• Cindy Schwartz

Simple Tips to Create a Culture of Feedback

Over the course of the last year, I have worked with over ten different organisations, helping them to create the social contracts/norms for IT leadership teams. There was one consistent norm that everyone wanted, the giving and acceptance of feedback. 

Interestingly though, every single one these organisations had challenges in making feedback a positive part of their culture. I heard stories about leaders using feedback as weapons, asking for feedback yet defensively arguing against it at the same time. I heard that people will only offer positive feedback or through third parties. I essentially heard feedback is good in theory, but not in practice. 

These challenges, though not unique, shouldn’t stop people from creating a culture where feedback thrives. A culture of growth and innovation needs open and honest feedback. Without feedback, you and your teams keep their blind spots, new ideas aren’t heard and innovation is limited. 

The surprise for most organisation's is the need focus as much on how you receive feedback as there is for how you give feedback for the culture to set in. The best way to try to change a culture is to start, so here are a few of my simple guidelines for feedback. 

Some basics:

A culture of feedback, like all cultural change, needs buy in at the top with the rest of the organisation. So leaders if you want your organisation to be one that embraces feedback, then you need to embrace it, you need to listen with open mind, be open to constructive feedback.

For everyone in the organisation, you need to use feedback as a tool for improvement not a means of proving your superiority. 

When giving and receiving feedback, be humble.

Receiving feedback:

Ask for feedback. Don’t ask for compliments, don’t expect that your teams or peers will be willing to provide unsolicited feedback before you’ve shown yourself to be someone who wants the feedback and will react with openness when you receive it. Don’t ask yes or no questions like ‘did I do ok?’ Ask open questions like ‘was there anything I could have done better in that presentation?’ In reality, you might need to ask multiple times before people believe you really want to hear constructive feedback. 

This one’s harder than it looks. When someone gives you feedback, even when it’s something you don’t want to hear, say thank you and try not to react with body language; flinch or cross your arms and you’ve lost them. Thank you is important for 2 reasons. 1 – Giving feedback is hard, its courageous and the person giving it is taking a risk. Acknowledge the risk and care that went into it. 2 – It gives you a second to breathe and think before responding. We can all have a reactive instinct to defend ourselves. Saying thank you gives you that moment to have a thoughtful response, not a reactive one. This one has taken me a while to master, actually, I am still mastering it.  

Even if you don’t agree with the feedback you’re hearing, do not be defensive. You won’t like all of the feedback you hear. Take it in, breathe, say thank you. Later, ponder its validity with an open mind. 

Giving Feedback:

When you give feedback, own it. Don’t talk about what you’ve others have said. Talk about what you’ve seen and observed.

Make sure you’re telling the person in a useful timeframe. I used to say feedback in real time, but it was taken too literally. Feedback should be given when fresh, but in appropriate settings.

Feedback should be given for positive outcome, not to be right. Don’t confuse a disagreement and feedback.

Feedback should be given in private. A public forum isn’t a place for individual feedback.

Feedback should be on people’s behaviour, not their character. Telling someone that when he misses a deadline it has an impact on you is useful feedback. Telling some that they are unreliable because they miss deadlines is a personal attack. The way you phrase this will change the way they hear it. 

Your words matter.

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