The landscape of the modern office is changing. Thanks to new technologies that are enabling different forms of communication, new generations that are demanding more workplace changes, and drivers of new forms of what “company culture” actually means, today’s workforce can’t be as productive or as satisfied with their jobs if they’re following the working standards of decades past.
Feedback is one of the most important institutions in a work environment, as the process by which it is exchanged and followed has a significant impact on how your business develops. For example, if no feedback is given, you’ll have no opportunities to improve on past mistakes. If feedback is given incorrectly or improperly, it may be misunderstood, and if it’s given in an unhealthy way, the relationships between your employees and coworkers could suffer.
That’s why you’ll need to follow these six new rules for feedback in the modern office:
1. Make it a cultural institution. Your first job is to make sure feedback isn’t just something that exists within your company; instead, make it something that’s inseparably tied to your company. Feedback should be a part of your company culture, as a point of both identity and pride. It’s hard to formalize this without explicitly stating the giving and receiving of feedback as one of your core values (not that that would be a bad thing), but as much as you can, make feedback something inherent in your workplace. Doing this helps set a tone with new employees early on, making sure they understand the importance of feedback at the ground level, and helps everyone feel more comfortable exchanging feedback in general.
2. Encourage feedback at all levels, between all people. Feedback used to be a one-way street in the professional world; supervisors and bosses gave feedback to employees, and that was it. Today, the most successful organizations are the ones that encourage feedback at all levels. Employees give supervisors feedback just as much as supervisors give them feedback, and employees aren’t afraid to give each other pieces of advice and direction that can help the team perform better. Even though some of your people may be more experienced or more knowledgeable than others, every person within your organization is a moving part of a bigger machine. Why not expand your feedback system to make sure all those moving parts are functioning properly?
3. Utilize both formal and informal forms of feedback. Feedback often takes place in formal structures, such as an explicitly written report or a documented review. But it doesn’t always have to happen this way; you can also use informal forms of feedback, such as casual conversations or mentions at the end of an email. These are looser and harder to track, so they have some disadvantages, but they also allow for a freer and less intense exchange. This is why it’s best to use both informal and formal forms of feedback in the modern workplace.
4. Work to find compromises. Your employees and professional relationships are valuable. In today’s job-hopping economy, employee retention is harder than ever to maintain, so if you want to keep the good workers you do have for as long as possible, you need to be willing to work with them. Sometimes, you’re going to disagree on feedback; your employee might take issue with your management style, or might be reluctant to adopt some of the changes you request. While it’s advisable to remain firm as a leader, there’s also usually some room for a compromise. Try to find alternative routes to achieving the same goals that work better for everyone involved.
5. Stay communicative. In today’s world of universal Wi-Fi and mobile devices that connect us with anyone, there’s no real excuse for falling out of communication. Feedback is usually something that requires a formal and regular exchange; someone must first express feedback, and the recipient must then take steps to respond to that feedback in one way or another. If a change is required, ongoing communication from the two parties must take place. Don’t neglect this; stay in contact throughout the process, and err on the side of over-communicating as long as your messages remain concise. Speaking of which…
6. Be concise and direct. This is a general best practice for feedback, but it’s becoming especially important now that our forms of communication are becoming faster and more demanding. Rather than saving up all your feedback in one annual review, you’re usually giving it piecemeal over texts, emails, and other brief forms of communication. In these forms, you don’t have the time or space to beat around the bush; instead, you need to be direct. Try to state your intentions as plainly and in as few terms as you can. This prevents you from wandering around the problem with loose and ambiguous terms, which might be misinterpret or which otherwise might skew your points.
These six rules can help you give feedback more consistently, more productively, and in a way that facilitates respect among everyone involved. This is a mutual and evolving process, and you probably won’t get it right the first time you attempt to bring it into your work environment (especially if your business is young), but be patient and commit to making feedback a bigger part of your workplace, and over the next few months and years you’ll see a radical difference in the quality of your work.