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During the current pandemic, two-way feedback and transparent communication are key to organizational success.

imtmphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In today’s knowledge economy and times of uncertainty, building a culture of in-house innovation in which employees are encouraged to embrace change, learn, and collaborate is critical to survival. But how do you make this part of your company DNA? By creating a culture of psychological safety where feedback across the organization at all employee levels is encouraged, and where the best ideas win, no matter who presents them. This culture can’t be created if feedback is perceived negatively or delivered poorly. A great way to gauge how successful a company has been in doing that is to listen to newly-hired employees fresh from other companies about what they see as different

Here are some considerations for building a feedback culture:

Constructive feedback is a gift for the giver as much as the receiver

A feedback culture is most effective when there is confidence among employees to engage with colleagues up, down or across levels of the organization. Giving feedback should not be the privilege of leaders only. In fact, there’s nothing more inhibiting to success than an environment where staff perceive the executive or leadership team as “them.” As an employee and potential leader, this mindset may signal that you do not want to be part of the decision-making process. You are inadvertently taking away your own power to impact and influence.

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By taking on a “we” mindset, one that is contemplative and self-reflective, you take ownership of your role in successful decision making by providing constructive feedback and having an impact. And just as important as it is to encourage input, executives need to be approachable, minimize employees’ fear of failure, and show genuine interest in hearing from others.

During the current pandemic, two-way feedback and transparent communication are key to organizational success. At BlueShore we have conducted online employee pulse surveys – short, frequent surveys on specific topics – as well as virtual town hall sessions with our executives and employees. Good communication ensures our staff are well informed of our plans and how the organization is doing. Additionally, not only does this demonstrate to our employees our commitment to their well-being, but we hear directly their feedback about their needs and those of our clients.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy are key building blocks

There is a clear linkage between higher job satisfaction and those who are managed by someone with high emotional intelligence. The World Economic Forum highlighted EQ as one of the top 10 skills needed in 2020 in order to succeed. Empathy is a contributing factor to EQ.

Research indicates that 92 per cent of employees believe empathy in the workplace is undervalued. At its essence, an empathetic environment is one in which people feel seen, heard and acknowledged. When providing feedback to employees, tap into your EQ and ask questions to try to understand their feelings.

A diverse workforce of cultures and orientations, backgrounds, and life experiences creates a respectful culture where innovation is valued and sincerity is applauded. A team that works as one, but allows for diversity of thought and thorough discussions, will make better decisions.

Leading in the moment

Feedback that is communicated poorly or given at the wrong time may be less effective. As we weave our way through the corporate snakes-and-ladders game, it doesn’t matter how right we think we are, but how right others perceive us to be.

Use genuine praise to commend what is working and specific suggestions when talking about improvement. When delivering feedback, use diplomacy. You can reframe criticism as questions or constructive feedback so that your intent and the impact on the recipient are aligned. Over all, engage in brave dialogue but be mindful about how your advice will be perceived by your audience.

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Transparent expectations

“Carrying an issue without resolution is like carrying debt – the longer you wait, the more interest you’ll pay in anxiety and dread,” the Harvard Business Review says of challenging but necessary conversations.

One-sided conversations and top-down feedback, despite noble intent, can lead to discouraged, disengaged employees. Instead of conducting standalone annual reviews, consider incorporating one-on-one meetings and real-time coaching. Not only do they reduce anxiety, but accurate, timely information has higher value. Identifying the “why” behind your feedback creates a better message and leads to a more organized conversation.

Ask for feedback in return

HarperBusiness listed the top eight skills employees found essential in a manager. The overall winner was “leadership that gave straight feedback.” But when management was asked, they ranked feedback least in importance. This is clearly a challenge.

Giving feedback should include specific details and be followed by a plan and schedule for adjustments that creates accountability. After all, communication is give-and-take: Don’t limit yourself by not asking for feedback in return.

By providing and inviting feedback you will become a stronger communicator and leader. This has become even more needed in the remote management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chris Catliff is president and chief executive of BlueShore Financial in Vancouver.

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This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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