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The Case for Feedback

“Feedback” is a popular organizational buzzword these days. Companies want their employees to know that they value feedback because it communicates commitment and care for their team. However, most organizations fall under what I like to call the “feedback fallacy,” which is the belief that we are fostering a culture of feedback when in reality we are going about it all wrong. I’ve been working since I was 14 years old but only received true, effective feedback from an employer for the first time three years ago. That’s unbelievable to me. But, I’m also not alone in saying that. According to a survey by Officevibe, 32% of employees have to wait more than 3 months to get feedback from their manager and 62% wished they received more feedback from their colleagues.

Part of the problem is that there isn’t a clear understanding of what constitutes effective feedback. Let’s address some common misconceptions:

  • Feedback is not performance reviews or evaluations
  • Feedback is not praise or recognition
  • Feedback is not criticism or punishment
  • Feedback is not advice
  • Feedback is not a suggestion box or survey

Feedback IS a process of challenging ourselves and others to improve through intentional and actionable conversations. In 2018, 53% of employees said they “haven’t improved their skills significantly in the last year.” We have to continue to develop our team members in order to keep them engaged and productive. One of the best ways to do that is through feedback. According to Zenger & Folkman’s survey, “virtually all (94 percent) of recipients of feedback state that corrective feedback improves their performance when it is presented well.” We’ll come back to this idea of feedback being “presented well”, but it’s important to know that ultimately, feedback helps boost your bottom line of success by developing and growing your team in the ways that count.

So, why don’t we have more feedback conversations with our teams? These kinds of conversations are challenging, take time, and require individual consideration. Which is why most managers or leaders won’t engage in them. In a 2015 study conducted by Zenger & Folkman, “43 percent of leaders said they found that giving corrective feedback is a “stressful and difficult experience.” But, your team actually wants feedback. In fact, “83% of employees appreciate receiving feedback, regardless of if it is positive or negative”. This is so important!

The case for creating a culture of feedback is strong, so we’ve put together some tips on how it can be done:

Set the tone from the beginning

When training new employees, we introduce our organization as one that prioritizes feedback in a way that many of our staff members have never experienced before. Their first exposure to feedback is in their first four days of training. Our feedback is thorough, detailed, and specific, but it also comes from a place of deep care and consideration for our staff and the work that we do together. These early feedback sessions help fulfill our training and development needs while also modeling the kind of feedback conversations that we expect from our staff.   

Communicate expectations

Agree on groundrules, goals, roles and responsibilities, practice, and procedure. These things act as the backbone for your feedback process. They clearly outline expectations of your group and then give you something to connect your feedback to directly. Most importantly, we have to make sure that we, as leaders and organizations, are communicating and upholding these standards so that they are an integral part of our culture and climate.

Establish common language

We use feedback contracts as a way to establish a common language and system for feedback on our team. Each person documents how they like to give and receive feedback in detail so that it can be shared with the team. If ever a feedback conversation needs to happen, we encourage team members to look at the feedback contracts of those involved so that they can prepare appropriately. See our Leadership Lesson below to learn more about creating feedback contracts!

Practice Radical Candor

One of the main reasons that people avoid giving feedback is because they are worried about how people are going to react. This brings us back to the point that feedback should be “presented well”. Karen Scott describes ‘Radical Candor’ as the ability for leaders to care personally for their groups while also challenging them directly to improve. It is this careful balance that allows leaders to approach feedback conversations in a way that builds trust and also produces results. Now, it’s true that you can’t predict how anyone will respond to feedback (even positive feedback!), but if you can develop your feedback style as one of Radical Candor then you will be able to build relationships while also correcting actions and encouraging change.

Check in regularly

Feedback conversations should be happening continuously. What we often see in organizations is that feedback and evaluations are put on the calendar for quarterly meetings or annual performance reviews. This is a mistake because most feedback conversations are too important to wait until those formal meetings. We need to start making time for feedback when it needs to happen. Whether it’s positive or corrective, timely feedback produces the best results because its relevant and proactive. Even if there aren’t any major or compelling issues to address, regular feedback helps our team members to focus on different areas of improvement and track their progress.  

Provide helpful coaching

Feedback conversations are challenging and take practice. Make yourself available during the process to provide coaching and mentorship to your team members. The caveat here is that you can only help so much, you can’t actually have the conversation for someone else, so make sure that you are guiding others to action. And don’t forget to seek your own coaching. Utilize your own mentors and core team to seek advice, talk strategy, and debrief next steps.

What all of these tips have in common is that we have to start prioritizing feedback in order for it to become a part of our organizational or group culture. We have to be willing to give feedback conversations the time and consideration that they require to be effective. We have to support each other through them. Once we do that, we will start to see powerful changes in the people of our organizations and the work that they are able to do together. 

There is so much more to talk about in regards to feedback so keep an eye out for next week’s blog post, we’ll be talking about the do’s and don’ts of feedback conversations!

*Leadership Lesson*

Everyone likes to give and receive feedback differently. Because of this, it can be helpful to have a tool or guide that prepares you for feedback conversations with different individuals. Feedback Contracts provide important information on people’s feedback preferences and responses to different kinds of feedback. Here are some things to consider when drafting your Feedback Contracts:

  • Format: Do you prefer to receive feedback in writing, on the phone, in person?
  • Timing: When do you want to receive feedback? As soon as possible, do you like a day or so to process, do you want to receive all of your feedback at once?
  • Delivery: Do you prefer hearing positive feedback before corrective feedback? Do you prefer direct feedback or do you respond better to a more informing or empowering style? Do you like to end on a high note? Do you need time to action plan?  
  • Response: How do you react to feedback? Do you ask a lot of questions, get defensive, shut down, seem like you’re not paying attention? Think about the different ways that you respond to feedback and how that might change depending on what the feedback is about or who is giving you feedback.

Also make sure to think about the difference between positive and corrective feedback for yourself. For instance, I like to receive written positive feedback, but I have a strong negative reaction to written corrective feedback because it is very difficult for me to process.

You should do the same contract for giving feedback to others. Think about what is natural to you in these conversations and how your approach might be different than someone else’s.

Then, practice using your contract. Share your feedback contract with a colleague or teammate and take the time to talk about how you might be able to approach feedback conversations with each other moving forward.

Lastly, be willing to amend your feedback contract. As you have more feedback conversations you will learn more about your feedback process so make sure to keep it updated and accurate!

*Meet the Author*

Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.