In the previous two parts of this three-part article, we have been discussing feedback culture—what it is and how it might benefit nonprofit organizations in 2023. We’ve examined the origins of feedback culture within the greater context of U.S. corporate culture. We analyzed its conceptual inner works and the importance of communication, trust, safety, and empathy. We then took a look at how feedback culture is a really good answer to some of the chronic problems faced by nonprofits.
Now we’ll turn to practical considerations, namely what feedback might look like in a nonprofit organization. What are some actual steps to take or plans to make? In this final part of a three-part article, we’ll discuss some of the basics.
According to a 2020 article published by PaveStep, the number-one tip for implementing feedback culture is to start at the top. This means that the upper tiers of ownership and management must be involved. “Leaders and managers need to be the champions of feedback,” the article argues. “They need to understand the importance and the benefits of feedback. Getting these senior leaders on board are table stakes. If you cannot get leaders to share or request feedback, employees won’t either.” In practical terms, this means that the feedback culture program at your nonprofit organization should be formulated and documented by the senior management team, approved by ownership or any oversight bodies (e.g., board of directors), and then introduced to all levels of management. This may seems like a burdensome and time-consuming process, and in fact it will be. However, realizing the benefits of feedback culture occur unless a discrete, well-thought-out plan is put into place.
The PaveStep article goes on to say, “When feedback happens routinely, it becomes expected. Hold employees accountable by incorporating the number of feedback shared and requested into your manager’s KPIs. Ensure that managers are having regular feedback conversations and check-ins with their direct reports.” This means the feedback culture pervades the organization and is applied to all aspects of operation—not just employee evaluation but planning, project execution, fundraising, volunteer recruitment, outreach, etc. Feedback culture should also begin and new employee or volunteer onboarding, continue through all aspects of the organization and finish only during exit interviews and debriefings.
All managers, employees, and volunteers within the nonprofit organization must be trained in the new system. This implies that there must be an employee or team who is responsible for the training and implementation of the program. Such a job may be filled by existing personnel, a new employee or team, or by an outside entity. Effective feedback culture training must also be a living, evolving program, with adjustments, additions, reviews, and refreshers as necessary.
Feedback can be generated in a meeting room, e-mail, or via impromptu meetings in offices and hallways. But a program of feedback may require multiple channels and methods. These may include:
-E-mail accounts or aliases to collect feedback-related communications
-Feedback devices such as online apps or kiosks where surveys are administered or qualitative data are gathered.
-Specially assigned personnel who gather, process, and distribute feedback.
-Forms (hardcopy or electronic) designed for specific kinds of feedback (employee evaluation, project evaluation, goal setting/achieving, etc.).
An article by employment service Quantum Workforce suggests that multiple methods and channels for feedback are better than limiting the ways feedback is handled.
Flavors of feedback
Feedback can take many shapes and forms—there is everything from a round-the-table energy check before a company meeting to a lengthy post-project after-action review. Feedback types of “flavors” include the following:
-Attributed vs. anonymous. Is the feedback provided by an identified individual or is it blind?
-One-on-one vs. group vs. 360 feedback. Is the feedback directed at an identified individual, group, or is it for everyone?
-Formal vs. informal. Is the feedback meant for a permanent record, or is it just a tag-up?
-Face-to-face vs. written. Is the feedback in a formal meeting or is it recorded in a formal document.
-Qualitative vs. Quantitative. Is the feedback a free-form comment, or is there some kind of score involved?
Quantum Workforce says you should consider what your feedback is meant to accomplish before determining what it will look like.
Feedback culture programs
What are some feedback mechanisms that will transform your nonprofit workplace culture into feedback culture?
1. Employee evaluation
Obviously, employee evaluation ceases to be the highly ritualized annual or even quarterly event it once was. After all, feedback culture arose largely from G.E.’s elimination of their infamous employee evaluation process. This aspect of communication instead becomes a continuous process consisting of formal evaluative interviews, post-project evaluations, corrective events, and (perhaps most significantly) so-called check-ins. Check-ins can be informal, ad hoc, or regularly scheduled, and they are widely credited for better understanding between workers, managers, and team members. Many managers already utilize check-ins as part of their inherent management strategies. Still, the upgrade of feedback culture is that all interactions between employees should be tracked and available as a dataset. Using a system similar to a phone log, CMS, or administrative record can be useful.
2. Project feedback
Most companies evaluate projects when they’re finished, if only by recording their quantifiable aspects, such as sales, revenue, and customer satisfaction. Feedback culture takes things a step further by evaluating each project holistically, identifying successes and ways to improve, and then making the evaluation part of an ongoing record that can be consulted and analyzed.
3. Job satisfaction feedback
Feedback culture arose out of the process by which managers evaluated their employees, but companies are discovering that there is much to be learned from listening to what employees have to say about their managers, fellow team members, and the workplace itself. A culture of constant and safe feedback will allow employees to chime in about all aspects of their work. This needn’t take the form of the cliche of the suggestion box, and neither should it be set up to be a mechanism to complain about each other. Keeping the data quantitative and anonymous can avert possible misuse of such comms channels.
Final note: Communication, trust, safety, and empathy
One more word about these important aspects—feedback culture is not simply providing more ways for people to express their opinions, complain, and rate their experiences. Feedback culture provides communication as a way to build trust, nurture a workplace that is safe for all participants, and administered with empathy. No employee wants a job where they’re corrected, restricted, and evaluated every workday. Feedback culture is about taking ritualized and sometimes unproductive forms of corporate communication and turning them into frequent cycles of helpful, open-minded comms channels that improve the workplace experience for everyone, thereby improving the organization’s performance.