There’s a clear disconnect in the employee experience that can’t be overlooked—87% of employees rate professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them, yet only one third report they actually receive the feedback they need to grow. This is putting mounting pressure on People teams to give employees the positive, growth-oriented experience they’re seeking in response to the ever-increasing competition for top talent.If employees aren’t regularly informed about how they’re doing, how can they get better? It comes as no surprise then that leaders in the People space are looking for new ways to motivate employees to get the feedback they need to develop and grow, and various bodies of research have worked to uncover just what it takes to create a culture of feedback.
The Question of Solicited Feedback
We’re seeing more and more companies invest in reshaping their approach to performance—most recently Microsoft—by shifting focus to how they can enable more frequent feedback conversations that lead to continuous learning and real behavioral change. One of the common challenges organizations face is just how to help employees overcome the anxiety and fear that can sometimes be associated with feedback exchanges, and instead create a more positive response. A recent study tapped into this area of interest by measuring the impact of solicited or unsolicited feedback on participants’ witnessed positive behaviors, heart rate, and self-reported anxiety.
One of the suggestions is to bypass employees waiting around to receive feedback, and instead taking the initiative to ask for it. This would allow employees to potentially feel more prepared and in control of the situation, rather than being caught off guard receiving feedback that wasn’t asked for. As much as this sounds like a promising setup for less worry around feedback, does it actually embolden employees to ask for the feedback they need?
Theory in Practice
While relying on employees to seek feedback about themselves from colleagues or managers may sound ideal, there are barriers that often prevent this from becoming reality. According to Gallup, few employees agree that they routinely ask for feedback. So, what’s keeping ‘asking for feedback’ from being a simple solution?
- People are afraid to ask peers assuming they may be “too busy” to give them feedback
- They may forget to ask for feedback because they are consumed with their own projects and completing on-the-job tasks and feedback isn’t top-of-mind.
- Even if they opt to ask for feedback, they may fall for confirmation bias where individuals typically ask for feedback from people they know will confirm what they think about themselves, even if it’s unintentional, which doesn’t help spur growth opportunities.
- If a particular employee is struggling or already feels like they are underperforming, it becomes much harder to ask for feedback than when they know they did something well
Unfortunately, the theory of ‘simply asking’ is easier said than done. Employees have to feel comfortable and empowered enough to seek feedback, they need to know how to request it from the right people, and they need to be sure that those they’re asking know how to deliver the kind of feedback they need to get better and learn. Without addressing these realities, organizations will continue to struggle with realizing the full potential of a feedback culture. Here’s how you can start moving the needle to increase feedback exchanges between your employees:
1. Foster the right environment for feedback
Employees can’t do their best work if their environment isn’t optimized for their success. This is also true around cultural expectations and perceived openness when it comes to feedback. Not to mention, you want all employees to seek feedback—not just those who historically overly manage their performance or seek reassurance. If you want employees to ask for feedback, there needs to be a culture where the individual requesting feedback doesn’t feel uncomfortable and where the individual giving feedback feels capable of giving meaningful, actionable feedback. If both parties believe that the exchange is in good intent and to help each other improve, peers will feel far more comfortable engaging in regular feedback conversations. Since this all starts with culture, we have a few suggestions from how we’ve seen success:
- Create a psychological safe space by separating performance measurement and performance development feedback, where employees can exchange private feedback not visible to HR or managers
- Make this a top-down initiative, from executives down where leaders ask for and give constructive feedback
- Focus on creating a regular, continuous cadence so that it becomes a familiar behavior and part of your company culture
- Start communicating the expectations around feedback as soon as possible by onboarding all employees when they join and training them on the use and benefit of feedback
2. Prompt constructive feedback through structured templates
Even if an employee opts to ask for feedback, those receiving their request may not have the tools they need to give meaningful, actionable feedback. Beyond that, we’re all prone to unconscious bias and it can easily creep into the feedback we give one another, especially across gender lines. If the intent of constructive feedback is to give one another the tools we need to correct behavior and boost our overall performance, then we need guidelines to make sure we’re giving the best feedback we can. To provide structure, we’ve found a few different research-backed templates and approaches that make giving feedback not only easier, but better:
The SKS framework. The SKS framework uses three simple questions to guide your feedback conversations based on the concepts of stop, keep, and start:
The Situation Behavior Impact model. The Situation Behavior Impact (SBI) model is a framework for giving feedback that focuses on specific situations and behaviors and outlines the impact those behaviors have on others. According to the SBI framework, feedback can follow this pattern:
3. Increase engagement and ease with feedback request automation
If you let employees ask for feedback, they may end up falling into a common trap of confirmation bias. We subconsciously seek feedback or advice from those who confirm what we already think about ourselves, avoiding the potential bruise to our ego when we hear information that may conflict with our beliefs. While this may ‘keep the peace,’ it doesn’t help employees get better or get feedback that leads to real growth.
Beyond confirmation bias, employees are now working differently and have a wider net of teammates. Throughout the course of the year, they may work with others on their team, people from different teams, or with managers from other departments. Josh Bersin describes this approach to adaptable, project-based collaboration as the “network of teams.” If you want employees to be receiving feedback from the most relevant peers, make sure you have a process in place that can intelligently gather a list of peers each employee has worked with most and automate requests on their behalf.
If you can recognize that one employee, “Sam,” has been working with a peer in a separate department, “Sarah,” because they’ve been scheduling regular meetings, chat frequently in Slack, or email back and forth about progress, it’s clear that Sarah would have more information about Sam’s recent work than his manager who he only meets with once a week. But rather than expect Sam to ask Sarah how he’s doing, take it out of his hands. Have automated emails sent to Sarah to see if she has any helpful feedback to provide Sam since they’ve been working closely together recently.
By using a feedback system that not only finds the right people to give feedback, but takes the responsibility out of the employees hands when it comes to asking, there will be higher engagement and better feedback quality. By solving for these unique constraints, employees are given feedback from the right people, at the right time, and with less worry or friction.
Ultimately, the crux of the issue we’re solving for is how to give all employees the opportunities they need to continuously develop skills and become high-performers. We’ve found this begins with the quality and frequency of feedback and advice employees are receiving from relevant teammates. And the simple answer isn’t ‘just ask for it.’
If we set employees up for success with the right feedback process, the end result should be more and more learning opportunities. From there, employees have the knowledge and data they need to act. Feedback shouldn’t just be for the sake of feedback, but rather for the sake of getting better. We encourage companies to look beyond feedback as the end result, and instead focus on connecting feedback to learning and development.
If employees are hearing they need to improve their presentation skills or improve on their client communication, there should be a clear path where your feedback system can automatically recommend resources for them to take action—whether it’s watching a video, taking a class, or reaching out to an expert on your team for mentorship. If companies begin thinking about not only how feedback is gathered, but what employees are doing with that knowledge, they’ll be moving in the right direction to build high-performance cultures.
Want to learn more about Zugata’s approach to continuous developmental feedback? Read, ‘How to Build a Culture of Continuous Feedback and Development,’ or get in touch to see how Zugata can help you create a high-performance culture.