Empower employees by embracing a feedback-based culture.
By Marta Chmielowicz
What is a feedback-focused culture? Itâs one where allÂ employees feel confident voicing their perspectives. OneÂ where relationships are grounded on trust and respect.Â One where positivity and openness are the norm, andÂ even people who arenât skilled in giving or receivingÂ feedback are happy to participate.
This type of culture is embraced by leading HR softwareÂ provider Paycor. âWe have what I would call a âby theÂ people, for the peopleâ relationship with our employees,âÂ says CHRO Karen Crone. By making leaders accessible andÂ giving employees ample opportunity to provide feedback,Â Paycorâs workforce has adopted a forward-thinkingÂ growth mindset and a better understanding of theÂ companyâs priorities and business goals.
According to Jeff Gelinas, vice president of product andÂ people at Engage2Excel Inc., this approach has multipleÂ benefits: better organizational alignment resulting fromÂ frequent communication, improved engagement, andÂ increased productivity.
But how can it become a reality? Chary Krout, seniorÂ vice president of HR at First Tech Federal Credit Union,Â says that cultivating a feedback-centered culture goesÂ beyond surveys and meetings with management. âAÂ first step is for employers to foster an atmosphere whereÂ employees have greater trust and feel empowered to giveÂ and solicit feedback,â she explains. âWhile itâs a leaderâsÂ responsibility to ensure these conversations and check-insÂ are ongoing throughout the year, employees can take theÂ driverâs seat to their performance and development.â
There are other best practices organizations can follow toÂ create such an atmosphere. Paycorâs approach involves aÂ number of different programs and initiatives:
- Regular meetings with leadership. According to Crone,Â the company ensures that employees engage frequentlyÂ and directly with their leaders by hosting monthly andÂ quarterly meetings. âPulseâ business updates run monthlyÂ and feature a live webcast with an employee-drivenÂ agenda, while âthe Leadsâ quarterly meetings are led byÂ executives at the director level and above and focus onÂ larger business strategy.
âItâs really an opportunity for employees to lean in on ourÂ strategy, so we take a deeper dive on an element of ourÂ strategy and let employees reflect on it and understandÂ how the leadership team got to that decision,â sheÂ explains. âOur perspective is that when people understandÂ the direction, health, and key priorities of the business,Â they ask questions about those things and thereâs moreÂ of a framework for them to reflect on. That gives you aÂ chance to take action on their feedback instead of havingÂ feedback thatâs not connected to your business.â
These meetings also give leaders an opportunity toÂ address the ways that the business is integrating pastÂ feedback into its strategy. By being transparent aboutÂ plans and intentions, leaders help employees feel heardÂ and respected.
- Field visits. Paycorâs leaders also engage with theirÂ employees through regular field visits to the companyâsÂ various branches. These visits include a town hall withÂ open question sessions followed by a social event whereÂ executives can get to know their people personally.
- Employee resource groups. Self-managed employeeÂ resource groups are another way that Paycor empowersÂ employees and makes their voices heard throughout theÂ organization. For example, a young professionals groupÂ works to develop training programs and shape its ownÂ self-development through a program called âAccelerate.âÂ Another community partners group leverages employeeÂ feedback to develop community improvement efforts andÂ initiatives that the entire company can get behind. TheseÂ are examples of the companyâs âfor the people, by theÂ peopleâ philosophy in action, says Crone.
- Debriefs after major initiatives. âAnother thing weâveÂ done is we try to steal a page from agile,â Crone says.Â âOne of the agile messages is making sure you have aÂ post-mortem after your agile window. We make sure weÂ have debriefs around a lot of our major initiativesâthatâsÂ an example of everyone coming into the room with theÂ same voice. Everybody has a chance to weigh into whatÂ went well and what didnât go well.â
Pulse surveys are used at the end of onboarding, training,Â and any other company initiatives to instantly capture anÂ authentic reading of employee perceptions and ideas.Â By building a feedback loop mechanism into everythingÂ it does, Paycor assures employees that their opinions areÂ valued, improving engagement while collecting valuableÂ data about the employee experience.
Feedback Transforms Performance Management
A feedback-based culture also has a positive impact on theÂ performance management process. When organizationsÂ are open to hearing feedback, they become accustomed toÂ giving it more frequently as well.
âOur research demonstrates that implementing aÂ continuous performance management program isÂ an effective strategy to cultivating a feedback-richÂ environment,â says Gary Beckstrand, vice presidentÂ of the O.C. Tanner Institute. âThis strategy includesÂ multiple methods of conversation and development:Â one-to-ones, quarterly reviews, and annual reviews.Â One-to-ones are deliberate conversations that includeÂ feedback, celebrations of micro-victories, and guidance.Â Organizations that want to institutionalize feedbackÂ should start with ensuring one-to-ones are occurring.Â From there, they should ensure their strategy integratesÂ quarterly and yearly reviews.â
According to Crone, Paycor leverages these performanceÂ management strategies and provides ample opportunityÂ for two-way feedback between managers and employees.Â After learning that employees were not satisfied withÂ infrequent performance reviews, the organizationÂ developed âConnectâ sessions that occur four times a year.Â âConnect Lightâ sessions check in on performance whileÂ âConnect Heavyâ sessions dig deeper into employee goalsÂ and development progress. These quarterly performanceÂ conversations promote ongoing feedback and coachingÂ that encourages constant development and performanceÂ improvement. And they are hugely popular: Crone reportsÂ a 92 percent participation rate.
Employees also receive the opportunity to comment onÂ their managersâ performance through an annual coachingÂ index of 15 to 20 behavioral-based questions. Based onÂ this feedback, managers receive a performance score thatÂ helps compare skills and identify points of improvement.
âSo often in performance management systems, itâs notÂ unusual for the boss to tell you how youâve done or forÂ the manager to just parrot feedback that employeesÂ wrote about themselves,â explains Crone. âWhat weâveÂ tried to do is create balance in the relationships. WeÂ allow the employee to have a voice about what theyâveÂ accomplished that is not seen by the manager, and allowÂ the employee and manager feedback to stand side by side.Â Then when theyâre together in their one-on-ones, theyâreÂ talking about the differences or gaps in perspective, orÂ validating a shared perspective.â
Creating a positive, trusting, and feedback-friendlyÂ workplace is a difficult task, but an effective recognitionÂ program can help. âWhen employees offer ideas, itâsÂ important to listen to those ideas and show appreciationâand not just for the best ideas. By creating a cultureÂ of recognition and appreciation, employees feel moreÂ respected, care more, work smarter, and stay longer,âÂ Gelinas says.
First Tech Federal Credit Union leverages a tech-drivenÂ recognition solution from Globoforce that enablesÂ frequent and meaningful feedback, and cultivates deeperÂ connections across the organization. The companyâsÂ strategy includes social recognition, frequent check-ins,Â and employee-led conversations that strengthenÂ workplace relationships.
âWe have found that one of the major benefits ofÂ promoting recognition and continuous feedback at work isÂ that it builds a deeper sense of belonging and trust acrossÂ our entire company,â says Krout. âBy recognizing peopleÂ for their work in timely and meaningful ways that alignÂ with the goals and values of the organization, employeesÂ will feel more engaged and encouraged to speak up.â
In fact, formal recognition increases an employeeâs senseÂ of appreciation by 355 percent, says Beckstrand. And itÂ doesnât end thereâspontaneous feedback in informalÂ settings increases an employeeâs sense of appreciationÂ by 172 percent. By consistently providing recognitionÂ and then amplifying it throughout the organization,Â Beckstrand explains that managers can build and supportÂ employee confidence while helping workers feel moreÂ connected to their organization, their leaders, and theirÂ accomplishments.
Another strategy to better enable a feedback-richÂ organizational culture is manager training. âYou haveÂ to get managers comfortable with employees having aÂ voice,â says Crone. âGetting comfortable with lettingÂ people plan and execute on their role and adopting aÂ coaching or mentoring role provides a richer environmentÂ for feedback.â
According to Gelinas, managers and employees shouldÂ also be given training on the art of constructive feedback.Â âConstructive feedback needs to consider the individualÂ and his or her preferences. For example, some individualsÂ prefer frank or blunt feedback while others appreciate aÂ softer approach. For some, constructive feedback may beÂ best communicated in person versus virtually. ManagersÂ need training on the art of constructive feedback, as wellÂ as how to document it.â
Krout says First Tech Federal Credit Union didnât go theÂ training route but started slow instead. âWe didnât knowÂ where to start with training on providing constructiveÂ feedback, so we started small with recognition whileÂ piloting the conversations tool with 50 percent of ourÂ workforce. To our surprise, the vast majority of leadersÂ and employees in our pilot were having meaningfulÂ conversations and recognition,â Krout explains.
By implementing these best practices and activelyÂ providing opportunities for both employees and managersÂ to share feedback, business leaders will be well on theirÂ way to creating a self-sustaining organizational culture ofÂ growth, awareness, and transparency.