Why a feedback culture is (not) the Holy Grail

Stefan Op de Woerd
Stefan Op de Woerd

Many organisations are seeking to create a feedback culture. It’s clear why they should want to do so, but it is questionable whether a feedback culture presents a real solution to the challenges faced by organisations. Stefan Op de Woerd and Jochem Aubel show you where the requirement for a feedback loop in organisations comes from, why it frequently doesn’t work and what you can do to push it in the right direction.

The end of traditional performance management

The world is changing at a rapid pace and many organisations are struggling to keep up. These days, terms like ‘agility’, ‘lean’ and ‘self-management’ are used in every boardroom as part of efforts to become more responsive to a changing world. It is intended that this should happen by having flexible employees who can learn and improve as part of an ongoing process and so perform at their best. The question is what this means for performance management within organisations.

Deloitte conducted a major study some years ago into the performance management cycle, which showed that 92% of employees are dissatisfied with the current system. This is hardly surprising: setting goals once a year is not going to work in a world of constant change. Nor is talking about personal development twice a year. For this reason, modernising their performance management is high on the agenda for many organisations. The aim is to move away from appraisal towards an ongoing dialogue about goals and personal growth.

Feedback as the ‘Holy Grail’?

The need for an ongoing conversation with regular 1-to-1s about goals and personal growth is one that is well-recognised. It enables employees to get the best from themselves and remain focused on what is really important for themselves and for the organisation. But, how do you make it happen in reality?

Many organisations are seeking a solution in the form of ongoing feedback. This makes sense, because a feedback culture indirectly leads to better performance. So, they go ahead and buy a fancy feedback tool and then expect people to give one another feedback. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out like that in reality, for quite understandable reasons…

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Ongoing feedback is an illusion

Often, the wish is father to the thought. So, the thinking goes: if we buy a feedback tool, employees will give one another more feedback. But, that’s not how it works in reality no matter how much the suppliers of feedback tools would like you to believe it. 

With the right support and guidance, you can undoubtedly encourage employees to give one another regular feedback and a tool that makes it easy to do so can certainly help. However, after a few months, the novelty wears off and the ‘feedback culture’ soon loses momentum.

Most organisations then fall back on a system of several feedback loops a year. Cynics would say that, as such, feedback has effectively become an end in itself. Optimists would say there is still value in this form of feedback. Realists? Well, they would stand somewhere in the middle :-).

Feedback on its own does not produce action

Feedback can undoubtedly contribute to better performance, but it is naive to think that feedback on its own will help employees achieve their goals faster, better or more easily.

After all, feedback is just an input to facilitate self-reflection that can then lead to new action. And, it is precisely this action-directed self-reflection that many people find difficult. The big question therefore is how you help them reflect and turn this into action. That is where an ongoing dialogue as part of regular 1-to-1s comes in.

Do you want to drive great 1:1s in your organization?

Download our e-book “The 3 essential catalysts for great 1:1s” for free

From feedback to dialogue

To really improve their performance, employees need to reflect on their goals and behavioural patterns on a regular basis. How is it going with my goals? Do I need help? Where do I go from here? Feedback can prompt you to think about these questions.

However, most employees rarely take the time to stop and think about how their goals and personal development are progressing. When it comes down to it, we have all got enough to do coping with everyday work pressures. However, it is very easy to support and facilitate them here. How? By making questions prompting reflection a natural part of all conversations that happen in the organisation, such as one-to-one meetings, coaching sessions, work discussions and retrospectives. So, there are plenty of places for these conversations to happen. The right questions will automatically lead to a good dialogue.

A helping hand

Just as tools can make it easy to gather feedback, innovative technology also exists that facilitates an ongoing dialogue about goals and personal growth. There is even technology that does both!

3 steps to effective performance management

Feedback is a good idea, but feedback will not lead to better results in and of itself. For this to happen, you need an ongoing dialogue with regular 1-to-1s about goals and personal growth.  The following steps will help you get a regular dialogue going within your organisation.

  1. Encourage employees to reflect on their goals at regular points throughout the year
  2. Use conversations and meetings that are already happening to enable this reflection
  3. Use feedback as an input to these 1-to-1s, not as an end in itself

Last but not least, you can use technology to support this dialogue.

We wish you every success!

Jochem Aubel and Stefan Op de Woerd are the founders of Dialog, surprisingly simple software for an effective performance management cycle. Want to know more about how Dialog supports employees and managers to achieve this? Take the product tour.

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