By Nils Reisen on 30.05.2023 | 12 minutes reading time
Feedback is a valuable resource that helps us identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. However, the fear of damaging our self-image and our relationships with others often hinders us from embracing feedback.
In this blog post, I explore the importance of creating a feedback culture in your organisation and the benefits it brings, from increased employee engagement and satisfaction to enhanced performance.
I delve into the reasons feedback is often scarce and provide practical tips for cultivating a thriving feedback-rich environment. Discover how to create a safe space for feedback, establish clear guidelines, and develop the skills to give and receive constructive feedback.
Feedback eats assumptions for breakfast
Feedback is a very valuable resource. It can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, learn from your mistakes, and improve your performance. That's why most people readily agree that feedback is important and that they want more of it.
However, feedback can threaten our self-image and self-confidence, especially when it holds truth. I have experienced this quite a few times in my life and usually go through a process that is similar to the five stages of grief:
- Denial: “It's not true”,
- Anger: “It's somebody else's fault”
- Bargaining: “It's not that big of an issue”
- Depression: “I messed up”
- Acceptance: “There's some truth to this”
Despite the emotional rollercoaster, I find that I usually become happier and wiser in the process. However, self-protection plays a vital role in our lives and sometimes, we simply don't have the resilience or courage to go through this process. Consequently, we withhold feedback and avoid seeking it altogether.
This is particularly evident in professional settings where various factors come into play, such as hierarchy, the impression you want to make, or a general caution not to bite the hand that's feeding you. There's plenty of evidence that feedback does not happen as much as it could or should (e.g., Musser, 2023).
That's why it's so important to create a feedback culture in your company. In an environment with a good feedback culture, feedback is encouraged, valued, and seen as an opportunity for growth. People feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback, even if it's critical. When you have a strong feedback culture, your employees are more likely to be engaged, productive, and innovative.
Read on to learn why feedback often is the exception rather than the rule and what you can do to cultivate a feedback-rich environment that empowers individuals and drives collaboration within your organisation.
What is feedback?Let's start with the basics. There are many definitions of feedback, here is how the Cambridge Dictionary puts it:
Information about something such as a new product or someone's work, that provides an idea of whether people like it or whether it is good.
Based on the context we are discussing here, I propose the following modification:
Information about a person's reactions to a product, work result, behaviour, or task performance that serves as a basis for improvement.
In other words: feedback makes you better.
Feedback can be expressed through words or written text and ratings in a questionnaire as well as through non-verbal cues like silence, facial expressions and gestures, or the absence of certain behaviours. It can be given in the moment – usually about something that just happened – or after a certain time-period summarising the past few days, months or weeks.
It is crucial to note that the term “feedback” and the definition above are neutral. Feedback includes both positive and critical aspects, both of which are important. However, based on my experience, positive feedback is often undervalued.
Why is feedback important?
Feedback is crucial as it provides valuable information that is otherwise unknown. This information aids in making better decisions, developing better products, and behaving appropriately in social settings. Feedback holds immense value, not only for the recipient but also teams and other groups.
Here are some examples of these benefits:
Advantages for feedback seekers
- Experience appreciation
- Gain self-confidence
- Get to know other perspectives
- Uncover blind spots
- Assess one's own competences
- Trigger reflection
- Improve performance
Advantages for feedback givers
- Communicate feelings
- Explain own behaviour
- Create understanding
- Check assumptions
- Improve professional and personal relationships
Advantages for teams
- Uncover invisible structural aspects
- Identify group dynamic aspects
- Solve problems and conflicts
- Adapt quickly and flexibly to new situations
- Work better together
- Improve performance as a group or team
For more details on some of these points, check out our blog post 4 reasons why a constructive feedback culture contributes to success.
In a nutshell, whether you're a CEO, HR manager, project leader, change manager, or team leader, you can maximise your potential and that of your team by cultivating a robust feedback culture in your workplace.
Why is valuable feedback at work so hard to come by?
According to Gallup research (Musser, 2023), “only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they get helps them do better work“ and only 17% of millennials “fully agree” that they receive meaningful feedback at work.
These findings align with our firsthand experience. Our customers repeatedly emphasise the lack of feedback within their companies – and express a desire for increased feedback, particularly for leaders.
Is the hesitance to provide feedback the sole reason? Partially, but not entirely. In my own research on human decision-making (e.g. Reisen, Hoffrage & Mast, 2008), I discovered that individuals often rely on assumptions instead of actively seeking missing information, even when it requires minimal effort. These assumptions have one big problem: they are often incorrect. The lack of feedback-seekers also seem to contribute to the overall deficit of feedback.
Through our collaboration with customers, we have identified three reasons why people love feedback but don't seem to give or get enough of it:
1) Poor feedback culture: “We don't do feedback around here”.
To foster a continuous feedback loop, it is essential to establish a culture that values and prioritises feedback. This culture should include specific guidelines and behaviours for giving and seeking feedback. A crucial element of this culture is trust, which creates a safe environment for individuals to openly share and request feedback.
2) No appropriate setting: “I don't know when to give feedback”.
As simple as this sounds, the most significant obstacle to providing feedback is uncertainty regarding when, to whom, and on which topic it should be given. Doubts often arise swiftly: Is this the right moment? Can I genuinely express this to my boss? Do I possess enough expertise to comment on this particular topic?
3) Insufficient feedback skills: “I don't know how to give and receive feedback”.
The ability to provide constructive and goal-oriented feedback is a skill that requires learning. Proficient feedback-givers can communicate effectively without provoking a defensive response. However, developing this skill necessitates specific training.
And something that is often overlooked: you also need skills to receive feedback. If you struggle to handle criticism, even the most skilled and considerate feedback-giver will have a hard time getting through to you. Consequently, you miss out on plenty of opportunities to improve.
To make matters even worse, there are some considerable cultural differences in how people give feedback (e.g. Meyer, 2014; Leu, 2022).
The good thing about having a clear picture on why something doesn't work is that you can find ways to address it. So, what can we do to avoid that in our companies everyone secretly wishes to get more feedback while at the same time trying to avoid it implicitly or explicitly (and hence operate mostly on faulty assumptions)?
What can you do to create a thriving feedback culture?
As we pondered over this puzzle, a few enlightening insights emerged. Here they are:
1) Feedback needs a safe space
To embed feedback into the corporate culture, fostering a sense of trust is key. This enables employees to courageously tackle challenging issues and question the status quo. While this may seem obvious, executing it is far from straightforward.
A great starting point is to explicitly emphasise trust and psychological safety in your company values and leadership training.
On a more local level, you can:
- Openly discuss your own mistakes
- Actively seek feedback
- Refrain from shooting the messenger
For more on this, read our expert tips on how you can create psychological safety at the workplace.
2) It needs to be clear when to give feedback
Feedback is seldom given or sought spontaneously, even in companies with a well-established feedback culture. Establishing a suitable framework that outlines when, to whom, on which topics, and in what manner feedback is expected can help address this. To create such a framework, you can:
- Conduct regular feedback sessions (e.g. in your teams, in the entire company via employee surveys etc.)
- Establish feedback rules and create an atmosphere conducive to open feedback
- Use tools (e.g. feedback tools such as our own Pulse Feedback, guides on how to give and receive feedback or how to increase psychological safety)
Feedback is a crucial element of the Netflix culture. What is the feedback culture like at Netflix? In fact, withholding feedback that could benefit individuals or the company is seen as disloyalty. Yet, this culture of openness doesn't mean you can freely express your thoughts without considering the impact on others.
Interestingly, this culture alone doesn't guarantee a lively exchange of feedback. Netflix provides clear guidelines and training to ensure feedback stays constructive.
|Giving Feedback||AIM TO ASSIST: Feedback must be given with positive intent. Giving feedback in order to get frustration off your chest, intentionally hurting the other person, or furthering your political agenda is not tolerated.
ACTIONABLE: Your feedback must focus on what the recipient can do differently.
|Receiving Feedback||APPRECIATE: When you receive feedback, you need to avoid getting defensive and instead ask yourself, “How can I show appreciation for this feedback by listening carefully and not getting angry?”
ACCEPT OR DISCARD: You are required to listen and consider all feedback provided. You are not required to follow it. Say “thank you” with sincerity. But both you and the provider must understand that the decision to react to the feedback is entirely up to the recipient.
3) Giving constructive feedback is a skill that must be learned
Giving constructive feedback can be quite a challenge. However, by following some rules, it becomes easier for the recipient to grasp the feedback and its intention. And remember, as mentioned earlier, learning how to receive feedback is just as important. The best way to ensure effective learning is to integrate feedback courses into your leadership and employee training.
By following these three points, you can embed feedback skills and constructive behaviour in your organisation for the long haul. With our canvas for creating a feedback culture you can already start today.
Looking to foster a culture of constructive feedback in your company?
With our Feedback Culture Canvas, you can take the first steps already today.
- Assess your current feedback culture
- Define the desired feedback culture
- Explore initial actions
How can I tell if I've successfully created a culture of constructive feedback?Here are some signs of a healthy feedback culture. If you can check off all of these, it's time to celebrate!
Feedback flows freely and fearlessly across all levels of hierarchy: The more we embrace feedback, the more we learn and the better equipped we become in handling constructive criticism.
Feedback flows effortlessly and intentionally: A climate of trust prevails, supported by a framework that guides open and honest expression.
We make time for feedback and recognising its importance as a valuable investment in our cooperation and personal development.
The aim of feedback is to support others and benefit the company: To give effective feedback, it's crucial to be open and vulnerable. Feedback is not about judging or condemning; it's about expressing our needs and expectations on equal footing.
Feedback is the foundation for learning and growth: When receiving feedback, we assume good intentions from the givers, who genuinely aim to help. We trust them and receive the feedback openly and with appreciation.
Invest in your company's future: Build a feedback culture!
By implementing the tips above, you can foster a workplace that embraces feedback, recognising its value as a catalyst for growth. Encouraging individuals to seek valuable insights from others rather than relying on assumptions will make it easier for everyone in your organisation to do a good job, leading to improved performance, heightened employee engagement and decreased turnover. Win-win.
Get in touch to learn more about building a robust feedback culture.
With our proven track record and a few more tricks up our sleeve, we're happy to help you unleash the full potential of feedback.
Feedback. Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.).
Hastings, R. & Meyer, E. (2020). No rules rules : Netflix and the culture of reinvention. New York : Penguin Press.
Leu, C. (2022). Give feedback constructively to create a new feedback culture. Pulse Feedback Blog.
Meyer, E. (2014). The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. New York: PublicAffairs.
Musser, C. (2023, July 21). Give employees the right kind of feedback at the right time. Gallup.com.
Reisen, N., Hoffrage, U. & Mast, F. W. (2008). Identifying decision strategies in a consumer choice situation. Judgment and Decision Making, 3, pp. 641–658
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, August 15). Five stages of grief. Wikipedia.