November 2018

Building a Culture of Feedback

Data from the most recent Employee Engagement survey identified an opportunity for leaders and supervisors to develop a culture of feedback at the University. For some, giving and receiving feedback comes naturally while others need to be intentional in providing feedback. Whatever the case, as someone who oversees the work of others, you can make a big impact on developing a culture of feedback at the University of Minnesota.


feature insight

Your success as a leader is as much about what work is accomplished as it is about how the work is accomplished. Your team may be producing great work but if they’re simply going through the motions, eventually your results will plateau and decline. Today’s workforce is driven by knowing that their work has meaning and value. Receiving regular feedback is an impactful way to reinforce your team members’ value and help them to learn and grow.

So how do you build a culture of feedback? Here are four essential elements:

  • A Safe and Trusting Environment. Faculty and staff must feel a sense of psychological safety to be able to give and receive feedback without fear.
    • Understand your colleagues as people. Treat your colleagues as they want to be treated by understanding their needs, interests, and preferences.
    • Ask your colleagues for their thoughts and opinions and let them know you appreciate their input even if you don’t agree.
    • Address disrespectful behavior right away.
    • Talk about emotions. Whether good or bad, feedback creates emotions. The ability to talk about emotions is indicative of your team’s readiness to give and receive feedback.
  • Balance. Sincere, positive feedback is just as important as honest criticism.
    • Don’t try to soften the blow by giving positive feedback before criticism. This dilutes the value of your praise and eventually, your employees will only hear your criticism. The best approach is to provide straightforward feedback that describes the situation, their behavior, and the impact.
    • Praise behavior that you want to reinforce. Giving positive feedback promotes development and lets your colleagues know that you want them to succeed.
    • Praise ability and effort. Praising effort helps to promote determination and resilience.
  • Daily Routine. If feedback is something that only happens once a year during a performance review, it won’t be part of your culture. Make a point to integrate feedback into your daily interactions.
    • Start small. Giving feedback doesn’t have to come from a successful project or major event. Show appreciation for any behavior that you want to continue. A simple “good job” is a good place to start.
    • Be specific. Look for moments that will help your colleagues to learn and grow. Mention those moments and how your employee behaved in those moments when you give feedback.
  • Walk the talk. Your colleagues take their cues from you, so if you’re not making an effort to integrate feedback into the culture, neither will they.
    • Be transparent. Let everyone know that developing a feedback-rich culture is a priority.
    • View mistakes as learning opportunities. Perfection is impossible, so when you fail, acknowledge your mistake and demonstrate how to learn from it.
    • Ask for feedback. If you want to build a culture of feedback, start by asking for it. Remember, your colleagues will take their cues from you.

Content from this article was adapted from the Harvard Business Review’s article “Building a Feedback-Rich Culture” 

Resources for Supervisors


What makes giving feedback difficult?


ask the experts

How do you deal with a defensive employee who always tries to deflect the coaching?

Instead of feed "back," think about the concept of feed ”forward." Defensiveness happens when you point out what someone isn't doing well or being critical of the way someone did something in the past. Feed forward focuses on the future: here's what success looks like and gives suggestions about how to obtain success. Generally, if you focus more on the future, "here's what would work well, versus here's what you did wrong," your message will be better received. Also, providing feedback that their behavior appears defensive is really important because it gives them responsibility for that pattern, which they may not always be aware.


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