HR Grapevine
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The power and pitfalls of a feedback culture

Imagine yourself as a senior talent manager (unless, of course, you are a senior talent manager, in which case… just be you).
The power and pitfalls of a feedback culture

The power and pitfalls of a feedback culture



Imagine yourself as a senior talent manager (unless, of course, you are a senior talent manager, in which case… just be you). You believe, in your heart of hearts, that the organisation you work for would see more employee engagement and increased performance if you encourage managers and employees to feed back to each other more regularly. So far, so good.

Fortunately you’re also a widely read, culturally sensitive senior talent manager. You know that feedback is a tool which cuts both ways. You may have read the New York Times’ article on Amazon’s workplace culture, with its weaponised brainstorming and secret feedback mechanisms.

Being - as we’ve established - a widely read, culturally sensitive, empathic senior talent manager, you may begin to imagine scenarios whereby people may abuse the feedback mechanics you put in place, sending jocular and probably slightly insulting messages to each other and their teams and making a mockery of the whole exercise. Which is, of course, nonsense. In your heart of hearts, you must know that if you treat people like adults, they’ll behave like them.

Of course, there’s feedback and there’s feedback.

At some organisations, there can be a very fine line between feedback and listening. Not that there’s anything wrong with listening. Not all surveillance operations are sinister: it can be incredibly useful to capture insight through surveys, exit interviews, the recruitment process or wherever. If you have the time and energy to wrangle all the components into place and keep them humming away, you can build quite the data mountain. And I suppose you could call that a culture of feedback, in one sense, because you’re taking as many opportunities as you can to listen to the business and the concerns of its people. How you approach the job of carving up that data mountain is another matter entirely. You’re the one who’ll have to do it, after all. An assiduous and data-hungry HR director could spend an awful lot of their time just figuring out how to parcel up the info, let alone draw insight from it.

Which is why you need to be the catalyst, not the bottleneck. It’s why you need to facilitate conversations, not just capture them.

At Clear Review, feedback is a crucial pillar of our business. It’s one of the best ways we know of to improve and develop. A manager who engages with her team should expect to see more engagement from them. Showing people that you appreciate their efforts, or that you’ve noticed an area where they need support, is a cornerstone of good management. This isn’t just about patting someone on the back after a job well done: this is creating a culture of listening and gradual improvement. It’s not enough to tell people that you’re willing to listen. You need to show them.

So here’s the thing. Listening to what people say - through survey tools or datacapture forms or appraisal mechanisms - so that you can take action is one thing. In a way, there’s never been a better time to be that miracle of learning and empathy that is an HR leader. The systems and platforms that enable you to listen and capture have never been so diverse, innovative and widely available. The complexity of that is a rabbit hole that you can choose to go down as far as you like, because you’re the one who has to figure it all out. You’ll crunch the data, you’ll compile the reports, you’ll draw the insights and make the recommendations. But encouraging a feedback culture; taking the time and effort to identify the right tool so that your organisation feels inspired to use it and reassured enough to continue when they do; promoting psychological safety and trust so that the feedback is uninhibited and valuable: that’s the part that you need to simplify for everyone else.

Stuart Hearn

Founder & CEO

Stuart Hearn is the founder and CEO of Clear Review, a software company which helps organisations to ditch the broken annual appraisal process in favour of continuous performance development.

Click here to find out more about Clear Review.


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