The 9 signs of a healthy feedback culture.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

You can’t grow, learn and thrive without feedback. It’s vital to nurture a culture where giving and receiving feedback is like breathing. Without it, colleagues don’t know what’s going well and what they need to work on. This is not only bad for the people, it’s bad for business.

Most companies have organized feedback in some shape or form, which is great. But how do you know if it’s working? Here are 9 clear markers to look for when you’re asking yourself if your company is on the right track. This is what good looks like.

1. People are continuously giving and receiving feedback.

If people are going through the motions, any form of feedback is a waste of time. Continuous feedback is a result of a healthy feedback culture, where people are convinced this helps them, their colleagues and the company. In an ideal world, people enjoy discussing things that are going well and could improve. Disengagement and a lack of spontaneous feedback is are important signals.

2. People are getting and giving quality feedback.

What’s the type and level of feedback people are giving and receiving? Superficial feedback is a sign. It can point in all sorts of directions, so be cautious to jump to conclusions. The person might lack the skills to give good feedback, be biased towards a colleague or be disengaged with the feedback process as a whole. Whatever it is, it’s worth your attention.

Honest, open, constructive feedback is like rocket fuel for growth. That’s what you should be aiming for. Giving quality feedback is a skill, which takes practice. The good news is that it can be learned and trained.

3. People are tracking and documenting progress.

Having goals and milestones results direction and focus. That focus allows people to grow quicker, because they’re not distracted with arbitrary things. If people don’t know where you’re going, it’s impossible to know if they’re on track. If people aren’t tracking their progress, it could be a sign they’re not interested in that progress or that they need help converting feedback into action. Tracking is key.

It’s harder to give quality feedback without goals, as there is no yardstick. Ideally it’s not just the manager setting expectations, but colleagues themselves. There’s a bigger chance for disagreement on ‘how you are doing’ if it’s a one way street from the manager to the employee. People having goals and tracking progress is a sign of a healthy feedback culture. In addition, it helps build and nurture that culture.

4. People are growing.

When someone learns a new skill or unlearns a bad habit, that’s magic. A moment that should be celebrated. Growing and learning is contagious. It spreads like wildfire. You can help the spreading by sharing. Once people are hooked on getting better, there’s no stopping them. If people find that fire at your company, you’re doing something right. It will benefit your people and your business. It’s a sign if too many people get stuck, stop learning, are unhappy and keep doing the same thing for years. It could be a sign feedback isn’t flowing that freely.

5. People are thriving.

Have you ever seen someone gain self confidence in a role? Have success, hit goals, take initiative, lead, grow, enjoy a job? It’s called thriving. The opposite is someone who is constantly doubting, failing, second guessing. Someone who is nervous, anxious and stressed. If that’s the case, it could mean a range of things, like them not being in the right role at the right time. A healthy feedback culture helps people get and grow into positions where they thrive. You can’t have too many colleagues like that.

6. People feel appreciated and valued.

There is no one in your company who doesn’t want to feel appreciated and valued. It’s universal. Great feedback makes you feel seen, even if it’s constructive and not all hallelujah.

When was the last time you gave someone a heartfelt compliment? Not the shallow ‘omg, that was amazing’, but the‘Hey, that was impressive, I see how much that meant to you and how hard you worked for that. Well done.’. We tend to forget that feedback can be positive. A compliment.

Not feeling appreciated is a sign that there’s a mismatch. Feedback can (or should) fix that.

7. People know when it’s time to move on.

Check how your exits are going. Is that smooth and constructive or mainly painful? It’s normal that exits are a bit awkward, but if people are surprised that the company thinks it’s time to move on, that’s a red flag. It can be a sign of poor feedback. If there’s an ongoing honest conversation, this should not be a surprise. This doesn’t mean you always agree, which is fine.

8. Feedback is flowing both ways.

When colleagues feel they can give feedback to their manager, that’s a great sign. It means there’s a high level of trust and psychological safety. They feel equipped and able to give that feedback without fear of retaliation. If this doesn’t happen at all, you might have a bigger problem than a dysfunctional feedback process. A potential broader cultural issue, which often starts with the CEO. Good luck with that. If there’s constructive criticism towards the leadership team, you’re doing something right.

9. Colleagues are taking over.

If you’re the one doing all the work, something is wrong. It’s a sign people are not convinced, engaged or don’t feel the need, value and urgency. If you’re seeing this, stop pushing and start asking questions.

The process you currently have in place is just the vehicle for a concept. The form or rating system you came up with is a means to an end. A culture is carried in the minds and hearts of your colleagues, not in a software tool. When colleagues have their way with feedback, that’s a good thing. If they want to experiment and find a way that’s working for them: be happy. Mission accomplished, well done.

Okay, all fine and well, now what? As with a lot of things in life, realizing you have a problem is an important first step. So if this highlights a few areas that need work, that’s a win. The goal of this list is to be a conversation starter, not a checklist. Share this piece and your thoughts with your colleagues and team members. Ask them how they feel about it and what could be done to improve. Their input will give you an idea where to start. Enjoy!

If you liked this piece, do your colleagues and friends a favor and share.

Let’s stay in touch and connect on LinkedIn and Twitter 👋🏼.

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Currently part of People Ops at Google. Formerly head of HR at Blendle. Opinions our my own.

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Roland Grootenboer

Roland Grootenboer

Currently part of People Ops at Google. Formerly head of HR at Blendle. Opinions our my own.

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