Creating a Coaching Culture; How to Offer Constructive Feedback

Leaders can and should do better when it comes to offering feedback as it is critical to an individual’s success and the overall team’s ongoing growth and development.

However, many leaders do not always know how to go about providing feedback at the right time and in the right context. And especially now, it can be more challenging to pay attention to this critical leadership skill during these unprecedented times.

Some just go through the motions, while others simply avoid the task, thinking they will find time to give feedback “someday.” And in other cases, leaders provide what they think is sound, constructive feedback, only to find that the person on the receiving end fails to apply it. In fact, research shows that people who receive feedback apply it just 30% of the time.

I’ve written in the past about the biggest mistakes leaders make when giving feedback, but today I want to explore the ways in which leaders can improve their ability to provide meaningful coaching, advice and direction to their people in either a bricks and mortar or remote environment. Do not let technology become a barrier! Use it to your advantage. 

To me, it’s not about the actual act of giving feedback. Instead, I feel that leaders need to look at the issue on a deeper level. The success or failure of feedback within an organization all stems from its culture. If an organization does not have a culture that prioritizes communication and coaching, feedback may appear non-impactful and meaningless. Employees may not take it seriously because the workplace culture primes them to place a low value on communication.

But when an organization is built on a foundation of a communicative, coaching culture, feedback becomes more essential and valuable. In this type of culture, leaders provide ongoing feedback as part of a larger, ongoing conversation. Furthermore, leaders in this type of workplace culture understand that feedback should flow in all directions.

So, what can you do to help transform your organization's culture to value coaching and communication regardless if you are in person or remote? And how can you approach the act of giving feedback once you’ve engaged these cultural shifts?

I have some ideas, so let’s get started!

Soft Skills and the Coaching Culture Revisited

A while back, I published an article that urged leaders to stop focusing so much on STEM skills and place more emphasis on soft skills. To me, this is critical.

Because our society and culture at large value technology and data so highly, it’s easy to assume that our workplaces should do the same. But that’s why we have so many organizations that tout cutting-edge technological methods and data-driven “solutions” while ignoring the human side of business. Business models that place little to no value on soft skills, human connection and communication may generate buzz and flash, but they fail to sustain themselves, and they fail to convey meaning and purpose to their employees, clients and customers.

I’m not saying that technology and data are not important, nor am I suggesting that they shouldn’t be significant factors driving modern business. My contention is that too many organizations overlook soft skills and the implementation of a coaching culture in favor of hard data and the advantages technology can provide.

It’s a case of the head vs the heart. Individuals need both and so do organizations.

As I wrote in the earlier article, a coaching culture puts people first. In this type of workplace culture, people don’t just exchange information; they talk to each other and have real conversations. They recognize each other as human beings with rich, full lives inside and outside the office.

In a coaching culture, leaders practice self-awareness and continuously hone their emotional intelligence. This allows them to keep the flow of conversation moving at the proper pace. And it gives them the ability to impact their people in a much more meaningful way through feedback.

In a coaching culture, employees know their value and they are eager to implement feedback because they know it’s been given to them genuinely and authentically.

Of course, creating a coaching culture cannot happen overnight. It must be molded and nurtured into existence through the guidance of conscious and grounded leaders. It takes time to do this. Communication improves when this type of culture has been established, but that doesn’t mean leaders should wait to start practicing more effective communication techniques, especially when feedback is concerned.

What Feedback Should Look Like in a Coaching Culture

If you want your feedback to be more effective and constructive, creating the right culture will do wonders. But one of the most powerful ways to transform your culture is to start engaging in communication more consciously today. When you apply these techniques — and do so from a place of authenticity — you show your people that feedback is not something to be feared, ignored or taken for granted. Instead, you show them that feedback is part of a larger system of open communication, and you make it clear to them that their voices matter in the process.

Create a Communication Comfort Zone

If your people are primed to fear you and your feedback, they probably won’t be too inspired to act on your advice. However, if you show people that conversations and feedback sessions are beneficial, they’ll look forward to your advice and recommendations and be much more likely to implement your feedback.

It’s all about treating people with respect and dignity. Don’t use feedback as a means of making people look bad or to embarrass them in front of their peers. Use it as an opportunity to have a discussion, ask questions and remember that you’re speaking with a human being, not an employee number in the corporate machine. Go into these interactions with openness and a desire to learn more about your people. They will take notice, and they will respond positively.

The bottom line is that you set the tone with your behavior. Make conversations comfortable and safe. You’re there to build confidence, not to tear it down.

Remember that It’s Not About You

Feedback fails when it comes from a place of ego. Unfortunately, this is exactly how some leaders approach it. They demand that employees adhere to their personal preferences or beliefs, regardless of whether they are aligned with the organization’s mission.

Encouraging your people to perform in a manner that’s more conducive to your personal values is a surefire way to guarantee that your feedback will be ignored or misunderstood. Instead, take your personal preferences out of the picture. It is not about you. It is about the organization and the organization’s values and how you can best leverage everyone’s unique gifts and individual contributions.

When you approach feedback in a more holistic, organization-focused fashion, your people are more likely to act on it productively. They see you not as a domineering boss, but as another individual on the same team, who cares and is working toward the same goals.

Don’t Wait for the “Right” Time to Give Feedback; Do It Now!

If you see something, say something. Feedback is meaningless when it’s saved for some idealized date and time that will probably never come to pass. Remember, you want to maintain an ongoing conversation, and feedback is a part of it. Whenever you have something to say about an individual’s performance, the best time to say it is immediately in the right environment and setting. Jump on a quick call and ask to chat for a few minutes. Do not wait until the next planned one-on-one session if you can accommodate near real-time feedback.

Ask First; Advice Later

You don’t know what you don’t know, right? Instead of correcting an employee’s behavior or offering your two cents right away, approach each feedback opportunity with questions. Why did the employee make a specific choice? What is their perspective? What factors may have influenced the behavior? Understanding these aspects will help you give more effective feedback and advice or perhaps you will learn a new thing or two. You might not have to give feedback at all as they may self-identify the opportunities themselves which will likely result in the employee making proactive changes going forward – that is what a coaching culture is all about!

Be Specific and Factual with Feedback

Don’t just tell someone they did a “great” job; tell them specifically what they did that impressed you, otherwise your feedback will ring hollow and may be forgotten quickly. The same is true for when you must provide constructive criticism. Employees can’t correct behaviors unless you tell them exactly what needs to be corrected and why.

Let’s Keep the Conversation Going!

The ability to provide effective, constructive feedback is vitally important for today’s leaders, and it should be done in a conscious, grounded and a human-focused manner. Creating a culture that’s conducive to solid communication and the flow of feedback is the key to improving. The tips I presented above can get you on the right track today.

How have you approached feedback in your organization? Do you find that the underlying organizational culture helps or hinders your ability to communicate with your people? Have you implemented any other tips or methods that have improved your ability to provide feedback? I want to hear your stories, so please reach out.

You can reach me at I’m looking forward to your feedback!

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