At Corner Alliance one of our core values is “Inner Voice”. We internalize and implement this value in many ways, but the gist is: ‘Say what you’re really thinking.’ We encourage every single one of our employees, no matter what their title or role is, to speak up and voice their opinions, concerns, questions, reflections, etc. By putting these genuine and unfiltered thoughts out in the open, we can have honest and meaningful conversations that move a project or process forward. Rebecca Knight’s recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Get Your Employees to Speak Up”, reminded me how hard this can be when we’re working with our government clients. Knight notes how fear and lack of ownership are two major factors that prevent people from airing their concerns or opinions. Indeed, the last thing most of us want to do is “overstep”, cause problems on a project, or get on our managers’ bad side. But the truth is, constructive criticism (negative feedback) is equally if not more important than positive feedback throughout all levels of an organization. Just because we don’t want to hear something, doesn’t mean we don’t need to. Giving and receiving feedback is not easy; most people find it inherently uncomfortable and shy away from it at all costs. Unfortunately, this tends to result in an environment where nothing can be criticized or questioned and resentment boils just below the surface, affecting team morale and productivity. At Corner Alliance, we’ve implemented several processes that have helped us foster a feedback-centric culture that we also bring to our clients:
1. Training.At a recent company All Hands, we had a facilitated training session focused on how to give and receive effective feedback. Here are a few of our main takeaways:No one likes giving feedback, but most people say they like receiving it. This creates a lop-sided environment where everyone is yearning for feedback but no one is comfortable or willing to provide it. When giving feedback, provide the feedback immediately (or as soon as possible and appropriate). Waiting until days, weeks, or months after an event to provide feedback is less effective and will make your team think you are holding on to past issues. Also, be specific. In order for that person to improve, you have to be clear that you are providing feedback and also provide specific examples of what went wrong or what needs to be improved next time.
When receiving feedback, the number one thing to remember is not to take it personally. For most of us, our first instinct is to get defensive and assume that the feedback is a reflection of our worth or value to the team. We have to be mindful that the person providing the feedback is doing so in our best interest and is trying to be helpful. Also, don’t just brush it off. Even if you think the feedback is misguided, recognize the effort that person took to provide the information and then think through exactly how you could improve in that area in the future. Lastly, put a plan in place to address the feedback and consider following up with the person who provided you feedback once you’ve implemented your plan to show that you took them seriously.
2. Practice makes perfect.The more often you give and receive feedback, the easier and more natural it feels. Asking your peers, reports, and managers for feedback increases the likelihood of them offering it more frequently. Offering unsolicited feedback shows your team that you are willing to give (and thus, receive) feedback.
3. Continue fostering a transparent environment and encourage feedback from all directions.Try implementing360-degree reviews; they can be a great way to show your team that you want to hear what everyone has to say. Be sure to recognize your team members that are actively providing feedback, and offer different mechanisms or avenues for giving and receiving feedback. Some people are comfortable speaking up in a group setting, whereas others are more comfortable in a one-on-one setting.
We believe that creating a feedback-centric culture is crucial to our company and clients’ success—if you’re struggling to get your team members to be honest and speak up, try implementing some of these tips and let us know how it goes. And for more advice, check out this great video about “Giving Feedback for Strong Performance”.