Building a feedback culture starts with team managers

LAST UPDATE ON June 28, 2023


Most of us would just appreciate just plain ‘ol direct honesty when given feedback.

When we use the regular ‘hamburger method’ of giving feedback, the recipient usually starts to brace himself for the thick patty in between the thin buns. Which means that the top bun, the positive feedback, sounds like you’re just softening the upcoming blow. The positive feedback given can also seem to be pretty insincere even if truly delivered with all sincerity.

Some of us, however, are really genuine about giving the positive feedback. Well, that could still not be beneficial for the recipient as he might just gloss over the corrective feedback, especially when we end on a positive note once again!

The giver of the feedback may feel good at the end of the session, but both the recipient and the giver do not benefit from the session.

Before going on further, let’s understand what feedback is. Zenger Folkman describes feedback as “any conversation designed to convey a message that one person believes to be important for another person to hear.”

Source: Unsplash

Ask for feedback

Creating a culture where one feels safe to openly share and receive feedback ideally begins with the manager taking the lead and setting the example of being eager to receive it.”
~ Zenger Folkman ~

In a recent article by Ryan Pendell, Workplace Science Writer at Gallup[1], he wrote that ‘nearly half of employees say they get feedback from their manager a few times a year or less’ and suggests that increasing the frequency of conversations with employees might make it more likely for managers to identify ‘concerns, roadblocks and signs of disengagement’ long before an employee resigns.

What if the frequency of these conversations increase but they proved not to be useful conversations? A report[2] cited by Dr. Jack Zenger and Dr. Joe Folkman in their paper[3], found that while 62% of leaders rated themselves as highly effective at providing others with honest, straightforward feedback, other research reported that 60% of employees say they had not received any useful feedback in the past six months.

How can we improve the latter percentage? Is there a way to provide feedback that would be perceived as useful to the recipient?

Well, it starts with the manager. The manager can take the lead in the feedback process by being eager to receive it.

Zenger Folkman’s research[4] from over 50,000 leaders clearly shows that leaders who ask for feedback are perceived more positively than those who are good at giving feedback. A manager’s willingness to ask for specific feedback is a way to both demonstrate how to ask, and also demonstrate the way it is ideally received. Their willingness then creates a culture where one feels safe to openly share and receive feedback.

Ed Batista, executive coach and an Instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business agrees: “We can’t just sit back and wait for feedback to be offered, particularly when we’re in a leadership role. If we want feedback to take root in the culture, we need to explicitly ask for it.”

Dr. Jack Zenger and Dr. Joe Folkman of Zenger Folkman believe that feedback is the cornerstone skill underlying a number of leadership responsibilities. It is central to conducting effective performance reviews, a critical ingredient of good coaching and absolutely necessary for the implementation of a performance management system. It is extremely helpful in inspiring and motivating high performance in the workplace.[5]

Source: Pexels

Barriers to providing feedback

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
~ George Bernard Shaw ~

As much as we understand the importance and benefits of feedback, for some, it can be difficult to deliver.

Our own filters, based on our own perceptions and experiences, could impact the process. The recipient may also have a negative bias based on their own perceptions and experiences that could cause them to be cautious or even resistant when feedback is delivered. Managers who are more introverted can find feedback a difficult behaviour to practice. Staff may be smart enough to evade any chance of his manager giving corrective feedback, especially if he knows that he is not giving his best performance at work.

Providing feedback, be it positive or negative, need not be as challenging as it has been made out to be. Neither is it that easy. If carefully administered, it could be more beneficial for both the giver and recipient.

It’s in the art of communicating the feedback that causes the message to be caught by both sides.

Source: Unsplash

Giving positive feedback

“When leaders give more positive feedback than negative, they are perceived as more effective leaders.”
~ Joe Folkman ~

When you give feedback to your subordinates, do you tend to do so in such a way that you’re leading them to ‘prove’ a certain mindset which limits their future performance? What do we mean by that? For example, do you praise your team member’s highly analytical ability or creative problem solving skills? If you do, it sends a message that encourages them to seek to prove that image of them and avoid anything that would jeopardise it.

What you could do when you give positive feedback to your team members is to commend them for the hard work they exhibit or the flexibility with which they approached a task. That would then reinforce a continual desire for them to learn and develop themselves, and take on even more challenging assignments. This may sound like a small distinction, but it has colossal long-term consequences.

Giving corrective feedback

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill

However, the art is in the delivery and timing of providing feedback, be it positive or corrective. So that it will be most effective for the recipient and at the same time beneficial for the giver of the feedback.

Here are some suggestions that may help the process of giving corrective feedback:

Bold enough to change?

Asking for feedback from your team could be the start of a new culture in your team or organisation. It may be uncomfortable at the start and may take time to adapt to. Keeping your eyes focused on the long-term benefits of moving in that direction, however, could help you to keep going in that direction. Being coached in this area could also help.

Communicating positive and corrective feedback can be challenging and is a skill that is not inborn in any one of us. However, it is a skill that can be learnt and honed.

Learning the skill may be the first step in the right direction. But are we bold enough to put it into practice? It starts with the managers being willing to ask and receive feedback from their subordinates.

If you are keen on learning how to equip yourself and your team leaders with skills on providing feedback, get in touch with us. We’ll be happy to start a discussion with you.

©Published by Lifeskills Institute Pte Ltd

Lifeskills Institute is the strategic partner of Zenger Folkman for Singapore and Malaysia. Our Chief Enabling Officer, Ian Tan is a Master Facilitator certified by Zenger Folkman.

Zenger Folkman is a strengths-based leadership development company helping leaders elevate their people and organisations. Co-founders Dr. Jack Zenger and Dr. Joe Folkman utilise empirical data and behavioural evidence to help leaders become extraordinary.


[1] 5 Ways Managers Can Stop Employee Turnover, Ryan Pendell
[2] Cornerstone on Demand, Employee Report (Nov 2012)
[3]  Feedback: The Powerful Paradox – How to make feedback a gift, Dr. Jack Zenger and Dr. Joe Folkman
[4]&[5] Ibid