Coaching & Leadership

2 Questions for HR in Building a Feedback Culture

David Ducheyne

Founder of otolith

Many organisations are looking for ways to create a feedback culture. They do this in order to benefit from more in-depth and qualitative feedback. We know that this can be beneficial under specific circumstances. However, we have also learned that in the majority of cases feedback does not work. So it’s essential to get it right. And if your aim is to create a feedback culture, the approach should be carefully designed.

The Concept of a Feedback Culture

In the past, the design of a feedback approach was very formal and linked to a performance management approach. The overall experience with these approaches is that they failed to deliver much value. Performance management systems were also seen as a burden by managers and often demotivated employees.

HR's role in this is crucial. As architect of the system, HR should design the process according to the company’s culture, the dominant leadership style and the general work context.

But honestly, HR has more often than not failed to do this. For multiple reasons.

  • HR tends to look at a performance management system as a source of data. This approach often leads to a system that is overengineered and a stockpiling of documents. If the aim of the approach is gathering data, the approach is losing its value.
  • HR undervalues the role of the leader in performance management and does not involve leaders enough in the design. Performance management should be seen as a business process aimed at the alignment, motivation and coordination of people.
  • Systems supporting the feedback approach should be as light as possible. Organisations should never forget that the purpose of a software platform is to relieve the burden from both managers' and employees' shoulders in asking and receiving feedback.

2 Design Questions to Ask

But once the system is designed, HR can basically limit its role to advocacy and support. And in this, there are only two questions HR should be interested in:

  1. Do people give enough feedback?

  2. How can we make sure the feedback is qualitative?

The first question might seem easy to answer. Well, it’s not. Feedback will only be sufficient when both leaders and employees feel it’s sufficient. So, in that respect, determining the required number of encounters can be difficult. The golden rule here is: give enough feedback to satisfy the needs of both parties involved. This also entails responsibility from both parties. If either the employee or the leader feels they don’t receive or give enough feedback, they should take initiative.

 

Only if an organisation engrains feedback in its everyday life, there will be a feedback culture.

 

In most cases, organisations will put forward a minimal number of feedback conversations. And in general, these take place only once or twice a year. But honestly, feedback should be informal, timely, continuous, etc. So suggesting one touchpoint a year will not contribute to the creation of that feedback culture. A better answer would be: as much as needed. So every encounter, every meeting, every conversation could and even should contain opportunities for feedback. Only if an organisation engrains feedback in its everyday life, there will be a feedback culture.

The second question is an even more difficult nut to crack. When is feedback of high quality? The way I see it, there are three aspects:

  1. Is the feedback actionable? Does the feedback allow the receiver to actually do something with it? This may sound vague, but in general, feedback is oriented towards a change in behaviour. So feedback will be actionable if it enables someone to do things better, different, more effectively or when it helps people to acquire new behaviour.

  2. Is the feedback motivating? Is the way in which the feedback is given driving the receiver to take action?  In other words, if the feedback isn’t appealing to the needs of the person, it won’t be motivating. 

  3. Is the feedback fair? Managers need to keep in mind that feedback should never be an evaluation. The moment an employee perceives the feedback as unfair, he or she will feel aggressed. This is, again, a tricky situation and why it should be actionable and not mixed with evaluation.

How will you know if the feedback has been of high quality? Just ask for feedback on your feedback ;)!

This article was originally posted on otolith.

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