So now that you have deliberately created your culture by identifying your values and breaking them out as behaviours, it’s time to utilize it for feedback and coaching!

The conversation around giving employees feedback is complex and has received quite a bit of attention lately. Feedback is an essential part of encouraging performance improvement, right? It is never easy to receive feedback, but if feedback is given in a professional and constructive manner, then it should be well received. Well, maybe, and maybe not. 

There is enough research, survey results and people themselves telling us they want and benefit from feedback; and not just positive feedback but constructive feedback. None of us really likes being told we’re not performing well, that we could do better, that we’re doing really well but there’s just this one little thing that needs fixing …if feedback is given poorly, it can wound us, we can decide to take it personally and then resentment builds. So, how do we reconcile these two positions and offer feedback in such a way that it is taken onboard and doesn’t personally impact, embarrass or belittle the person in any way? 

The answer, we think, comes in two parts; coaching and culture tied in with feedback.

Feedback tells us what the issue is that is going on, whereas coaching gives us insights into what could be, what the expectations are, how it could actually be better. Both have their place, but without the emotional, practical and solution-oriented support a coaching conversation provides, feedback on its own can leave us discouraged and often none the wiser about what to do to improve matters. The third piece to this is the culture. Having organizational behaviours explicitly called out and defined, sets expectations and starts to create the basis for organizational trust and psychological safety to be established. It also allows for people to refer to it, for coaching someone. You have set a bar, now you can use it to coach that behaviour to that established bar. 

In utilizing coaching with your feedback, it demonstrates day in and day out that you value the team and their opinions and their ability to find solutions to problems. In coaching, we question, probe, press, challenge and ask questions. We encourage, support and empower. We don’t need to know all the answers, it is a partnership! Far better to tap into the wealth of talent, ability, skill, experience, creativity and energy of each and every member of our team.

A coaching culture should run through the organization, from the top to the bottom. It’s not something you delegate, it’s something you sponsor and champion and keep alive with your leaders and individual contributors. You walk your talk and you talk about the culture constantly in meetings, in 1/1s and in town halls! 

Coaching conversations should happen each day and throughout the day in one way, or another. Where feedback has a tendency to be a bit one-way, coaching is most definitely a dialogue. It’s also about highlighting when people are doing something right and acknowledging and validating them for it! It’s also about enhancing their awareness of what exactly they’re doing, or could be doing to improve their performance. Where gaps exist, coaching helps us explore options in a trusting, psychologically safe way and where control and responsibility ultimately lie with the person being coached.

So, does feedback still have a place in a coaching culture? For us, the answer is a definite “Yes”, but consider another approach, more from a coaching than a ‘telling’ perspective. There will always be times when the more direct approach of giving positive, or negative feedback will be what’s needed as there often won’t be time at the time to engage in a coaching conversation. However, if that’s all people get, then feedback will usually fall short of creating any meaningful change and may well make matters worse. Feedback, even positive feedback, really needs to be wrapped up in something altogether more substantial, a long term, sharing and interactive approach through the coaching conversation, if not at the time something happened, then as part of an ongoing commitment to the growth, development and wellbeing of the person being coached.

Feedback via on-the-spot conversations, scheduled meetings and 360 reports will rarely provide enough information, dialogue, motivation and impetus on their own to lead to meaningful change. Studies suggest that feedback combined with coaching led to direct reports perceiving leadership effectiveness as higher by about 60% with the single biggest impact for them being their relationship with the coach, along with the feedback.