Zarah Prior
May 27, 2022

Cultivating a Positive Feedback Culture

COVID-19 has had a monumental impact on workplaces and how we interact with one another, challenging what we thought we knew and forcing us to reimagine our ways of working. As a result, it’s more important than ever to foster positive, courageous conversations between team members and their peers and managers. Cultivating a positive feedback culture serves to enhance connectivity as well as productivity, and is a major focus for Alpha as we establish giving and receiving feedback from a place of care as fundamental to working in alignment with our values.

Despite growing concerns of a “cotton-wool” culture, the Globoforce Workforce Survey found 65% of employees want more feedback. It’s not just any kind of feedback either; 92% employees believe negative feedback (delivered appropriately) would help them improve their performance. It’s this hunger for constructive critique that underpins growing demands for feedback from high-performers and puts ill-prepared managers in uncomfortable positions. Afterall, while studies have shown that everyone prefers to receive constructive feedback, they’ve also shown that everyone feels pretty uncomfortable giving it. 

Yet the importance of dealing with the tough stuff and communicating feedback – the good and the bad – well, cannot be understated. Recent findings suggest that 79% of people who quit their jobs cite “lack of appreciation” as their reason for leaving. These studies reveal a growing disconnect within workplace structures as thoughtful and considered feedback remains untapped, leaving employees wanting, and the employee-experience lacking. 

The Workplace F-Word

The characterisation of feedback as disciplinary and negative has deep roots, and is buried in our biological response to threat. 9.9 times out of 10, recieving feedback keys into our evolutionary fight or flight response as it feels, on a instinctual level, like we’re being attacked. When receiving feedback, even when it’s being delivered with the best of intentions, several physiological processes are likely to occur. Our hands get sweaty, our heart rate increases, and our ability for complex decision making is temporarily disabled. With our threat-detection system on high alert, we can also be prone to memory loss and struggle to perceive things from a different point of view. 

Known as the amygdala hijack, a lack of understanding of the impact this biological response has on our ability to recieve and process feedback has limited our ability to partake in courageous feedback conversations. Shying away from tackling – or simply understanding – the root-cause has handicapped many workplaces, preventing them from embracing feedback as an effective tool in creating positive employee experiences. 

Feedback as a Tool

Put more than a handful of humans together and miscommunication, whether major or minor, is a given. To draw from George Bernard Shaw, “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” So how do we break through the innately human differences in perception that are going to arise from the day to day interactions that make up a workplace – with positive feedback culture.

Arguably, workplaces lacking positive feedback culture rob themselves of invaluable opportunities to learn, grow, reflect, iterate and deepen connection and collaboration. They rob themselves of the opportunity to cultivate behaviours that are pretty fundamental to innovation and the creative process. Let’s harbour no illusions that the absence of feedback is symptomatic of perfect performance, because it’s not. An absence of feedback is a clear signifier that, for one reason or another, people don’t feel safe. They don’t feel safe enough to be curious, to ask questions, or to challenge the status quo. Without these behaviours, organisations are going to get left behind in two ways: talented people are going to leave in search of a business culture that fuels their own ambitions by giving them the feedback they crave, and competitors are going to respond more nimbly to market demands by virtue of having cultures that cultivate the conditions needed for creativity and innovation to thrive.  

Positive Feedback as Priority 

So what is positive feedback? Positive feedback is feedback that is given from a place of care. It demands a level of self-awareness, as well as a foundation of generosity that gives those who have wronged a safe space in which to explore the difference that may lie between their intention, their actions and the outcome or impact on others. From starting with a small invitation to engage in a feedback conversation, to understanding your intention behind giving the feedback and facilitating open and ongoing questioning, considered feedback empowers people with your presence and care, and fuels collaborative evolution and shared learning.

Negative feedback cultures, by contrast, demand less self-awareness and aren’t rooted in kindness. They can be identified as more punitive or competitive. They are often symptomatic of cultures or organisations that exist in an echo-chamber; where it is more important to reinforce the “right” way of doing things, or to demonstrate who is “better” or “best”. This approach to feedback culture devalues the organic outcomes of the human experience, forcing us to categories other people as threats to our own success, instead of inviting us to recognise others as collaborators and partners in our own success. 

In this way, a positive feedback culture builds trust throughout your workplace. There is a safety that comes from knowing your teammates have your back, even when their opinions differ from your own. Feedback becomes a symbol of kindness and care, a form of appreciation and respect in the personal and the collective as we work towards better outcomes, together and in conversation. 

Final Thoughts

This understanding clashes with the age-old agency archetype of being cut-throat and volatile. Importantly, positive feedback cultures do not serve to venerate everyone’s opinions as always right. Rather, it creates the space for boldness and curiosity to thrive, trusting that new strategies and evolution are supported and encouraged. 

Ultimately, how constructive feedback functions within a business is reflective of an ability to be self-reflective, open-minded, adaptable and resilient to change from the ground-up. 

Determining, establishing and performing a positive feedback culture and dialogue involves developing a feedback framework. From starting with a small invitation to engage in a feedback conversation, understanding your intention behind giving the feedback and facilitating open and ongoing questioning, considered feedback can serve to fuel evolution and avoid stagnation throughout operations. 

Feedback represents an investment in your employees’ development as well as the company’s. When performed with care and consideration, feedback is a weapon for success for both culture and performance.

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