Feedback is a crucially important factor in creating an engaging work environment. In addition to a constructive process, organisations need infrastructure that supports feedback. In this tutorial, we will explore two aspects of infrastructure for effective feedback – culture and economy, and how you might introduce these concepts to your own organisation.
A feedback culture is one in which people feel comfortable giving each other feedback. Employees and managers should feel safe and trust each other’s’ intentions. They should have relationships of mutual respect and act and speak with each other’s well-being in mind.
If you want an example of how not to do it, just look towards Ryanair’s notorious CEO Michael O’Leary, who calls his employees “lazy bastards”. Positive feedback should be given out generously to reinforce good work. Negative feedback should be framed in a way that is actionable for the person receiving feedback and supportive for that person’s growth.
The whole process of feedback should be normalized so that it is an ongoing process rather than in concentrated bursts such as annual performance reviews. People should be used to giving and receiving feedback on a daily basis.
Examples of ongoing feedback may take various forms, such as complimenting a colleague on a presentation, or regular ‘pulse surveys’. Examples of the latter are quick surveys used to rate customer satisfaction at the end of a call, or the technique we use at Peakon asking employees to respond to specific questions on a weekly or monthly basis.
An example of how ongoing feedback is collected at Heathrow Airport [Source]
With the rise of social media, the idea of feedback as a currency is gaining traction. On Reddit, users upvote and downvote each other’s comments, and on Facebook, we have the infamous ‘like’ button.
In the context of social media, likes and upvotes provide the recipient with gratification. These exchanges between social media users form a complex economy, where quick appreciation is traded for gratification.
We believe that a similar model can exist in the workplace using feedback as a currency. Within a company, when people give each other feedback, the benefits at an individual level are recognition and growth. At a company-wide level, feedback improves support and peer relationships. These are four of the drivers that we at Peakon have found have the strongest influence on overall employee engagement.
An organization might formalize this economy in a formal tool or process. For example, a startup called Rypple (later Work.com) founded its product on the principles of gamification and social media.
It was a system that allowed employees to give each other instant feedback that could be made public or kept private so they could monitor and change their behavior accordingly. It also included a system of points and medals for users to work towards. Such a tool facilitated instant feedback and recognition in a fun and engaging way.
Toxic workplaces can lead to negative spirals and breakdowns in trust [Source]
As a manager in an organization, what can you do to build the culture and economy of feedback? Examining and shaping the culture will be the most crucial activity. Employees at toxic workplaces often refrain from frequent feedback because without a safe and positive environment, feedback can spiral into negativity. A safe environment is therefore a prerequisite for a culture of feedback.
Managers can start by creating safe spaces and solicit feedback from their direct reports. They should lead by example, learning to shape negative feedback to ensure it is constructive. They should then bring in feedback to daily conversations to normalize it.
Once a culture for feedback has been established, processes can be implemented to facilitate the exchange of feedback and recognition. This could be done with a technological solution, or as low-tech as a public board for people to leave positive notes for each other.
In established companies, these processes may exist already, but to adapt to the modern age, they should be examined to ensure they are as painless and frequent as possible.
There’s a good reason why companies are overhauling the annual performance review in favor of continuous feedback. I hope the principles discussed here can help you lay the foundations for impactful feedback in your organization.