The verity of creating a feedback and coaching culture

Naysan Firoozmand BSc MSc CPsychol, Head of Global Executive Coaching

I’m often asked by leadership and learning professionals “is creating a feedback and coaching culture a myth?” And if the past 20 years is anything to go by, you’d think the answer was ‘Yes’.

The main reason for this is that organisations and their providers (such as consultancies, business schools and training providers) have been focused on developing feedback and coaching skills for staff. All very laudable and will go some way to improving the current state – those that lacked the skills needed to provide feedback and coaching skilfully to the people around them will undoubtedly benefit. They might even do it more regularly. And yet things seem to continue in the same vein and CEOs, L&D professionals still despair over the lack of good quality conversations and effective performance management.

So what’s the problem? Most organizations forget that at the heart of this challenge is a need to create the right ‘culture’! It’s not enough to throw money into just training people to do things in a context that doesn’t promote good practice, doesn’t role-model good practice and doesn’t recognise or reward good practice. A recent article by Ron Carucci on Getting to the Bottom of Destructive Behaviors explains that there is a need to ‘access the deeper narratives shaping [their] unwanted behaviors’ (HBR), which highlights to deep-routed challenges every individual faces to change what they do and how they do it. So (comparatively) simple behaviors like giving feedback and coaching often take a back seat.

Part of the recurring challenge is that too much time is spent giving managers tools and techniques without the means to use them. People forget that to do something differently is a change in behavior and attitude (influenced by context) and not just about technique. What has been forgotten over the past few decades is the need to focus on the quality of the interaction, the interpersonal connection and the ability to trust what you’re hearing.

It is vitally important for organizations, and their training providers, to look hard at the context of how, where, when and why ‘feedback’ or ‘coaching’ are being used. If there is any stigma associated with these two words, then people just won’t do them. If there isn’t value being placed on continuous dialogue and meaningful conversations that develop people, then it’s not going to happen. Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall wrote about ‘the feedback fallacy’ which sadly misses the point and they paint a rather negative picture about giving feedback. Rather than emphasizing that having a chance to take notice of someone else’s perspective, something you have a choice over, they assume it has no value because we’ll think it’s true or it assumes the feedback giver has all the answers. However, I’ve witnessed too many great examples where the impact has been hugely valuable for me to agree with them.

So coming back to the myth. Actually, the answer is ‘No’. It can be done. It is achievable and more easily than you think:

  • Stop making such a big deal about it, feedback and coaching are conversational skills that anyone should have. Just take the time to talk with each other
  • Remember it’s only a perspective when you’re giving feedback
  • Ensure that your organization takes the time to value conversations that allow people to recognize effort (not just attainment) and make managers accountable for facilitating good conversations – it won’t be enough leaving it to chance
  • Make sure that if you are giving feedback your intention is positive – the people you’re talking to aren’t idiots nor horrible people – treat them with kindness
  • If you intend to support a person’s development a great place to start is just to listen, be interested and ask questions – that’s it. They’ll appreciate it. A lot.

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