Creating a Culture of Feedback
I worked for an advertising agency early in my career. They never bothered with creating a culture of feedback. The environment was toxic. Most of my mornings were like this:
“Hi Ambert, that ad you created last week – that has to go to press today – well, I finally got to see it. It sucks. Can you design something else – more fun. I need it by 12. Thanks.”
You might think I was a really bad designer. Or maybe there was something wrong with me. Why can’t I get it right?
How many times do we see this same type of interaction in the church?
“Hi, worship leader. I wasn’t feeling the way you sang the chorus in that song. It sounded really bad. Can you do it better next service? Thanks.”
“Hi, designer. Great job on that brochure. See ya at lunch!”
We are all in the business of people – whether you are a design studio, a church, or a bakery. People are your most valuable resource. We all work very hard to create great experiences for our attendees. But sometimes we do a terrible job at creating that culture for our employees or peers. Why not make the staff member or volunteer’s experience just as transformational and enriching as your attendee’s experience?
Creating a Culture of Feedback
One of the ways I like to do this is through creating a culture of feedback. Feedback is communication for advancement and improvement. It is an active, open dialogue. You have to be as open to receiving critical and positive feedback as you are willing to give it.
It is important to understand, feedback includes positive as well as negative feedback. Both are essential, and you need to be giving both. But not at the same time. There is no sandwich model here. If you’re intentional about creating a culture of feedback, people are looking for honesty – even if it’s negative.
Feedback is necessary. Without creating a culture of feedback, it’s just a lot of conversations with no solutions or improvements.
Think about the people who have had the biggest impact in your life. They are people with the courage to give you the tough feedback you needed to hear – people that believed in you and encouraged you. They gave you negative feedback and you were grateful for it.
It’s not what you say, but how you say it, that has the biggest effect on people. To best explain creating a culture of feedback, let’s explore what I call The Feedback Grid.
All of our feedback falls into these four categories. Positive – General, Positive – Specific or Negative – General, Negative – Specific. Here are some example conversations of what feedback can look like:
It’s important to notice, that the specifics require a conversation – an open dialog. Being specific teaches the person what they did well or an area of opportunity for the next time. You don’t learn anything when you’re general. Positive – General has its place sometimes, but Negative – General should never exist.
Specific – positive and negative – have the most lasting impact on a person. So here are some examples on how to give feedback effectively:
- Feedback always starts with respect and assumption of positive intent. Remember, no one does anything with the intent of doing it wrong.
- Ask for permission to speak. Be specific about what you want to speak about. Remember that people are busy and are not always in the mood to talk. You always want to receive the OK to speak into their lives. One of the most important things to communicate is the “why” and what effect it had.
- Find a solution together. The key word here is together. It should never be a one-way conversation.
- Thank the person for their time and follow-up.
I’ll end this with an example of how a great feedback conversation progresses. This is what creating a culture of feedback looks like.
Giver: Hey Ambert, do you have time to talk about the way you spoke to the junior designer earlier today?
Getter: Sure, what’s up?
Giver: You sounded annoyed at the fact that she didn’t understand. You were being very short with your answers and direction. You didn’t really listen to her questions. After you left, I could tell she didn’t understand what was going on. And right now, she is still not getting it. She may waste an entire day going in the wrong direction.
Getter: Man, you know what? I’m not having a good day and not really feeling like myself. I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress with family.
Giver: I totally understand, I can’t imagine what it feels like. How do you think you can keep your cool?
Getter: I need to learn to keep things separate. And maybe pause and think through things before I give direction and changes.
Giver: Cool, man. Thanks for your time and, if you ever need someone to talk to, we can always chat.
Getter: I’ll take you up on that!
Giver: Hey, Ambert. I would love to talk to you about the website design you did for the bakery down the street. Is now a good time?
Getter: Yeah, sure thing
Giver: I noticed how you got exactly what the client wanted on the first shot, by really reading through the design brief and asking the right questions. (smile) It really made the client trust our design work and our process. They are actually signing a new contract for more projects!
Getter: Wow! Thats awesome. Great to hear. I’ll make sure I continue doing that!
Giver: Thanks so much for your time. Maybe you can show me how to ask the right questions over lunch?
Getter: Sure thing!
Todd Henry wrote in his book, The Accidental Creative – “History is made by passionate, creative people and organizations with the rare ability to lead others—and themselves.” We have to learn how to lead each other to greatness.