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Feedback on your feedback

Feedback should be viewed as a tool for improvement, not a weapon

Before working in Korea, I took part in a training programme about cultural differences. We were told that it is polite to hand over money with two hands, to bow instead of shaking hands and of course to always take your shoes off at the door. Things got a little more complicated when it came to communication. We were told to be wary of how we could be perceived because, as a general rule, Americans and Brits have a more direct communication style when compared with Koreans. Issues could arise when someone from the UK or the US expressed themselves, particularly towards a more senior member of staff, in a way that was interpreted as brash and rude. We were advised to try to avoid being too direct, not to overstate our points, and to speak in a quieter voice than we were perhaps used to.

I was a guest in Korea and happy to change my habits to assimilate as much as possible into my new workplace, after all, it was all easy enough to understand the cultural differences outlined… And in that lay the folly of a naive Anya, as what is easy to understand in theory does not translate in practice. Communication was challenging at points. Several times, I walked away from meetings happy to press ahead with the work agreed upon, only to find out a few days later I understood the opposite of what my co-teacher expressed. It took a while to work out effective communication; especially when it came to feedback. After a few iterations, we found that a scheduled weekly meeting with written notes helped ensure we were on the same page and ultimately this helped me to deliver the work that was expected, as well as contribute my feedback, albeit in a less direct and more casual way.

In Singapore, working in recruitment, feedback became even more prevalent. As well as receiving feedback, I found I was giving feedback day in day out, to clients and candidates. It was a critical part of my job but I received little formal training. I was interacting with senior stakeholders and had to navigate trying to provide meaningful feedback in an environment when it wasn’t always asked for, or readily accepted. Feedback culture fell short internally too; there were formal channels of feedback, but it was generally accepted amongst my colleagues that this represented more of a corporate tick box than a meaningful channel of communication.

Now I’m working at RIG, feedback is central to our work processes, and it's always a two-way street. It’s recognised that feedback is something we can benefit from both as individuals and the business as a whole. However, RIG is an outlier in its propensity for feedback: a recent survey found that 64% of employees think the quality of the feedback they receive should be improved and a significant minority (32%) have to wait more than three months to receive feedback from their manager.[1] Common barriers to providing feedback cited by management include lack of time, too many employees and, perhaps most common and least likely to be admitted, lack of management training. So having reflected on the manifestations of feedback I’ve seen in my career, I thought I’d share some feedback best practices.

Feedback should be viewed as a tool for improvement, not a weapon. All too often we hear of managers berating their employees for their mistakes, without taking the time to listen to why these mistakes might have happened. Instead, when communicating feedback, there needs to be a focus on specifics, on being direct (depending on your context!) but avoiding judgements. Instead of punishing someone when offering feedback, we should look to bring solutions and facilitate two-way communication. By asking open-ended questions, we uncover challenges and generate better solutions. Feedback should be frequent, on-the-spot and in small amounts, rather than just a scheduled event. This allows for a more effective learning process and promotes a growth mindset. As a general rule, there should be a ratio of 5-to-1 of praise to constructive feedback. This promotes a happier workplace, boosts confidence, and then the constructive feedback stands out and grabs the attention of the employee.

Above all else, there must be recognition of the individual. Your style of feedback will be dependent not only on the person but on the context of their day/ week/ month. While we all claim to welcome feedback at any time, the realities of life get in the way, and your employee may not be quite as enthused to receive your excellent feedback at 9am on a Monday when they’ve skipped breakfast because their roommate stole their milk... again. That being said, follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to working in a haven of feedback.