How to Build a Feedback Culture That Works

How to Build a Feedback Culture That Works

CharlieHR's Rob O'Donovan explains how an effective feedback culture can transform working processes and talks us through the seven pillars of sharing constructive feedback

By Rob O’Donovan

The most successful people I know have an innate desire to be world class at what they do. They seem to spend a significant amount of time reflecting on how to capitalize on their strengths and mitigate the effects of their weaknesses. Most importantly, all of them rely on one crucial element to fuel their development - feedback from their peers.

The benefits of creating an environment where my colleagues can be open and honest with me about my shortcomings is vital to my business. They expect the same back and we all grow together. We’ve worked tirelessly to create a culture where feedback isn’t just encouraged, but expected. Instilling the habit of effective feedback within a team is a fine balance, and I've found that there are seven core elements to bear in mind:

1. Create the habit

It’s much harder to give feedback when it’s unsolicited, so build a culture where people expect it. For example, introduce a policy where presentations or meetings should finish five minutes early to allow time for feedback. Or perhaps save the last ten minutes of every day for people to reflect on their work that day and seek advice on anything they struggled with or need guidance on.

Ultimately, the most powerful way to build a culture of feedback is by training people to ask for it regularly, so that it fits into the general pattern of everyone’s working day seamlessly.

2. Be specific 

If you get into the habit of asking for feedback regularly, you’ll find the obvious stuff dries up. That’s where the real opportunities to learn are, not in the big themes but in the smaller, more nuanced areas - the marginal gains.

When inviting feedback, be as specific as possible. “How do you think I was in the meeting today?” is very difficult to answer. “Do you think I explained the campaign idea clearly enough?” is more pointed. It gives your colleagues something specific to focus on and also invites them to give you feedback on something that they may have otherwise glossed over.

3. Coaching

Invest in coaching your team on how to give good, constructive feedback. Like any skill, it’s not easy and requires good practice.

We use the Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) model:

The advantage of this approach is that it makes the feedback as impersonal as possible - it’s about a particular and specific behaviour they exhibited at a certain time, not a slight on them as a person. This gives your colleagues an understanding of how to see the impact of their actions.

4. Be candid

Don’t waste time and energy thinking about how you can structure your feedback to make it more palatable. Be straight and direct, without sugar coating anything. By dressing it up in cotton wool you’re more likely to make it confusing and unclear, which is less valuable to the recipient.

Coach people to have the resilience to listen closely to feedback, recognize it exists as the fuel to help them make progress, and not take it personally. That will allow it to flow more freely and quickly, so the benefits arrive faster.

5. Team building works

The best breeding ground for effective feedback is a team who genuinely trust and care about each other. The feedback you give each other can be extraordinarily difficult at times, but it’s so much easier to accept if we know it’s coming from the right place. Invest in opportunities for the team to spend time together outside of the high pressured working environments where they can learn more about each other.

We all go away together for a weekend twice a year just to hang out as a team, no work and no agenda. It sounds like an expensive use of time, but it reminds everyone of the fact that we are more than our jobs and that working effectively together is vital to success. 

6. Hold each other to account

Share the feedback you’ve received with the rest of your team, especially if it makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable. It’s highly unlikely that it will come as a surprise to anyone, and the more open you are about the things you need to work on the more likely it is that your colleagues can support you in getting there.

This isn’t only hugely impactful for how you make progress yourself, but how others do too. It takes confidence to share your vulnerabilities and it’s inspiring for those around you to demonstrate your commitment to self improvement.

7. Lead from the top

As with anything cultural, the cue is taken by the company leaders who have to set the highest standard. Asking for feedback - especially from more junior team members - demonstrates that they are open to being directed from anyone in the business, while sharing their challenges publicly sets the example for how to be vulnerable and hold each other to account.

About the Author

Rob O’Donovan is the co-founder and CEO of CharlieHR, an easy-to-use HR software that enables thousands of small companies to build great places for their employees to work. Rob has been building companies for the past 13 years out of startup studio The Eleven and is a passionate advocate of the role small companies play in all of our futures as the bastions of innovation and change.