The Culture of Feedback, and How to Create it

If you make it your business to follow content about culture or recruitment, you may have come across this thoughtful article by Russell Abdo about the culture of feedback Medallia have created, originally posted on Glassdoor.


If you didn’t read it: a few key points. Abdo explains how enjoyable it is to work at Medallia, because each employee has a voice and say in the direction the company takes. He makes the valid point that difficult conversations about each other’s performance are an absolute must in order to make the changes happening in your organisation real and valuable. He sums it up well when he says:


"change is inevitable — it’s how we act on it that defines who we are"

This theme really resonated with us here at Cloudreach.

In 2009, Cloudreach was two bright guys with a great idea and a lot of passion, talking in a pub in London. Today, we are over 200 strong, with offices across the globe. It’s safe to say that a lot has happened in a short space of time. In fast-growth companies, change is persistent and swift, and dealing with that change decisively yet gracefully can make or break you as an organisation.


Enabling a culture where feedback is welcomed, expected, and acted upon, is incredibly important.

If you’ve ever worked a typical student job serving coffee or folding napkins, you’ll probably have witnessed first hand an environment that could be far more efficient if management listened to the people doing the day-to-day work on the ground. It makes me a bit sick to think back to the resource waste and customer dissatisfaction that perpetuated in many of my holiday jobs. I firmly believe that the principles of speaking up and, most importantly, listening are vital whether you are a small hospitality business, or a large enterprise.

If you are management level or above, you’re likely extremely busy. Much as you might want to be everywhere at once, experience your company running first hand, once it reaches a certain size you simply can’t do that any longer. Your people on the ground can, and they will be the ones most likely to notice day to day changes for the better or for the worse. If you encourage them to speak up, and to pass on their thoughts, recommendations and feedback to you and to their colleagues, then you make everybody responsible for safeguarding your culture and your performance.


And the results?

Better output, slicker processes and a culture where employees are happier because they know their opinions matter and are valued.


So how do you create this?

There is an excellent article by Ed Batista (a Leadership coach) published in The Harvard Review called "Building a Feedback-Rich Culture". If you’re looking for pointers and practical advice, this is a great start. In particular, he notes that taking the time to give positive feedback is just as key as giving constructive criticism. That’s something I’ve really noticed is built into the culture at Cloudreach; in our weekly company meeting every team is represented and called upon to highlight great work from their team members. Is is not abnormal for our founders to personally ping individuals a word of thanks for a job well done, and this is a great thing.

Another thing Batista mentions in his article is the importance of gaging a colleague’s personality and mood before approaching them with negative feedback. Whilst everybody who wants to improve should welcome constructive advice, there are ways and means of delivering this best which will depend on the individual and situation. Ideally, your aim is to create a culture where feedback is normal, so that everybody trusts that their feedback will be heard, and everybody welcomes feedback being given.      


The problem with being Global and/or Distributed

Giving good feedback, and receiving it gracefully, is easier said than done. It becomes even more difficult when your team is cross-cultural or distributed.

In the first case, you may have lexical differences, and the ‘language barrier’ could lead to misunderstandings or misdelivery. I used to run invoicing for a company comprising mainly Portuguese employees, and I remember one of them telling me during a particularly tense pay run, "Charlotte, you have to stop asking people if they’d mind sending their invoice to you. Tell them to send it! In Portuguese these things are taken very literally – if they do mind, then they will think sending it is optional!". Stereotypically British and overly delicate back then, I’d thought my feedback on their promptness was tactful, and their lack of response was frustrating and confusing to me. This kind of misunderstanding is far from uncommon – if you’re interested in the idea check out this article about cross-cultural communication.

Besides potential language barriers, with a distributed team you then have the added problem of which channel you use to communicate. I’ve personally used messaging services including Google Hangouts, Slack and Telegram extensively, as the main and most convenient method of daily communication. Whilst I love the ease of having access to your whole team at your fingertips, sometimes only a conversation over the phone, or even in person, will do. It’s incredibly difficult to control how you come across over messaging services. As this recent article in The Telegraph explains, there is an informal text etiquette of which many people may not be aware. Even an ill-judged full stop may make your comment sound demanding or aggressive! If you’re in a rush or not concentrating fully, your feedback might easily come across differently to how you intend.

What’s the solution?

Well, there could be many, but at Cloudreach a fundamental aspect that’s helped us build a culture of feedback has been our internal Cloudy principles, in particular these two:

Respect the Individual and Individuality

A basic recognition that we are not the same, that’s it’s a good thing, and a reminder to be sensitive to people’s individuality in our interactions. This mantra also encompasses the idea that each other’s differing perspectives can be very useful for our own personal development, and to therefore be receptive to feedback.

Be easy to work with

This serves as a reminder to be receptive to other people’s ideas and advice. In a previous post on Building Company Culture we referenced our belief in the "culture of yes" (always be open to assisting others, and the default option should be to approve people’s ideas and feedback, rather than reject them). This mantra encourages people to be very open with colleagues about their opinions, trusting that they will be heard.

Another good example of feedback in action at Cloudreach is our Glassdoor page, where there’s a large number of reviews. We love Glassdoor as a platform because it’s so transparent and a chance for employees as well as people experiencing our company for the first time to be really honest about us. We want to be publicly accountable to employees and candidates for our performance.

Trust is such an important element in creating a culture of feedback, so it’s key to remember it won’t happen overnight. Culture is something you must build carefully, but we truly believe it all starts with openly encouraging feedback wherever possible and, above all, demonstrating you are really listening.