Recently, we got to work with an inspiring leader in the animal protection world who we’ll call Kira. Kira was passionate about hearing feedback from her staff. She believed their feedback would make her a better leader, improve the workplace for her team, and ultimately help their organization achieve better results for animals. The only trouble was that every time she asked her employees for feedback she heard… nothing.
Her challenge is common and frustrating for many leaders. So we wanted to spotlight her story as a way to share three ways leaders can overcome feedback crickets and build a thriving feedback culture at their company.
1. Frame the feedback.
One of the simplest changes you can make when soliciting feedback is to frame the request. It’s the difference between saying “would you attend my event?” and “here’s the event I’m having, the reason I’m having it, and what you can expect there – would you please attend?”
In Kira’s case, instead of assuming employees understood why she was asking for input, she started to explain the reasoning behind her requests. For example:
“I’d love to hear your feedback on _______. The reason I ask is that your feedback will help us _______, which makes it possible for us to do better work for animals. An example of how feedback has helped with this in the past is _______. This time around, I plan to use the feedback by _______. So, the kind of feedback that would be most helpful is _______. Incomplete ideas and 10% improvement ideas are all welcome!”
This small change alone resulted in more feedback and more useful feedback.
2. Create multiple feedback channels.
Different people think and process information differently. Some need time to think things through or gather their thoughts in writing, while others clarify their thoughts while speaking out loud. What’s more, different situations call for different methods to gather input. To solicit staff feedback well, make multiple channels accessible to your team. Here are a few feedback channels you can try:
Virtual (or in-person) office hours
Surveys (anonymous, confidential, or identified; quantitative or qualitative)
Requests for edits and/or comments on a document (e.g., Google Doc)
Directory of who to go to with different kinds of input or questions
Email address or form to submit comments
In most cases, two or three channels are enough. When in doubt, ask your team members how they would prefer to share their feedback and ideas. And be sure to ask for feedback rather than waiting for it to trickle in. People are significantly more likely to volunteer their thoughts when you invite them to do so.
Kira found that going around the “table” in team meetings and inviting each person to share feedback was most fruitful, along with opportunities for one-on-one conversation. For example:
“I’m eager to gather your feedback on _______ because _______. It would be great to hear from each of you so we can benefit from combining all our different perspectives. I suggest we go around and each share our positive feedback, then do another round of critical feedback. If you have nothing to add or prefer to share your feedback later, just say ‘pass.’ If this approach isn’t ideal for you, we can also talk one-on-one, and I’ve set up an anonymous form you can use if you’d prefer to share that way. How does that plan sound to everyone? Any questions or objections?”
It wasn’t enough to ask, “does anyone have feedback?” Kira only saw a shift in feedback volume happen when she invited one person at a time to chime in and focused the feedback on a specific topic.
3. Create a feedback cadence.
Aside from having clear reasoning and a convenient channel to share feedback, employees can also greatly benefit from a predictable feedback cadence. People working within healthy feedback cultures exchange feedback any time something pops up, but they can also rely on a reliable feedback rhythm that nudges them to reflect on their experiences and share their insights on a regular basis. For example:
Weekly: a calendar reminder on a designated day of the week (e.g., Feedback Friday!) to give or request feedback
Biweekly: a nudge in one-on-one meeting templates to exchange feedback
Monthly: a retrospective to learn from what’s working well and what could be better
Quarterly: a pre-scheduled time to pause and consider professional development
Biannually: an employee engagement survey
For Kira, a cadence of weekly team meetings and quarterly ‘career & collaboration’ conversations rather than random feedback requests worked best – along with frequent invitations to share feedback as new ideas or issues came up. She’s also actively working on ways to make it safer for people to share their feedback.
The result? Kira’s team members now share more helpful and more frequent feedback. Rather than grumbling to one another in secret, they raise issues directly. They’re learning and improving more quickly. Their trust is growing. And the sense of feedback dread and discomfort that permeated their conversations has been replaced with a feeling of lightness.
A strong feedback culture that fosters trust and accelerates learning isn’t just great for individuals and organizations but also the animal protection movement as a whole. Each interaction with your team is an opportunity to get feedback and to contribute to a better feedback culture.