Feedback Culture – there’s a phrase that carries both promise and dread! Great feedback culture can reinforce collaboration, professional and personal growth and in the end, organizational success. On the other hand, a dysfunctional or non-existent feedback culture can sow the seeds of conflict and stagnation.
Here at Kaito, our self-directed organization model has thrown its own unique challenges and opportunities in the process of building our feedback culture. In this blog post, I will unveil in a very practical manner what we have done so far on our journey towards mastering the art of feedback. Spoiler alert: as the word journey hints, it is a long road, and we have not reached our destination yet.
”We’re a self-directive organization. Everyone can just ask feedback if they need it, right?”
In a self-directed organization it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that no shared ways of working are needed.
However, it is easy to see in hindsight that a functional feedback culture does not form organically. “I get enough feedback on how well I’m doing my job” is a statement we had started measuring in our HR Pulse surveys. According to the results, we were scoring below our industry average, which was a wake-up call for us and the trigger for our project.
In the following chapters, I will introduce everything we have done, step-by-step on our journey.
Good feedback culture requires a high level of psychological safety, but developing feedback culture can also lead to higher psychological safety. Therefore, no matter where an organization is today, I believe it is always a good time to start working on feedback culture.
The starting point for building Kaito’s feedback culture was simple; we had no unified feedback culture, but a healthy foundation for building one thanks to our transparent and honest communication style. We started by recognizing the most important development themes, which were:
- General feedback skills
- Anytime feedback, especially praise
- Structured feedback cycles
When planning on our further actions, we considered the same aspects as always when developing our ways of working:
- How can we include Kaitonians in the project?
- What are the simplest solutions?
- How can we utilize our existing tools and ways of working?
- Are the planned changes aligned with Kaito’s culture?
Learning Feedback Skills as an Organization
Giving and asking for feedback is both a skill and a habit you can develop. Therefore, we wanted to offer Kaitonians theoretical training and encouragement for practicing and building routines.
We took a simple approach for improving our feedback skills:
- Kick-off: Lunch & Learn session about feedback, hosted by Kaito’s employee who was recognized as the most active and exemplary feedback giver.
- Practice: Kaito’s Culture Circle developed a feedback challenge that encouraged everyone to give a lot of feedback, especially praise.
We have now completed two six-month feedback challenges, and both have increased anytime feedback so much that sharing praise to others is already starting to feel like a routine.
The challenges have made sure we track feedback activities (where feedback is posted in a designated channel for everyone to see) and maintain regular communication about feedback. These challenges have also had a positive impact on a broader scale, as the reward has been a donation to a charity selected by Kaitonians. With each feedback activity, the donation amount has increased.
Implementing official feedback cycles
Implementing official feedback cycles has been a more labor-intensive project, but definitely worth the effort. Again, our starting point was relatively easy as we had not much in place and a clean slate to work with.
We combined feedback cycles with our career paths and seniority levels project (which I have introduced in more detail on my blog here). Since then, we have also improved feedback collection and sharing during onboarding period, and implemented 360 assessments for our Customer Circle Leads.
Kaito’s official feedback cycles are presented in the table below.
Customer Circle Leads
Off-cycle feedback upon request
After 3 months
After 6 months
Type of feedback
Wide feedback questionnaire
Feedback givers self-selected (customers included)
3 months: light feedback
6 months: wide feedback
Feedback givers self-selected (customers included)
360 feedback questionnaire
Feedback collected from: team members and stakeholders
Coaching style discussion with Kaito’s partner or HR
Coaching style discussion with HR
Coaching style discussion with CEO
Our feedback cycles run in a highly automated way, so we can focus on what matters: meaningful feedback and conversations. Our upgraded feedback practicalities have received a positive response from Kaitonians, so it looks like we are on the right path.
What we have learnt from this process is (yet again) that self-directive organizations need a lot of structure and shared ways of working in order to function properly. We just need to ensure that the ways of working we create are:
- Created in collaboration with Kaitonians
- Aligned with our culture
- Communicated and maintained actively
To sum it up, here's how we've nurtured the growth of a robust feedback culture:
- Clarifying our goals and pain-points
- Supporting the organization in developing feedback skills
- Offering a platform and encouragement for practicing feedback skills
- Building structured feedback processes that are aligned with our culture and ways of working.
With the above-mentioned steps we have taken our feedback scores to a healthy level. However, culture changes slowly and we will keep working on our feedback practices to really anchor the new ways of working.
Photo by Ono Kosuki