Receiving meaningful and constructive feedback is crucial when improving workplace relationships and company performance. In recent years, companies have been on a mission to find the best practices to create internal processes to promote peer-initiated feedback. The need for processes supporting employee-driven feedback has strengthened with the entry of millennials into the job market. Millennials want straight forward feedback and continuous coaching and support from their managers. I am meeting more and more HR leaders who are struggling with implementing continuous feedback in their organizations. A common statement I hear is, “We are having a hard time to get our employees more involved in giving and receiving feedback but don’t know how to change this.”
Change starts with updating outdated traditional processes
Traditionally, the only time employees are asked to provide feedback is during annual performance reviews. This process is typically initiated on two levels:
- By HR leaders who send out feedback forms for peer, 360s, or self-reviews.
- By managers or team leads who are tasked to gather feedback about their direct reports from peers.
Regardless of who’s gathering feedback, the process takes a lot of time and resources to do right. To facilitate the process, many leaders have turned towards surveys with a rating system. Survey-based feedback requires less time to initiate, but the downside is that you end up with generic, stack-ranked answers. Employees might find it easier and less stressful to rate someone as average than as a low performer to avoid any conflicts among team members. This feedback is far from being helpful for an individual’s self improvement.
So what can you do to change this?
I have spent the last couple of months talking to our successful 7Geese customers on how they have implemented feedback in their organizations. They have all invested time and resources on 4 main factors that have improved their management processes:
- Clearly defining what the meaning of feedback is for everyone involved. This answers the “what’s in it for me?” question.
- Providing resources to build trust between employees
- Setting clear guidelines on expected timing of giving feedback
- And, establishing a clear channel of communication of where feedback will be received.
In this blog post, we will focus on the first 2 factors (the meaning and trust of feedback)
Step 1: Make the meaning of feedback your own
Feedback encompasses many aspects of an employee’s life: work and team performance, skills and competencies, employee well-being, company strategies, the list goes on. Employees often think that feedback is only related to their individual performance. Processes such as peer reviews and 360 reviews have strengthened the relationship between feedback and work performance. These processes have also reduced the opportunities for face-to-face feedback sessions.
It is important for you to educate your employees that feedback is not only about individual performance.
Feedback is about helping employees and the organization improve on their personal effectiveness and excellence. Feedback is a coaching medium. It creates opportunity for the employee to ask for coaching from team members to self-improve in a trusting environment.
Companies who succeed at boosting a culture of community have shifted gears, making sure that employees become owners of their own feedback. They provide the right platform and process for employees to ask for feedback at any point in time. They want employees to identify areas they want to get more feedback on rather than mandating what to ask.
One best practice that I will never get tired of preaching is Lead by Example. Encourage managers and even your CEO to ask for feedback throughout the year. Help them hold feedback sessions with a small group where individuals are encouraged to provide feedback face-to-face in a safe setting. By asking a wide array of feedback from different stakeholders, employees understand that the company wants to hear their voices on different aspects of the business. Employees can then learn from others on what to ask, how to ask, and when to ask. Leading by example invites employees to actively participate in providing feedback and also understand that feedback does not only have to be restricted to individual performance.
One major point that you should emphasize is that feedback is not an assessment, it is learning.
Step 2: Establish trust and accountability
You can probably relate to the statement, “our employees know that they can give feedback at any point in time.” This establishes an open-door policy, but having this alone does not necessarily mean that your employees are comfortable with providing unsolicited feedback.
Giving feedback is difficult, receiving feedback is even more difficult.
A common attempt to bypass the discomfort people face with giving feedback is encouraging anonymous feedback. However, companies that have been successful at implementing a continuous feedback process see feedback as a coaching and learning experience, not just something to be done. These leaders believe that each employee needs to take accountability for the feedback they are providing, but also the receivers should have the opportunity to ask for more details, provide suggestions, and ask follow-up questions.
One important factor to take into consideration is Trust.
People become defensive when they are receiving unsolicited feedback from a team member that they do not trust or respect. I often hear HR leaders say “If we allow employees to pick who they want to receive feedback from, they will pick their friends.” This stems from the common concern that the feedback will be biased. There is an underlying assumption that your work friends will give you stellar feedback and not share any constructive feedback.
The concept behind asking peers for feedback is for you to be able to get the good and the constructive. However, the reason why employees would pick people they have a positive relationship with is obvious: you want to ask feedback from people you trust and respect. Feedback tends to be more genuine because these people know you and your work on a deeper level. The feedback providers might have more interactions with you to support their feedback as well.
One best practice that I have learnt from our customer, Wikia is to allow your employees to take ownership of their feedback sessions. They provide their teams with a brief guideline on what is expected from them.
Here’s a quick snapshot of how they’ve setup their feedback process.
- Feedback guidelines follow a quarterly cycle. Each employee has to ask for 5 pieces of feedback from 5 different peers.This encourages accountability for execution and analysis of feedback.Overcoming barriers to this approach: If you find that some employees have been asking the same people for feedback on multiple occasions, simply ask them what is stopping them from asking for feedback from other team members. You might find that there is a lack of trust among team members or the employees might not feel confident that other team members know exactly what s/he does. This conversation will give you feedback on your team dynamics. By actively following up with this feedback, you are helping to establish a stronger trust among your team members.
Final thoughts on trust and accountability
I often explain to customers that it is important to educate their employees on feedback but it has never occurred to me until now that every one of us may have different interpretations of what feedback means. There are hundreds of articles explaining how to establish trust in your organization and how this relates to peer-to-peer learning. There is no one solution that fits all when it comes to establishing trust. Therefore, take the time to listen. Listen to what your employees have to say and take action. These two factors are more related to the “soft” side of feedback.
Meaning and trust need to be established before moving onto the process focused steps of timing and channels of communication, which I will cover in my next blog.