How to Develop a Feedback Culture:
12 Must‑Read Tips

Roger E. Flax, Ph.D. President, Horizon Talent Developer™

Unfortunately, feedback-driven cultures at organizations across various industries are a rarity. And I hate to say it, but the ever-present 360 feedback programs are often a major waste of time, money, and unfulfilled expectations.

The truth is, most goal-oriented people want to experience an impactful and actionable feedback program, but find that six to 12 months later little or nothing from it has changed or improved them. So it loses interest and staying power.

Why? Two reasons. First, most feedback exercises aren’t specific enough to focus on skills and behaviors and improve upon them. They are often interesting personality-based exercises that tell you a little about yourself, your style, and your traits. Beyond that, they lack in specific, actionable ways to seriously impact personal and professional development.

The second more significant reason is that the company has not established a true feedback culture. Specifically, a non-threatening, inspiring and motivational culture based on candor, openness, and ongoing developmental feedback that goes from top to bottom.

In short, without a truly “blessed from the top” feedback culture in an organization, professional growth suffers. As a result, a company’s biggest asset, its human capital, doesn’t feel like they’re maximally growing and developing. The byproduct of this cycle is often decreased productivity and lower morale, which doesn’t serve either party.

FACT: Approximately 40 percent of employees, based on surveys, feel they’re not appreciated at work, and without ongoing feedback, aren’t engaged and committed as much as they could be.

So why is it so difficult to establish a feedback culture? To start, an effective feedback program should not be a vehicle to criticize, evaluate or demoralize its people. It should be geared to develop, grow, motivate and energize talent.

In order to bypass stagnant professional development, organizations must engage and inspire employees and staff.

Looking to win big with an effective feedback culture? Here are 12 musts that will set the foundation for feedback that promotes professional development, while galvanizing the strength of any organization.

Start at the very top. The CEO must formally announce that the organization is now establishing a total feedback culture. This means that constructive feedback, openness, candor, and communication empathy will drive the culture of the organization moving forward.
Demand a Culture Change. Top management shouldn’t just advocate a culture change, they need to demand it and make it a priority. Sending out an email or presenting at a company town hall doesn’t do the job. Top management must formally communicate the new way in which the company is being managed. And it is imperative that everybody in the organization is supportive and actively involved in the transition to a feedback-driven environment. Further, all job descriptions should clearly describe this feedback culture and prospects interviewed and subsequently hired need to weave this feedback-driven culture into the way they do business. Without this mandate and process, the feedback culture “dies on the vine.”
Enforce Confidentiality. It is essential that all feedback is kept confidential and remains between feedback-giver and receiver, between mentor and mentee. This process must be safe and secure with no breaches. Otherwise, your effort to establish a feedback culture will be for naught. Too often, people fear that their confidentiality will be violated. That concern impedes their open, honest delivery of feedback.
Be Explicit. Organizations and top-level management need to be specific with overall feedback culture objectives, including norms, scope, style of interfacing among people, and timeframes. Define what a feedback culture means at your organization and don’t be subtle. This may include conducting ongoing praise sessions, motivational criticism, and goal-setting geared to develop people to the fullest. Try getting employees to buy in and help sell the value and benefits of this culture to their colleagues, too.
Use the Same Skill and Behavior Feedback Tool for Everybody. This becomes the baseline of the feedback culture created and subsequent feedback conversations that people initiate. Every organization should employ a consistent and effective Talent Development Feedback tool. Avoid using different feedback instruments in the organization – it should be the same tool for everybody. In order to implement an effective feedback culture, steer clear of general personality tests that mainly focus on a person’s style. Rather, ensure that the tool assesses specific skills and behaviors. Key: The tool must also contain the follow-up action tools and techniques and a mentor-mentee component to immediately address any marginal findings.
Include Goal Setting. Apply goals, time parameters, and annual re-assessing to the feedback program. A sound feedback culture is not just motivational and energizing, it actually sets specific, attainable goals and timeframes for achieving these goals. Customized training and follow-up coaching should be set to further develop employees as well as annually reassessing staff to measure improvement and identify future development needs.
Make Everyone Accountable. As part of the annual performance appraisal meeting, request that each person present to their bosses a specific summary of how they have incorporated feedback and motivational tools to develop their people. Reward the people who demonstrate excellence in enhancing the feedback culture, and attaining results.
Make Feedback a Two-Way Street. A truly effective feedback culture shouldn’t just be bosses giving feedback to subordinates, but subordinates giving feedback to bosses and other relevant colleagues as well. Once you establish this culture, feedback and coaching will be the
norm, not the exception.
Give Positive Feedback and Honest Criticism. A feedback culture is not just negative feedback and coaching. It is as much about giving positive feedback as it is honest criticism. It is a balance of motivational praise, complimenting people, and pointing out their strengths and achievements, while also giving critical feedback for growth and development. It is important to note when giving constructive criticism, avoid using the word “you.” Criticize the action, not the person. Positive feedback and honest criticism will establish constructive, upbeat relationships with colleagues, and create more collaboration.
Make Active Listening Your Feedback Foundation. Remember and implement the two essential listening techniques in your feedback culture. First, the 20/80 Rule – speak 20 percent of the time and listen 80 percent of the time. Second, SOTT – Stay On Their Track. When somebody speaks, ask questions and comment on what they said, don’t drift to your track or take over the conversation. It is important to note active listening isn’t just for work, it is for when you are at home, in the community – with everybody.
Get Feedback on the Feedback Culture. What good is a feedback system that doesn’t get employee feedback on the system itself? After six months or so, then once a year, ask employees to give feedback on how they are perceiving and dealing with this new feedback culture. Ask them for three positives and three negatives, or recommendations to improve the program. After all, how credible is a feedback culture that doesn’t ask its own people for feedback?
Verify Feedback Success with a Third-Party Source. Use an external, impartial professional to ensure that the feedback culture is truly working. The organization shouldn’t be the only entity assessing its relevance and effectiveness. An external person performs that task, not you. In so doing, you learn if this feedback culture is accomplishing its objective to develop people to the fullest.

A feedback culture is the way of the future for progressive organizations. But it doesn’t automatically evolve just because it is announced. It’s a constant work in progress, but this work is well worth it. When people feel that feedback is the norm and welcomed, and a way of life in the organization, everybody gains – your organization, its reputation, productivity and your bottom line. Good luck!

Roger E. Flax, Ph.D. is the President and Founder of Horizon Talent Developer™, an internet-based feedback and mentoring program his firm licenses to organizations to support Learning Development Directors, Executives, Human Resources Professionals, Talent Management and Development Directors and more. As an executive coach, speaker, and corporate consultant, he has impacted millions of business professionals through leadership training. He founded one of America’s most successful leadership development consulting firms in 1970 which has conducted thousands of programs in five continents for more than 400 companies. He has been featured on TV, radio and in print media outlets including ABC, CBS, Entrepreneur, FORTUNE, NBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many others regarding talent development, motivational feedback, and effective presentations training.

To learn more about Horizon Talent Developer™ and how to successfully integrate a feedback development tool and feedback culture into your organization, view the HTD information piece and video here.

© 2017, Horizon Productions Enterprise, LLC.

Dr. Roger Flax, Leadership Advisor, Executive Coach, Speaker…

founded one of America’s most successful leadership development consulting firms in 1970, conducting thousands of programs in 5 continents, for over 400 companies, and creating the web-based Horizon Talent Developer™.

As an executive coach, speaker and corporate consultant, he’s impacted millions through leadership training, radio and TV interviews, and published articles. He’s appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox TV, and in USA Today, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, Business Week, Barron’s, Bottom Line, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur and Boardroom Reports and many other publications.

He has coached numerous company presidents, high potentials and a USA presidential candidate, and is currently writing 5 self improvement books. His acclaimed “High Impact Presentations” has been conducted worldwide, and he’s now licensing his web-based, feedback/mentoring program, Horizon Talent Developer™ to global organizations. This digital program presents feedback to people on 21 critical skills and behaviors, and provides over 400 tools and techniques and 5 mentor-mentee videos, geared to improve on these leadership and interpersonal skill and behavior areas.

Entertainment and sports, a major part of his career, included hundreds of conferences for J&J, Novartis, USA Today, among others. He created, produced/directed for Johnson & Johnson the J&J “Executive Law Forum,” conducted corporate wide and in Europe and Asia, and “Renewing the Promise: Quality is the Foundation.” He also created and directed Novartis’ “Winning Ethically & Legally, CPC’s “Passing the Baton,” and “Building Character for Life” for children. He’s conducted leadership seminars in virtually every industry, written 4 screenplays and several hundred songs,and his films, “Last Home Run” and “30 Days” ran on HBO, ShowTime, Starz and Netflix. Currently working on a soccer/coaching abuse film, “Tortured,” and “Pryde of the World,” a 3D computer animated cartoon.

Competing in tennis tournaments since age 10, he was nationally-ranked in senior platform tennis in 2013, undefeated in 4 years of HS regular season competition, helped lead Maryland achieve an ACC championship and top 10 NCAA ranking, and recently inducted into the Columbia HS Sports Hall of Fame and elected to NJ All 20th Century Tennis team.

His clients have included: Johnson & Johnson, USA Today, Kraft, AT&T, Pepsico, ABC, Nabisco, Dun & Bradstreet, Novartis, Medtronic, Codman, CBS, Prudential, Charles Schwab, Bristol-Myers Squibb, General Re, Atlantic Health, Guardian, Equitable, NY Stock Exchange, UPS, Alcon, CitiCorp, Bank of America, TIAA, Rutgers Univ, Merrill Lynch, Ethicon, Catalina, IBM, Boston Scientific, United Airlines, Canon, Pathmark, Mennon, DuPont Merck, Mattel, Inventiv, FMC, Kimberly Clark, Pfizer Howmedica, Aventis, Depository Trust, Federal Home Loan Bank, Lipton, Pitney Bowes, Amdahl, MCI, L’Oreal, Hollister, GlaxoSmithKline, DePuy, Kodak, PNC, NEC, AIG, Avon, Duracell, Kinney, JP Morgan Chase, Colgate, Clairol, Young Presidents Organization, Volvo, Allergan, Readers Digest, Unilever, Booz Allen, Maersk, Haagen Daaz, M&M Mars, Becton Dickinson, Levi Strauss, HBO, American Architect Association, Reebok, Morgan Stanley.

He’s the owner of Horizon Productions Enterprise, an executive coaching/leadership consulting firm; Peebs Horizon, a film & event-mgmt firm; Horizon Talent Developer™; Building Character For Life™; Next Chapter Coaching; & recently sold Calif-based United Products. Acquired in 1987 by NYSE company. Received BA & MA degrees from University of Maryland & Catholic University respectively, & PhD (at age 24) from CU. Resides in Summit, NJ. Married to Dr. Judy Flax and has 3 sons.