Human Resources Today

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Cultivating a Culture of Feedback

  It’s that time of year where you reflect on what worked and what didn’t in the previous year, and you begin to think about what’s ahead of you in this next year. This is the perfect time for feedback, formally or informally.


Or is it? Is there a reason we look at a new year as a clean slate? I do it too. I indulge from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day and then decide January 1 will be the day I start fresh.

There are plenty of articles out there advising on the delivery of feedback and its art form. These are extremely helpful because giving feedback, especially constructive, is a difficult conversation. What I’m imparting here is making feedback a mindset. If you want to cultivate a culture of feedback to engage employees and enhance productivity, there are 3 overarching elements to incorporating it, and it doesn’t mean just at performance review time.


Feedback should not be reserved for the performance review. Managers should be offering it, and employees should be seeking it…often. High performing teams conduct a feedback routine called a Hot Wash after every major event to evaluate performance. Derived from the U.S. Army, "the term Hot Wash comes from the practice used by some soldiers of dousing their weapons in extremely hot water as a means of removing grit and residue after firing…One infantry soldier described it as ‘the quick and dirty cleaning that can save a lot of time later.’” (Source: US Department of Defense Education Activity).

Instead of waiting until the end of year, feedback should be provided frequently as a way to constantly adjust and save time in the long run. Startups use this concept with their products – obtaining constant feedback and tweaking as the market responds. Why not use this with your people?


Over the holidays, a friend shared that he was frustrated with his company’s review process. Throughout the year, he received very positive feedback and then at the end of the year - the time where it counts the most for bonus distribution – he received some negative feedback that impacted his bonus. He was actively seeking it out, and willing to work on his shortcomings, but he had no awareness. His managers were not doing him any favors by sugarcoating their feedback throughout the year.


Oftentimes feedback can be misconstrued. It’s not fun to be told you aren’t doing something well. You feel judged, scolded, and wrong. But if someone knew where the feedback was coming from, it may change how she receives it. I worked at a company where feedback was ingrained in the culture. During my interview, an employee explained that “feedback is love.” How refreshing! I knew that when someone offered me feedback, it was because they cared about me and wanted me to improve. And when I was on the delivery end of constructive feedback, the person receiving it would understand that I was genuinely looking out for her. You wouldn’t hesitate to tell your friend that she has ketchup on her chin so that she doesn’t embarrass herself, so why wouldn’t you tell a colleague that she takes on too much to please everyone. It’s not passing judgment, it’s making someone aware of areas that can vastly improve her life. Working in a company that had this openness was freeing. I never felt judged or wrong. I felt cared for and free to take risks.

Regardless of the type of culture you have, formal or informal, feedback is something that everyone deserves, and it should be frequent, honest, and understood.


Lexi Gordon is a Lead Consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.


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Employee Engagement: Can Data Save Your Organization?

As the economy continued to tank in 2011 and 2012, employee engagement dropped with it. Down economies often impact organizational loyalty in a negative way and Mercer’s 2012 report confirms that. According to the report, 24% of organizations are reporting lowered engagement up from 13% just two years ago. And while organizations continue to invest in employee engagement, or some form of loyalty strengthening activities, popular HR analysts and bloggers are challenging the notion of engagement score value. Companies do care about employee feedback: 96% of Fortune 100 companies and 65% of mid-sized companies use some sort of employee survey. But is fighting for increased engagement scores a good use of executive time and attention? And are increased scores really that valuable to your business?

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Stop Looking Up

Trees Companies worry about many things--including the lack of leaders and leadership skills. 'Bring on the leadership development training' they cry! Or so said this Wall Street Journal article from 2012. But it's not that the talent isn't there. Or that the talent is there but needs help bridging the gap. From where I sit, the problem seems to be sky-high. Corporations have long been known for their politics. If you want to move up in the corporate world, you've got to impress those in the positions you want to someday have. You have to anticipate their needs, be proactive and demonstrate that you can play in the big leagues.  But all that upward focus can  leave leaders with an inability to turn around. They're so focused on managing upwards, they don't think about the impression they leave on their own teams. Please, please let my boss think I'm doing a good job. My team?

Oh, they're fine.

Sure, many companies use 360-degree feedback (it gained real popularity in the early 90s), but more recent studies challenged that there isn't necessarily a correlation between top-down performance ratings and multi-rater feedback. Still, for executives or "managers of managers," anecdotal feedback can be really powerful, especially in large organizations, where leaders may not interact with their subordinates' teams and have no idea what a subordinate's day-to-day management style looks and feels like.

Research and anecdotes aside, I have a simple question for managers who don't ask for team feedback.  Don't you want to know? Most of know what we're good at, but annoying management habits often go unnoticed.  And while it is that simple, maybe you're not convinced. Here's why feedback from your team is important.

1) Bad Hairdo Syndrome: When you're running around to get things done, you don't look in the mirror. If you have kids, you know what I am talking about. You rush to get ready, get their lunches and get out the door.  Hours later you glimpse in the mirror and realize you never brushed your hair that morning. Shocked? Maybe. Tenth time this month that's happened? Yep. You have to look in the mirror every day and recognize your own bad habits. Otherwise you forget the reality of your everyday, and won't make any effort to change.

2) Avoiding Dictatorship: Classic dictator traits include constant delegation, direction, oversight and one-way communication. Is that you? Without asking for feedback from your peers and team members, it's easy to give direction and never look back. But what if the direction you're giving is being perceived in a certain way? If you don't ask, you'll never know.

3) Assumptions of Perfection: You may assume that if your team is happy, or pleasant around you that the like you. And if they like you, you're doing a good job right? Nope. If you never ask your team for feedback, they'll assume you never will. So all they think they can do is accept status quo. Does that mean they don't complain? Sure they do. They just do it to each other (when you're not around) or to their spouse or significant other at home. Have you ever walked through the front door and complained about your boss? Exactly. It's being done to you too.

4) They'll Tell Me: Not everyone has the confidence or ability to open up and pro-actively complain. Many leaders think that if they're doing something wrong, their team members will tell them. Not so.  Giving unsolicited feedback is one of the hardest things to do at work since you don't know what the reaction will be. Will your leader care? Get defensive? Hold it against you? If you don't ask, you're chances of getting feedback is minimal.

Feedback is a gift.  It may be hard to take in some cases, but it could be the best thing that ever happened to you. Harboring bad habits, or repetitive behaviors that are never corrected are hard to shake on your own.  Asking for feedback is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your own personal development. And it's never too soon to ask. Whether you have one employee or ten, start by asking informally.   Once you ask, it's also key to make sure you follow-up as well.  You may not be able to act on every piece of feedback (or want to), but just asking, is an important first step.


On the flip side, if your boss isn't savvy enough to ask for upward feedback, that doesn't mean you can't be vocal. Amy Gallo provides some great tips in this Harvard Business Review guest blog on giving your boss feedback.  The key is to have details and to provide both positive examples and areas of opportunity where impact to the team or the overall results could have been impacted for the better.

It's still tricky though to offer unsolicited feedback. Maybe your boss isn't asking you for feedback, but that doesn't mean you can't ask your team, your peers or your clients for feedback on your own performance.  Then you can set the example. The boss isn't always right, I promise.



Quitting Is Good For Your Brand

I can say no to camping, spicy food and bug retrieval.  But yet I can't seem to say no to work.And when I take on something else, the only thing left to cut seems to be sleep.  With toothpicks propping open my eyes today after a paltry 5 hours of sleep last night, I'm reminded that quitting can be a good thing.

In 2005 I went back to get my MBA at Vanderbilt. Two music, bacon and case-study filled years later, I finished but had a hard time letting go of Nashville. This Philly girl loved, loved, loved the city and being back in school. So I couldn't resist when they asked for my help leading the Alumni Council.  I give back, looks great on a resume, and I have the privilege of attending the Alumni Board meetings with some pretty amazing alumni. But I just quit. Yep, I am a quitter.  I was feeling bad about it until Stephen Dubner told me (and all of radio land) that it's not such a bad thing.

Inn my role as Alumni Council President, I launched an alumni-led survey and gave some fantastic feedback to the school. I reached out to my own class and shared some cool ideas to energize others. But this year, frankly, I've sucked at my job. I'm taking longer to respond to email requests for help, and I haven't been innovative, interesting or proactive in the least.

I felt bad about quitting, but after the Freaknomics therapy, I realized it's actually better for my brand.  When you overcommit, you take away from something. And no matter what that something is--family, hobbies, day job--you feel guilty about it. And that hurts your brand.  For me it was sleep. And when I'm tired, I'm super cranky and I don't think well.  Which is important since a big chunk of what I do involves strategy and innovation.

So while I hate to let the responsibility go, I know in the long run it's better for me, better for my brand and for Vanderbilt. I can sleep tonight knowing that giving up breadth of focus means I'm getting much more depth.  And it's the depth of the brand that matters. Sounds caffeinating to me.

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