everyone on the team was always asking for and giving feedback on our experimental methods, our theories and academic papers. I usually left my supervisor’s office with so many changes on my draft that the original text was barely readable. And I did this glowing with energy: “Now it’s going to be great.” In the jobs that followed, I often worked with former management consultants that shared my core belief: feedback makes us better. And yes, feedback also creates more work. But this work is necessary to achieve great results.

When I joined my new employer, I approached my job with this very mindset. However, I quickly discovered that feedback was uncommon and often not welcome. This puzzled me and – on a whim – I told my manager that I would like to change that. He liked the idea, and although it was not related to my job in any way, it made it into my yearly goals.

I was lucky and could put my idea into practice very quickly

A few months later, I was approached by Stephan Engl, one of the inventors of Pulse. Stephan wanted to replace the current employee survey with a new and better solution. When looking into the topic, we quickly realised that an open and constructive feedback culture was a critical element of an effective employee survey. Feedback is only valuable if it is given at the right time, to the right people and in the right format. Learn more about what is wrong with traditional employee surveys and how you can leverage the full power of feedback in this article.

So improving the feedback culture was back on the agenda. With our new solution, we aimed to:

  • Make feedback happen: we established a loop of constant measuring, learning and improving by running several short surveys per year.
  • Make it easy to give feedback constructively: we created a survey tool that was specifically designed to ensure that feedbacks are numerous, detailed and constructive. We achieved this by leveraging insights from cognitive psychology and by using a smart UX design.
  • Measure the feedback culture explicitly: we introduced a specific question to track progress over time.

Did our solution help to promote the feedback culture?

After implementing our solution, we were curious: did it work? Could our tool strengthen the feedback culture at the company? The short answer: Yes!

The longer answer: thanks to the way we set up our tool, we could analyse user behaviour and gain some insights into the underlying feedback culture. We designed an analysis that would help us answer the following questions: Do the ratings of the feedback question increase over time? How does the participation rate evolve? Do participants write constructive comments?

Multiple graphs with KPI's showing how positive the feedback culture improved from 2016 to 2020

Survey participant KPIs over time. Data from a large corporation in Switzerland.

We found that the ratings for the feedback question were increasing from survey to survey. The participants’ behaviour followed a similar positive trend on all KPIs. Over time, more and more employees participated and wrote ever more and longer comments. This increase was more substantial for critical (“I wish”) than for positive comments (“I like”), a further indicator of an increasingly strong feedback culture.

“Wait!”, you might say, “could this be the result of a constantly worsening situation at the company?” A good objection, but the data speak against it: For many questions, the scores also increased over time, an indication of a continuously improving work situation.

Get in touch if you would like to learn about how you can develop a strong feedback culture at your company. You can also learn more in my article on how to create effective employee surveys

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