Tell Me How You Really Feel: Creating a Culture of Continuous Feedback

continuous feedback; manager tips for talent management strategy

There is a concept in couple's counselling called creating a "safe zone" to help manage difficult conversations. When one of the pair is about to bring up a topic that could be potentially hurtful or hard for the other to hear, he or she signals this by asking, "Can we go into the safe zone?"  This helps the other party prepare for what is coming and deescalates the fight-or-flight reflexes that might otherwise occur.

It got me thinking about how we can quickly create a "safe zone" for continuous feedback in our workplaces.  I have written previously about the importance of giving and receiving feedback for healthy individual and team growth, but it strikes me that it's still challenging to bring these concepts to people who may not yet understand the importance of these conversations; this is especially true if they're not in a direct reporting relationship with us.

Here are some things I have been trying recently:

Make Continuous Feedback a Way of Life.

Add feedback sections to project meetings and agendas so they become the norm. Making it a default part of the workday removes egos and takes the sting out by communicating that everyone's in the same boat.

Start With the Purpose.

As soon as you start working with someone, explain that you learn best from regular feedback, and that you like to give it too. Ask if this is something they are open to; explain the impact feedback has had on you and share examples.

Ask Permission.

Feedback is most effective when the recipient is open to it. Every time I give unsolicited feedback I try to remember to ask, "Would you be ok if I gave you some feedback?" If they seem cautious, choose an alternative time or approach.

Handle Your Own Feedback with Grace.

As with anything, you're the role model. And how you react matters. The moment you overreact to feedback you receive, the more likely you are to lay the groundwork for similar reactions from others...and the less likely you are to receive any more feedback yourself.

Balance Positive with Negative.

Feedback is about providing a mirror to someone to show how they are appearing to colleagues. But make sure to mirror back the things they are doing well - and why.  Also, don't fall into the common trap of being particularly hard on high potentials: everyone needs to hear someone say out loud that they are doing a good job, even those "A" players recognized by everyone as stars. You don't have to be sick to get better.

Establish Feedback Buddies.

Feedback needn't - and in fact shouldn't - come from only supervisors. Encourage people to build feedback muscles by identifying at least one trusted person with whom to trade feedback on a regular basis. Make a game out of it, and encourage each other to keep the quantity and the intensity of the feedback coming. Create your own networks of feedback buddies as well. Notice how much your self-awareness and performance increase through this process.

Feedback provides an unparalleled opportunity to quickly gain new insights and course correct mid-stream. Some work cultures live and breathe an atmosphere of open, continuous feedback and discussion, but many don't, and are missing a key ingredient for company growth and innovation. If you are one of those, I encourage you to experiment with some of these ideas for creating "safe zones" in your workplace. Then you can watch the idea - and the benefits - take off.

Written by: Helen Zarba

About the Author

Helen Zarba at Bright Horizons

As Vice President, Organizational Development & Learning Services, Helen oversees the corporate Learning and Development Function at Bright Horizons and is also responsible for maximizing the impact of the enterprise-wide integrated talent management suite. Helen has played a pivotal development role at Bright Horizons for eight years and previous to that worked in senior HR and Learning and Development roles in domestic, European, and EMEA environments for BMW, Gillette and P&G. Helen is passionate about increasing the strategic impact of learning and development interventions, and exploring the use of technology to replicate the power of a high touch culture.