Making Room for Effective Feedback

We all want to do our best work yet the critical tool of upwards feedback is under used and under appreciated.

Lately the idea of constructive dialogue has really be on my mind, feedback in particular. Feedback is a basic human interaction that parents and societies innately use to correct behaviour. Throughout our lives, starting as a newborn, we have actions and try new behaviours and then get feedback from those around us, which increases as we grow into adulthood. Often the feedback has consequences which take the form of guilt and shame.

We also become more timid as we grow older of offering feedback to adults or those we see as higher than us. For instance; a typical five year old has no issues with telling you your breath smells, yet most of us as adults wouldn’t even consider telling our friends to brush their teeth. We don’t want to offend them, or we don’t want to draw attention to it out of shame or even that it’s inappropriate to correct someone who might be higher than us in the social hierarchy.

Taking feedback is so innately ground into us with these emotions, that even when we go to work, which is supposed to be a place where we separate from our private lives, we react to it as we have been taught all our lives.

Feedback in its earliest form has somehow been changed to be the feedback we know at work. In many organisations it is a formal, complicated and expensive process that companies use to collect data and analyse to manage their employees. The formality of this work-styled feedback has reduced our regular and instant dialogue of feedback with our bosses that we normally get with friends and families.

Feedback about human interactions and needs is tricky. There are a lot of resources available for managers to learn how to do it, yet there is a very shy set of resources for employees to give it back to their managers. If you are in the know with management terms, you may have heard of things like upwards feedback or managing up, but sadly, many employees do not have the know-how to get their voice heard. Many of my clients I’ve worked with often only hear second hand statements about issues in their organisation.

Everybody needs feedback and employees need to be heard.

Everybody: your team members, managers and direct reports. I’m not talking about employee support such as unions or 360 software programs, I’m simply talking about a healthy offline and human dialogue at work about things that are getting in our way of doing our best.

For example, one of my old managers was worried that one of his employees was looking for another job. The employee was working in a dark and remote conference room for most the day and when the manager had asked him about it and he said ‘Sorry, I’ll go back to my desk’. It kept happening so the manager asked me as HR to find out what was going on. The employee and I had a quick chat and it was very simply that he found one of his colleagues very disruptive and wasn’t able to focus on work. He was using the far conference room because he didn’t want to block a conference room that was needed. He didn’t to tell the manager this feedback because he didn’t want to be seen as ‘ratting’ out his disruptive colleague and was shy to talk about needing a different desk. We found an easy solution by moving him to a quieter office space and got some very valuable feedback in the process.

I enjoyed helping the employee, but really, the manager needed to hear this feedback. Not only that our office needed more quiet spaces to work for employees but that there were disruptive employees and most importantly that there is a lack of healthy dialogue between the manager and his reports. Time and time again, I see these situations where employees are not or cannot give feedback to their managers about how the manager’s actions, or lack of, is affecting them and blocking them.

Here’s some info about feedback: disengaged employees don’t give feedback and engaged employees give feedback of gold.

Which is it? That engaged employees give feedback or is it because they give feedback they are engaged?

We know there is a strong link between engaged employees and those who give feedback. So it seems so simple that we’d all be encouraged to do so. However, we’re not. Maybe it’s because of company hierarchy, cultural norms, a work culture of shaming or because we don’t have the tools to communicate well. Regardless of its foundation, the connecting issue is that upwards feedback is not regularly managed or encouraged.

In order to engage employees, I believe what’s really missing is a work culture that fosters healthy dialogue. The most vital time for feedback is during meetings, casual talks in the hallway or in one on ones with managers. A yearly engagement survey or a 360 feedback software wasn’t going to solve the tricky situation of my former colleague and his disruptive office mate. Good old fashioned conversation can.

Companies need to create a culture which fosters and integrates feedback, with an emphasis on upwards feedback into an environment of healthy and active dialogue. Employees need to learn that they are safe to ask for what they need and to offer upwards feedback for the development of the organisation. As we know, the best innovation comes from employees who are happy and enlighten. Use upwards feedback as a tool to help yourself be happier at work and allow upwards feedback to help your employees be their best.

For more guidance in developing company feedback culture or learning how to give upwards feedback, email me at arela@featuredpeople.com

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