Claudia Braun is a partner at Return on Meaning GmbH, a boutique consultancy providing consulting, trainings, and workshops on culture and change management, leadership, and mindfulness. Her passion is to help find a sweet spot where meaningful work is an advantage for both employee and the company. Claudia previously worked at McKinsey & Company, consulting companies on subjects including organizational change and leadership. To learn directly from her experience, you can also book our regular feedback masterclass.
Claudia, why do you think feedback is important? Why are you passionate about developing a feedback culture?
It makes a crucial impact on three levels:
- On the organizational level, we are experiencing so much rapid change in the world that companies need to continually learn in order to adapt and stay relevant. Feedback is a key ingredient here.
- On the team level, feedback is key to effective teamwork. Teams need to be able to communicate about their experiences and needs in the team, and help each other move forward.
- On the individual level, people are intrinsically motivated to develop and grow. If they are given the support to do this – e.g. via feedback – this fosters motivation and happiness.
How can a company actually change their feedback culture? How do you walk companies through this process?
You need four key elements in place which must lock together — if one piece is missing, change will not happen. These four are:
- Skills – Empowering People to Give and Receive Good Feedback
- The Will – Desire and Buy-in from People and Company
- Formalized Mechanisms – Tools to Ensure Feedback Happens
- Role Models – People Who Go First
Companies must assess where they stand in each quadrant, and based on their own context, create a strategy for each quadrant. There are various methods and exercises companies can use to explore the quadrants and come up with strategies.
The important part is not to forget any of the quadrants, as one piece cannot be successful without the others. For example, feedback skills and training are not enough without mechanisms that ensure people do not simply forget to give feedback amidst their busy lives. Mechanisms though won’t be successful if people don’t buy into the change you are proposing.
In our direct consultancy work, we co-develop solutions with companies. In a training class like Leapsome’s Feedback Masterclass, we share various practices of what can work to address the four elements , and people pick and choose what they find most helpful. To give you some examples: to build skills, trainings are helpful and at the same time you should think beyond, e.g. by having a coach or internal expert that gives feedback on the feedback that people give each other. This can happen during a retrospective or in dedicated 1-on-1 feedback settings. To foster the will of people, direct (positive) experience may be as helpful as facts and figures, depending on the audience. Formal mechanisms can be online, e.g. a tool, and offline, e.g. when teams give feedback to themselves (our achievements and failures and what we’ve learned) in weekly meetings. Thinking of role models top management is key, yet “lighthouses” throughout the company are essential. Ideally you find opinion leaders that are passionate about and good at giving and receiving feedback already and support them in doing even more of it.
What do companies most often struggle with when trying to create a feedback culture?
The first is role modeling. Executives and management need to put in the time and effort to learn about the importance of feedback, and have the skills to model it. Secondly, sustainability. Change is hard to achieve and often people are excited about an initiative, but then become busy with other things or lose enthusiasm. Companies need processes and formalized mechanisms in place to create long-term support for feedback culture, not just an initial introduction.
How can companies ensure, then, a feedback culture takes root in the long-term?
Feedback culture is a process, rather than a one-time initiative. For this a tool can be extremely helpful, for a few reasons:
- Feedback is a learned skill, and cultural change takes time. You need a tool to support a continuous process where people can learn, practice, and be supported over time.
- Habit formation. Just think of how hard it is for people to exercise more, eat healthier, or stop smoking. A tool can ensure feedback actually becomes a habit, and provides a platform, automation, and ongoing reminders.
- Any new habit at work needs to be front and centre, integrated in the way we actually do work – i.e, through current digital communications channels like email and slack. A tool is a structured way to integrate feedback into everyday life.
- A feedback tool easily aggregates feedback in one place, and stores it in an accessible way. This allows people to come back to their progress, see what is happening over time, and support their development.
When a company first begins supporting a feedback culture, what should they start with?
Start with giving everyone a hands-on, positive experience with feedback. It could be a training, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be a simple exercise at a company all-hands or offsite. For example, a ten-minute exercise where everyone has one minute to tell another person what they appreciate about them, and what they would appreciate even more of. Usually people enjoy these exercises, and learn a lot. It is a first step that shows the positive and powerful effect of feedback.
What if a company’s executives are skeptical about investing in tools or training to support a feedback culture?
Feedback isn’t something that we just do for fun. It is supported by a large amount of research that shows the ROI of feedback. It directly impacts employee motivation and performance. Secondly, I would ask executives, “What kind of company do you want to create? One where employees feel motivated, valuable, and like they are making an impact?” If so, you have to actively build that.
What can an HR or People or Culture team do if they want to cultivate a feedback culture, but do not have a lot of experience with it?
Train the trainer. Invest in trainings for one team (example, HR, or People and Culture) or top management co-facilitate. Then have that team take the lead. They can give company trainings, and also support other executives, managers, and employees with on-the-job support.
What is the most important thing you would say to companies thinking about working to implement more of a feedback culture?
If you want to get just one thing right in your company, then get the feedback culture right. It is the foundation for a self-optimizing organization. Once you have a culture of feedback and performance, all other goals can grow from there.