Many successful companies have corporate cultures that share some of the same traits: People are honest about what's working (and what's not), they are receptive to fresh ideas, and tend not to be resistant to change.
At Funding Circle, we champion this spirit in one of our five company values: "Be Open." One of the biggest benefits of this has been that it has helped us build a feedback-rich culture.
Feedback matters because it helps people improve their performance. It also gives leaders the information necessary to build the sort of companies they aspire to. Without feedback, it's very difficult for people to develop and for organizations to course-correct.
Developing an environment where feedback is welcome takes some work. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Leaders set the tone.
A feedback-rich culture has to start from the top. It only takes one misstep as a leader to shut it down. If it ever comes out that someone bearing well-intentioned views was shut down or punished for speaking out, others in your organization will shy away from being open and honest.
As a leader, it's your job to show you are open to constructive feedback and want to do your role better. Demonstrating that you can receive feedback--even when uncomfortable to hear--from your team helps give them confidence to speak up, and also sets the norm that they will follow when it's your turn to provide developmental feedback.
2. Feedback should be a part of daily life.
Feedback needs to be distinct from the performance appraisal process done once or twice a year. In fact, if anyone shows up to a performance review and the evaluation is a surprise, then you know you have a serious breakdown in your feedback culture. The management skills of the person responsible for that employee's development probably need some work, too.
For most people, being directly and openly critical of others' behaviors and decisions is already very uncomfortable. As a result, they'll often hold back or, worse, channel such views into corrosive water-cooler chat that can really kill company morale.
To ensure that this doesn't happen, a key role for a leader is to set up clear forums and channels through which people can give each other feedback--in all directions--and do so within guardrails that are appropriate for your culture. One simple tactic we often use at our company is to encourage our people managers to solicit and give performance-related feedback to their team members at regular intervals between formal reviews.
3. It's a skill, not a talent.
A healthy feedback culture allows people to understand what they need to change, but does so without undermining the interpersonal trust that's crucial for constructive workplace relationships. Creating this type of environment takes continual work and practice by everyone involved; it probably won't happen naturally.
At our company, we offer workshops to give people a chance to learn and practice their feedback skills. One tip is to start with a simple, experience-based "When you did____, the impact on me/that other person/etc. was___." This allows you to be specific and provide clear guidance on what someone might have done differently, and it does so without challenging someone's interior motivations.
Whether speaking with someone junior, senior, or a peer, I've found that a direct, empathetic approach to feedback leads to lasting and positive behavior change. It also can create stronger relationships and, ultimately, improved business performance.