Building a feedback culture: A blueprint for success


Feedback is the lifeblood of growth and improvement in any organisation. Yet, creating a culture where feedback thrives can be a daunting task. How do we foster an environment where people and the business can flourish through constructive feedback and open communication?

Let’s start with a simple yet telling anecdote: Mike and Ariel were in an office cafeteria and noticed Jack had asparagus between his teeth. Mike felt awkward and chose to leave, whereas Ariel bravely told Jack about the asparagus. Jack was thankful to Ariel for not having to walk around the office with asparagus between his teeth.

But what can we learn about this naive example that unfortunately happens in some form somewhere every day? The truth is that it is so much easier to be the Mike of the story. But being Mike is actually being mean. That might feel unfair because it’s not easy to tell someone they have asparagus between their teeth. But life is not always fair.

Compliments vs feedback

In an organisation, there are opportunities to provide feedback constantly. There are equally large numbers of opportunities to leave feedback unsaid. The simple fact is that both people and businesses prosper in an environment where feedback is given systematically. 

However, the quantity of feedback itself is not enough. It is important, but alone, it changes nothing. Mika Pesonen (coach and author of the book “Suoraa palautetta!”) has smartly explained that a compliment is not feedback. Saying “great customer meeting” to your colleague is a compliment, not feedback. And don’t get me wrong—compliments are very important for an organisational culture as well. But feedback, they are not. 

Adam Grant wrote in his great book (note: that is a compliment ;)) Hidden Potential that when he writes new chapters, his first request is actually not for compliment nor feedback, but for a score. “I ask people to rate my work on a scale from 0 to 10. No one ever says 10. Then I ask how to get closer to 10.“

That is an interesting and effective way to get valuable feedback and advice and, hence, constantly improve the quality of your work. So, when building an open feedback culture in an organisation, you should aim for high quality instead of high quantity!

Feedback culture

At Lyyti, we take a systematic approach to providing peer feedback as part of our tertiary Growth Discussions. We have also implemented an SBI(I) (situation-behaviour-impact-intention) model that is simple enough to structure all our feedback. The journey to create a great feedback culture is long but possible with systematic planning. 

Here are my simple steps to understand and build a truly winning feedback culture:

  • Prioritise psychological safety. As boring as that might sound, you can’t build a winning feedback culture unless the base is solid. People need to feel safe voicing their thoughts.
  • Clarify expectations. Your people need to understand the difference between a compliment, feedback, and advice. And their role in building the feedback culture!
  • Build the needed scaffolding. Certain processes are needed to make the change, such as systematic peer feedback rounds, where both positive and constructive feedback is required.
  • Encourage multi-directional feedback. Feedback is not only the task of managers; peer feedback is often more valuable. And don’t forget the customer, either. Feedback should fly freely in and out and in all directions. 

  • Cultivate feedback skills. Teach people how to provide feedback and advice, request feedback, and react to feedback. Then, practice, practice, and practice to ingrain it in your culture.

An easy way is easy but often not effective. Making it easy for everyone will never help develop people and businesses fast enough in a modern business environment. Building an effective feedback culture helps build a winning company culture that benefits both the individual and the business.

Hero photo by Sam Jämsen