Written by James Berenback • December 14, 2023
The majority of us work year round, from January to December and all of the months in between. Even though this is the case for most workers in the United States, many companies still set a specific time of the year for performance reviews and only complete the performance review process once in a calendar year.
Continuous feedback culture directly addresses this cadence, inserting feedback on performance throughout the year — and even throughout the day. Read on to learn more about continuous feedback culture and how it can help your organization.
Continuous feedback culture describes a company’s way of doing things when it comes to offering workers regular and frequent feedback on their performance. Feedback culture itself describes the way that management and employees exchange information back-and-forth, with continuous feedback culture describing the presence of this process throughout the year.
The type of continuous feedback culture we’re talking about is one that leads to a positive work culture, and sets up an individual in the company to feel confident that their feedback will be valued. The goal is that everyone in the company — from entry level to executive — will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and questions and also receive feedback in a safe, constructive way.
Companies that utilize continuous feedback culture may structure their feedback practices around set conversations, such as regular meetings or check-ins. They might also instill the informal practice of talking about what’s going well during employee meals or by the coffee pot. The goal is to cover topics such as meeting expectations, job satisfaction, professional development, or progress towards a KPI. When used appropriately and in a constructive manner, continuous feedback culture can be a tool to use to build rapport and increase a feeling of trust within the company, which can have many benefits.
Feedback is an important feature in all aspects of life. We listen to feedback in our relationships with our partners, kids, parents, and friends as we aim to grow those relationships. We take feedback when we’re learning new things, such as how to drive or how to speak another language, so we can get better. One of the only places where feedback is procedural, however, is in the office.
Feedback at work can be important for a number of reasons. It can help an individual along their journey of professional development, as well as help them complete their role responsibilities in more effective ways. On the company’s side, knowing what employees are saying and how they’re feeling through receiving continuous feedback can be helpful to know the state of morale. Managers can also get ideas about how to improve workflows or how to better direct teams after receiving feedback.
Providing feedback in a continuous way — rather than waiting for the prescribed (and often dreaded) performance review season — can be an important way for both employers and employees to course correct. With everyone on the same page, or at least privy to the same information about how things are going, better decisions get made and there’s more potential for job satisfaction and employee retention.
While continuous feedback culture at your company might sound ideal, it’s vital to practice continuous feedback in a way that is inclusive, safe, and actually helpful. A completely misguided implementation of continuous feedback culture in the office looks like everyone feeling comfortable ripping apart each other’s work, which would be a disaster! Even without the rigid structure of annual performance reviews, continuous feedback culture still has intentionality.
To begin with, it’s important that everyone understands that feedback isn’t solely negative. Positive feedback can go a long way, and in a positive work environment, there should be more positive feedback than constructive. Feedback can be offered even when things are going well, as it can build relationships so they can pass a stress test when things aren’t going well. Framing feedback as a tool for empowerment is also important, setting up the intention behind feedback as a way for individuals to excel at work and grow in their professional lives. Messaging becomes a huge aspect of a successful implementation of continuous feedback culture.
When setting up a structure for your company’s continuous feedback culture, determine how often feedback will be offered and in what format. Will feedback come once per week in the form of a one-on-one or will it come once a month in the form of a townhall? What kind of feedback is best discussed and what would be appropriate to put in writing? You might also consider how feedback is incorporated into team meetings.
Next, find champions at each level of your organization to act as role models when it comes to taking and receiving feedback. You might show the rest of the company that feedback can happen in small meetings, large meetings, formal settings, informal settings, or even on sticky notes. You might also consider putting together a framework for what’s up for feedback, steering clear of personal character to avoid office politics.
It might be helpful to run a pilot program within a smaller section of your company to see how a continuous feedback process works, tweaking frequency and format as you go. This can help with buy-in as you roll out the structure across all teams.
And, of course, expect (and incorporate) feedback on the feedback process! As is anything labeled “continuous,” you have ample time to iterate and make changes on how things work at your company when it comes to feedback.