Encouraging a culture of feedback

Managers often say that motivating and engaging their teams is hard. But when we ask what kind of feedback they’ve asked for from their teams on how they are dealing with these challenges, or what feedback they’ve given to their teams to help deal with issues, they’re usually pretty silent

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on About Leaders

This is certainly not a new problem either; managers have been struggling with this for decades. Why might this be? Let’s take a look at some of the issues that might be in play.


Our experience is that people in countries like America, Germany and the Netherlands appear much more comfortable giving feedback than people in the UK. 

More direct cultures use what linguists call ‘upgraders’ — words preceding or following difficult feedback that makes it feel stronger, such as ‘absolutely’ or ‘totally’. By contrast, more indirect cultures, like that of the British, use more ‘downgraders’ — words that soften the message, such as ‘kind of’, ‘sort of’ and ‘a little bit’.

In Germany it is common for people to use strong words in constructive feedback to ensure the message is completely understood. If a softer approach is taken, as in the UK, it can mean the feedback is not acted on. For example, ‘I suggest you think about [doing something differently]’ is open to interpretation. Your team member may, indeed, think about it – and decide not to take any action.

Working hours

It’s becoming evident that shorter working weeks can boost productivity. So, could the opposite also be true? Might longer working weeks have a negative impact on how productive managers can be in their role of managing others? 

The UK has one of the longest working weeks in the EU.  Could this relentless pace of work be one of the reasons managers are reluctant to spend time thinking about, and preparing, feedback for their teams? 

Generational motivations

Millennials live in a world of social networking, where feedback is a part of everyday activity. More than any other generation, millennials crave positive reinforcement and seek to validate their value to an organisation.

Older employees may be used to a more formal process, such as an annual review, and so are less likely to actively seek out opportunities to give or receive feedback.


The rise of technology and remote working may actually be exacerbating the situation. People now often rely on emails or conference calls to communicate, limiting their face-to-face engagement and missing out on crucial body language cues — so they may not even realise something needs to be said, or feel that they have the right level of rapport to attempt it.

How can managers make feedback part of their daily or weekly routine?

Give them easy-to-use feedback models

Here are two quick wins for organisations looking to improve the way managers give feedback and ensure employees receive it in the spirit in which it was intended. 

  • Observe/impact: if you say, ‘I observed X, and it had Y impact on me,’ it’s difficult for anyone to argue with you because they can’t deny what you observed or what you feel. This is also a good way to give feedback without apportioning blame, as there’s no suggestion that anyone intended for ‘Y impact’ to happen.

It’s a great way to deliver challenging feedback and get people talking about their differing styles and behaviours. Not everyone finds that empathy comes naturally, so some will find this approach a bit of an eye-opener.

  • Continue/consider: for people looking to solicit feedback, it can help to ask, ‘What would you like me to continue, and what would you like me to consider changing?’ This approach invites both positive and negative feedback, and compels the person giving the feedback to frame it constructively.

Feedback given constructively and regularly can solve – and even prevent – so many of the problems that arise in the workplace. So how can you make it part of your organisation’s DNA?

Encourage feedback

You need to look at whether your organisation is set up to encourage feedback. Is there enough training and support provided to equip managers and employees in the giving and receiving of feedback? Are there structures to help people give feedback regularly? Culturally, are people afraid to give feedback – and, if so, why?


Could technology be used to encourage everyone to ask for more regular feedback? There are many new web and mobile-based solutions which encourage real-time, 360-degree feedback between employees and managers. Continuous feedback allows colleagues, managers and executives to check-in with employees, and provide support, without compromising their independence. 

Allowing employees to provide managers with upward feedback ensures everyone’s voice is heard and gives everyone the opportunity to develop.

Non-hierarchical approach

Ensure that feedback is seen as a non-hierarchical activity that drives innovation and creativity, as well as addressing issues. At her agency, Portas, Mary Portas has introduced a number of ways that her team can give feedback to those leading and managing the business. 

A member of the senior team holds a weekly meeting called ‘MD for a day’ where they sit with three different people each week and ask them to honestly say what they’d do if they were in the MD’s shoes for the day; a number of useful new policies have come out of these meetings.

Delivering feedback

Expecting employees to thrive without regular, constructive feedback is a bit like expecting a plant to survive without water — it might struggle on for a while but, eventually, it will give up. 

If you want to change your organisation’s entire approach to feedback, and enable your employees to thrive, it’s important to understand why some individuals find the giving and receiving of feedback so hard in the first place, and then look for ways to make the process easier.

Overcoming awkwardness, and entrenched ways of doing things, isn’t an overnight task — some might even find it painful — but a line manager training programme around feedback and culture will soon deliver benefits in terms of improved performance and productivity, and reduced turnover.

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