Insights Discussion: Building a Culture of Continuous Feedback [VIDEO & RECAP]

By Perceptyx - July 16, 2020

Brandon Riggs, Senior Consultant at Perceptyx, facilitated a discussion with four leaders whose organizations are succeeding during the pandemic and seeing improvements in employee engagement: Darcie Casper from McAfee, Katie Cheney from Duke Energy, Mike Eaton from Kellogg Company, and Rob Edwards from Epiq Global. Together, the panel provided great insights on how to build trust with employees to drive further conversations and data collection that is timely, relevant, and meaningful.

Culture is Still King

For companies, the popular adage goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and culture is far more than a free t-shirt, candy wall, or company picnic. It’s the system of values, beliefs, and behaviors that describes, as Mike said, “how people act within an organization and why they act that way.” Rob added that, “culture is the answer to the question of what is it like to work here?” Imagine you are a fly on the wall: culture is how things work around here, how we interact with one another, how decisions are made, how we prioritize, how solutions are uncovered, and how rewards are determined. Culture prescribes the ideal, on-the-job behaviors, whom we hire, develop, and promote, and establishes norms for things like performance, commitment, and trust. The panel agreed that sometimes there is a disconnect between espoused and enacted values of an organization – what’s written on company websites or corporate posters might be an idealized sense of culture, but it’s far from the current state. Katie further shed light on this, noting that our initial, ingrained reactions (e.g. operations-first culture) might be different from the cultural directions we are trying to go (e.g., customer-first culture), highlighting both the importance and frequent difficulty with behavioral change. Darcie brought up a keen point that culture largely stems from senior leadership, with employees taking note and acting accordingly.

Building a Culture of Continuous Feedback

If culture is the way things work around here, a robust employee listening strategy is the means to understand how employees feel about the way things work around here. The panel provided these tips towards building a culture of continuous feedback, which ultimately drives improvement:

  1. Put psychological safety first. Simply put, employees offer thoughtful feedback when they feel safe to do so, and Darcie stated employees will not provide any feedback, let alone useful feedback, if they fear responses are not anonymous and can therefore be used against them. To this end, communicating the purpose of the survey, how responses are protected, who will have access to responses, and how these data will be used are key to driving high participation rates and candid responses.
  1. Ask relevant questions. Leaders will rarely act on information they do not care about. To this end, Rob has had success driving action by involving stakeholders early in the process. He suggested having very honest, one-on-one conversations with executives to understand what they want to learn about and what business decisions are on the horizon. This heightens executive interest in the results and is far more likely to lead to change. Katie noted that “what a front-line leader wants to know may be quite different from the CEO.” To this end, some panelists have had success by using core questions across the company, but then allowing business groups to ask deeper, more relevant questions to the challenges they are facing. While they agreed this can complicate subsequent analysis and reporting, the benefits often outweigh these costs.  
  1. Continue the conversation. As Rob said, employee listening is “not a one-way conversation.” You do not want your listening strategy to turn into a casual water-cooler question of “how’s it going today?” The panel agrees the conversation needs to evolve, continuing to ask deeper questions. Darcie has found great benefit by deepening this conversation with lifecycle surveys at onboarding and exit. In this case, data is talking to data, which is informing leadership of powerful relationships and trends. The panel also emphasized that within a culture of continuous feedback, actions speak louder than words. Employees will be keener to give feedback when they see it is acknowledged and acted on quickly. 
  1. Get through to managers. The success or failure of creating a culture of continuous feedback largely hinges on managers. Unfavorable results and feedback are difficult for all of us, and in the work context can make managers defensive, afraid, or dismissive, hindering their ability to make improvements. Katie highlighted, “if you are arguing against the method, you are not getting the message.” Mike added framing that survey results are intended to help – an opportunity to grow with their team – and focusing more on improvement and action than scores.
  1. Tell stories beyond the numbers. For first-time managers looking at survey data, it can be difficult to think of tangible ways to improve certain areas. Rob suggested that celebrating and sharing successes – perhaps a video of a team who is performing well in one area or showcasing a manager who saw great improvement and the actions he/she did with the team to drive that improvement – can help bring macro change down to the micro level.

Indeed, there has never been a more critical time to listen to employees to understand culture and its strengths and weaknesses. But even more important are the responses and actions that follow, creating a culture of feedback. As Bill Gates said, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

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