Everybody wants a high-performance workforce that is giving 110 percent. But if an organization over-corrects on performance without also cultivating a feedback culture, they may be unwittingly stunting their growth.

Sometimes, in performance-only cultures, employees perceive rewards and advancement as a zero-sum game with their colleagues, thus, eroding trust. In these cultures where learning and mistakes are not tolerated employees may develop what Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck terms a fixed mindset. In their effort to avoid making any mistakes: they stop trying new things, they avoid seeking out feedback and they stop learning.

Feedback Can’t be Perceived as “Bad”

Too many times, within organizations with annual review programs, employees often feel blindsided by one big, punitive, retrospective year-end review that feels riddled with bias. And because it comes after the fact and all at once, employees can sometimes feel defensive, question their manager’s judgment, and ultimately dismiss even valuable feedback all together.

Organizations must find a way to make trial, error, and feedback not only acceptable but desirable. To do that, everyone needs to change when and how feedback is given. You want to turn the feedback your managers give from:

  • Past-focused –> future-focused: If you switch your feedback from talking about what went wrong to what an employee can do better next time, they’re more likely to accept it and feel motivated to try harder. Research firm DDI found that by simply talking less about past performance and more about “development” during reviews, employees performed 25 percent better.
  • Infrequent –> continuous: Today, almost half of all employees receive feedback from their managers just a few times a year or less! When managers provide feedback frequently, it diffuses tension and allows employees to course-correct before it becomes a permanent bad habit. It’s also more actionable because it happens closer to when the behavior took place.
  • Top-down –> peer-to-peer: Encourage employees to solicit and receive feedback from peers. 360 reviews that include the people they spend the majority of their time with can also help with transparency, reduce bias and provide managers a more accurate view of overall performance. And with the right software, 360 reviews can be lightweight and easy to administer.  
  • Haphazard –> goal-oriented: Aligning employee goals to company goals helps create purpose. Ensuring every employee has a development goal they work toward in each review cycle helps employees understand how acting on feedback leads them to achieve their professional goals, and how their development contributes to the organization’s top priorities.

Fear No Feedback

When feedback is focused on helping people grow, they can begin to shed their fixed mindsets. According to Dweck, “When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation.”

Employees want to grow and they need feedback to do that — it’s up to the company to cultivate the feedback culture that supports this outcome. It requires a shift in how managers think about feedback to make it future-focused, continuous, peer-to-peer, and linked to goals. And it takes the right technology to make this critical communication frequent, and actionable and consistent across your entire organization.

Are you ready to upgrade your performance management program and build a powerful feedback culture? Contact us and we’ll help you get started.

Making It Okay to Fail

People won’t feel comfortable taking risks until you also make it okay to fail. The environment has to feel safe and people have to feel that they can admit to mistakes. GothamCulture Founder Chris Cancialosi recommends achieving this through what he calls “many small victories.” Employees must see others being rewarded for appropriate risk-taking and useful lessons learned, even if a project itself isn’t a success. Over time, this causes a shift in their thinking.

“Think of any truly transformational change in society that has sustained the test of time, and I will show you a series of seemingly small steps that built upon each other,” wrote Cancialosi in a Forbes article. Those instances “challenge the underlying beliefs and assumptions” that keep employees from growing.

“Employees must see others being rewarded for appropriate risk-taking and useful lessons learned, even if a project itself isn’t a success.

How is a shift in how your company treats failure best communicated? “By top leaders willing to model vulnerability and take personal responsibility for their shortcomings and missteps,” wrote Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, in a Harvard Business Review article on growth cultures. When employees see that those on top are not only fallible but that mistakes lead to success, the stigma will begin to wash away and feedback will become normal.

Don’t believe feedback can be painless? Challenge accepted. See BetterWorks in action.