Stop Failing At Feedback

How to make your feedback suck less!

image courtesy of Mr. Ødin

How much time and money do we spend on courses, coaches and conferences? All with the aim of bettering ourselves and the teams we work with. There’s a common idea that learning & development means acquiring (often expensive) external expertise. Yet one of the most cost-effective and meaningful ways for us to develop is to seek honest feedback from those around us.

So how do you develop a strong feedback culture?

Ask and you shall receive

The first time you hear honest feedback, it can feel like a sucker punch to the ego. But once you realise how valuable constructive criticism can be, the real challenge becomes getting enough of it! Rather than waiting for colleagues to dish up insights in their own time, we’ve found the easiest way to ingrain that behaviour is as simple as regularly asking for it.

A few considerations for when asking for feedback:

  • Be specific. “Have you got any feedback for me?” is a lazy question. It’s just too vague, and it leaves the giver unsure of where to start. Be specific and ask something like, “how was I in that meeting? What could I have done better?”
  • Be timely. Don’t wait to ask for feedback, do it in the moment. Face-to-face, over email, or via any other medium; do it while the occasion/behaviour you want feedback on is still fresh in people’s minds.
  • Reminders. These can either be personal reminders that you set for yourself to ask for feedback, or they could be company-wide reminders. Freddie the Feedback Fox (a literal, stuffed-toy fox) is just one cue we use to remind each other to check in!

Put it in the right bucket

It’s also easy to give bland, generic feedback e.g. “you were great!” or “”I don’t think there’s anything you could have done better”. If we’re all honest with ourselves, these kinds of responses are complete cop-outs. Yet most of us probably use them more than we’d like to admit. Feedback should always be constructive; something that the receiver can go away, ponder on and action.

I find it useful to think about feedback falling into one of three buckets:

  • Stop: behaviours I need to stop or change, e.g. “please stop picking your nose and eating it during meetings, it’s gross!”
  • Start: things I need to start doing or behaviours I should pick up, e.g. “I notice when you turn up to meetings unprepared — you need to take time to prepare for them.”
  • Continue: behaviours that should be maintained, e.g. “I’ve noticed you’ve stopped interrupting during meetings. That’s great, more of that please!”

As you can imagine, start and stop feedback is the holy grail. It’s the most actionable, so is likely to create the most impact for those around you. However, they can be the hardest forms of feedback to deliver, so we often shy away from them. When you’re building a culture of feedback, it’s crucial to encourage those on your team to both give and ask for it frequently, as well as to ensure it’s of the most effective type.

Know your audience

Make sure you know who you’re talking to, and adjust your delivery accordingly. We’re all strange and individual creatures who take and receive things in different ways, so…

  • Remember to ask how an individual wants to receive their feedback: verbally, face-to-face or via email.
  • What does history tell you? Does the person you’re feeding back to typically take feedback well? The best feedback is not personal, but specific and objective.
  • We all love to receive praise, so if you’ve seen someone take on the feedback you’ve given be sure to let them know you’ve noticed it!


As with most company-wide initiatives, building a strong feedback culture starts with those in leadership positions. If you believe that feedback is important to your business, those in leadership positions must set the tone and lead by example. Great teams — both leaders and members — leave their egos at the door. Interestingly, while it’s great to get feedback from those you work with on a regular basis, I’ve also found huge value in hearing feedback from those I rarely work with. This can draw your attention to things that weren’t even on your radar.

Before you get carried away with external training budgets or booking airline tickets to conferences in far-flung places, think to yourself, “what could I improve simply by asking those that know me best?”

CharlieHR is the free HR software for small businesses. Building a company is hard, running one shouldn’t be. Find out more here.