9 minute read – Posted by – May 14, 2020

Culture of Feedback: From buzzword to business reality

Feedback is not just important - it’s essential.

When done right, feedback improves the performance and engagement of teams, builds confidence, drives development, and promotes career mobility.

We also crave feedback. Nearly 60% workers say that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis—a number that increased to 72% for employees under age 30. Yet most managers don’t provide enough feedback, and when they do, they either make it too negative or are too vague while trying to keep it positive.

We’re not breaking new ground. We all know feedback is critical. So why can it be so hard to give and receive? 

At its core, feedback is really just a conversation between two people. We can be tricked into thinking that the effectiveness of that conversation is a product of the relationship between those two people. Often overlooked is the impact the surrounding culture has on how that feedback is given, received and most importantly, actioned.

The term “Culture of Feedback” is thrown around a lot. Like a lot of overused buzzwords it is usually misinterpreted. 

Let’s unpack it.

What is Culture?

The Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz defines culture simply as “the collective behavior of everybody in the organization”. It is the small seemingly harmless individual habits that form the collective actions of the company as a whole. It is the norm—or “just how we do things around here”. 

Put another way, culture is what employees do when no one is watching.

Shifting culture might seem elusive or overly complicated. However it can often be as simple as shifting one small habit or behaviour – a “nudge”.

A great example, believe it or not, can be found in the men’s bathroom at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Management was looking to cut costs and they realized that one of the most expensive jobs was keeping the floor of the men’s toilet clean. They posted polite signs – but quickly found this approach was not effective at creating a change in behavior. Economist Aad Kieboom had an out-of-the-box idea: etch a picture of a fly into each urinal. Patrons directed their “stream” onto the fly as compared to…well…anywhere and everywhere. The cleaning bill reportedly fell 80 per cent. 

Once a clean toilet became the norm, users no longer wanted to deviate and shift. It became easier to maintain the behaviour as it became socially unacceptable to do any different. 

Culture is your organization’s norm. In a negative culture, disorder breeds more disorder while in a positive culture order breeds more order. 

Defaults not opt-ins

Culture doesn’t rely on employees opting-in.

In their famous study, behavioural economics psychologists Eric Johnson and Dan Goldstein looked into organ donorship consent rates across different countries. Despite sharing a border, Austria and Germany’s consent rates were wildly different. In Germany, only 12 percent consented to donating their organs after death, while in Austria just a hair under 99% do. 

What explains this difference? Is it better communication? Different incentives?

The answer is far simpler: Germany requires citizens to opt-in to organ donorship while Austria requires citizens to opt-out.

Asking people to take any kind of additional action created a barrier to the behaviour. Unless people were particularly motivated then they were unlikely to see the behaviour they wanted to see. 

Creating a culture is similar. It can’t be “opt-in” but rather the default mode for everyone. 

In a culture of feedback, employees are encouraged to ask for feedback when they need it and give feedback when it is warranted. When received, feedback is accepted professionally, without emotion and as the key to uncovering blind spots that are blocking job performance. 

Being intentional to create a culture of feedback

Culture is created by setting norms. You build and shift habits using nudges like urinal flies. The shift in habits creates an environment where prosocial behavior doesn’t wait for people to just opt-in.  

For a lucky few organizations, a feedback-driven culture has been a natural evolution. Most need to be more intentional. Feedback needs to be continuous, leaders need to role model, there needs to be a culture of safety, curiosity and trust and they need to balance out the good and the bad.

  1. Continuous Opportunities: If feedback is something that happens only at unusual times (such as a performance review or when something’s gone wrong), it’ll never be an organic part of the organizational culture. Leaders need to find creative ways to force the issue rather than wait for the “opt-in” that will never come.
  2. Safety and trust: The shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking and tough conversations. When feedback is given or received, employees should not be afraid of negative consequences like being criticized, ignored, laughed at or punished.
  3. Balance: While not necessarily in the same conversation, leaders need to ensure that they are doling out honest criticism and recognition of great work. 
  4. Leaders walk the talk: Leaders strive, embrace and accept continuous feedback. 

7Geese helps you create a Culture of Feedback

There’s never been a more important time to think about how a company can intentionally build a culture of feedback. Working from home has become a reality and many employees may be feeling disconnected from peers and managers. 

The truth is that performance management is all about feedback. These feedback conversations need to come in a variety of forms and are more impactful when it comes from multiple perspectives. We have built out our platform with this in mind. 

Recognitions are focused on positive feedback and celebrating wins by broadcasting good work out to the entire company. 

1-on-1s help facilitate more intimate conversations that can turn to constructive opportunities. 

Reviews are for those bigger formal checkpoints that can occur yearly or biannually. 

And lastly is our Feedback feature. 

Designed with frequent, informal performance conversations in mind, we have focused on delivering against several key concepts:

  1. Facilitate feedback from multiple perspectives: Support a 360 degree view of an employee’s performance including peers, managers, reports and stakeholders
  2. Make feedback easy to give: Remove the friction of giving feedback so it becomes an everyday occurrence.
  3. Make feedback quick to find: Ensure that employees can find and action feedback that has been previously given
  4. Help level-up leaders: Help managers take feedback and contextualize it so they can have better conversations with their employees.

On May 6 we released a brand new version of Feedback. It brings these concepts to life to help companies create a culture of feedback. We’d love to show you more!

Ben Kaye