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By Keith Ferrazzi

This is part of our CHRO Community Series, which highlights big ideas from CHROs working to push the boundaries of HR and transform their organization for the better. Our first mini-series focuses on improving feedback operations within organizations.

We all know the importance of honest and actionable feedback. The head coach of University of Louisville basketball Rick Pitino perfectly summed it up when he said, "Excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what you have to offer." The second you feel satisfied with where you are is the moment you get passed.

So while the efficacy of a successful feedback system isn't in dispute—it can have a direct impact on HR and business metrics, including retention, new employee ramp time as well as overall business performance, profitability and share price—designing and implementing one can get tricky.

After establishing clear expectations around feedback through the “three awakenings" (outlined in part one of this two-part series here), it's time to start putting your feedback system into practice. It's important to always remember that no one is entitled to give others feedback; it's a right that has to be earned, and can easily be taken away. Once you have laid the groundwork for the trust necessary to build a culture of feedback, here are four practices you can implement to bring it to life.

1) Start with Personal/Professional Check-Ins

People need to feel psychologically safe in order to open themselves up to speaking and hearing the truth. Without the security of knowing everyone is aligned and working toward a collective success, feedback will sound more like criticism. For example, Gallup showed that there were fewer accidents in hospitals where the culture encouraged staff to provide feedback to leadership and be transparent.

So, what does this mean when it comes to feedback and the workplace? When people feel safe and supported they will proactively give you critical information sooner, priming you to correct course and avoid mistakes quicker.

One practice that helps create that trust and “team spirit" is starting staff meetings with a personal/professional check-in. Each person is given a set time, a minute or two, to share where they are in both their personal and professional lives at that moment. This helps the whole team get a clear picture of what resources are needed where and accelerates intimacy between individuals, encouraging candor and greater feedback fluidity.

2) Have a “Yoda" in the Room

After you have established space for candor, it's time to designate a “Yoda in the Room." Like the Jedi Master, your “Yoda" should be wise, daring and comfortable with telling the truth, even if it's uncomfortable. In meetings, the chosen “Yoda," keeps an eye on the room and takes control when they believe something is not being said or certain voices aren't being heard. This practice helps exercise what I call our "courage-of-candor" and "generosity of truth" muscles.

3) Use Open 360 Feedback Methods

The Open 360 gives team members an opportunity to give input on things they appreciate about their colleagues and things they feel could be changed to increase chances of success. Take care to establish both a space for candor and a “Yoda in the Room." Without the proper groundwork, the feedback will be less valuable, and in some cases could be counterproductive. 

When handled properly, though, the open 360 helps build an honest feedback environment that will continue beyond the meetings. However, if you don't have psychological safety, one of two things will happen: Either teammates will withhold feedback that they do not feel comfortable giving, saying only what is allowable in the current environment of safety, or alternatively, they can express themselves, without full permission, in a manner that damages the relationship.

4) Shift Away From "Report-Outs"

Using staff meetings to have your team give reports on what they are doing only reinforces the dividing lines between people and their functions. If you are only thinking about “your" task and objectives, there's no room for teamwork or shared accountability. Plus, in the spirit of honest feedback, they're really boring. That's why we have email.

Instead, share everyone's updates before the meeting, using the scheduled time to focus on a challenge someone is facing that the collective wisdom of the room can solve. Moving away from report-outs not only enables executives to get input from every part of the organization, but also collaborate more effectively; addressing difficulties with diverse but germane perspectives to drive innovation.

Together, these four practices and the three awakenings are the building blocks for creating an effective feedback system from the ground up. It takes time and the willingness of others to commit to it, but once it's embedded in your culture, it's there to stay. Done successfully, the business impact of a company-wide culture of feedback is proven and undeniable.

Photo: Creative Commons