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7 tips to help build a culture of feedback

Beer taps and foosball tables aren’t signs of a strong company culture — honest communication and rigorous + respectful debate are. Here’s how to build a culture of the latter.

Culture, at its core, is not what we outwardly say or show. Culture is rooted in our basic underlying assumptions — what we truly believe, even when we choose not to verbalize those thoughts. In order to tap into our basic underlying assumptions and ensure they’re aligned across the team, we have to engage in feedback. We have to create a culture where people are willing to talk about what they’re really thinking, challenge those thoughts, and find out where the overlap is with their peers.

A culture that’s built on feedback — the honest, rigorous exchange of beliefs and ideas — far outlasts a culture that hinges on office or experiential perks. Free lunches, massages in the office, ping pong tables… Those artifacts, while pleasurable, are only surface-level. A culture of feedback is what ultimately enables a team to perform its best.

While creating a culture of feedback is a nuanced process that can take months (or years!) to fully cement, here are seven tips to get you started:

  1. Learn to give constructive feedback. It seems simple and straightforward, but it’s often difficult, and many managers admit to pushing off the tough conversations or sugar-coating feedback.
  2. Deliver the bad news. Believe it or not, it makes you a better leader. It helps you engage with your team more and tell them what they actually want to hear.
  3. Master the art of receiving difficult feedback. This one is tough for many people, and one I struggled with early on in my career. Remember, it’s not about what’s true to you, it’s about what’s true to the person delivering it.
  4. Effectively prepare for one-on-one meetings. Don’t short-change yourself or your employees by phoning in these important conversations. Prepare questions to ask to better focus the meeting, which is a critical component of a feedback culture.
  5. Have you ever found yourself delivering a shit sandwich while sharing difficult feedback? You know, the layering of good-bad-good feedback? Stop doing this! It’s disingenuous and not helping you or the employee.
  6. Close the feedback loop. If you want to be a good manager, you can’t just make the call. You have to also explain it.
  7. Go first. You can’t expect your co-workers to be open with you if you’re not open with them. You’re the leader, so it’s important that you set the right tone in a feedback culture by not being afraid to dive in.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.