They say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That’s certainly true when leaders and HR teams seek feedback on their organisation’s culture.

The intention is the right one. Research shows us how leaders’ experiences of their company culture do not match the typical employee experience. (1)

We love leaders and HR teams who recognise this perception gap. Leaders who want to listen, instead of putting their heads in the sand. We wish we had more leaders like this.

The problem is that most leaders ask for feedback in a way that either (A) gets fake or dishonest responses, or (B) demotivates and frustrates people.

There are five critical mistakes that many leaders make when asking for feedback on their culture. We explore each below.

1. “Hello, can you give me feedback on our culture please?”

Providing no context when seeking feedback on your culture leaves people scratching their heads. They’re unsure what you actually want. They’re thinking, “Should I just just tell them what they want to hear? Will my honesty limit my career?”

Try this instead:
Open up the conversation by explaining why you’re seeking feedback and how it will be used. Show vulnerability by sharing culture mistakes you think you’ve made. This will show that you’re wanting honesty, not an ego boost.

2. “I know I’m four ranks above you, but please do share your honest views.”

Even if you promote honesty, many will still fear the repercussions of honest feedback. Perhaps they’ve been burnt in the past in similar situations. There is a underlying power dynamic built into the hierarchy that you can’t ignore.

Try this instead:
Anonymous feedback methods can help, such as online surveys or suggestion boxes. They allow people to express their thoughts freely. Impartial external providers can also provide detailed culture audits that allow people to honestly voice their experience.

3. “Yes, we ask for feedback every July in our engagement survey.”

Many implicitly assume the annual feedback process is enough. It’s not. It leads to a disconnected workforce since you’ll only ever have outdated insights into the company culture.

Try this instead:
Gather feedback regularly. This can be via informal discussions, surveys, or dedicated feedback sessions. This will allow you to keep a finger on the pulse of your organisation’s culture.

4. “We will definitely use your feedback to make the company better!”

Asking for feedback can make people hopeful about the future. This can be powerful. However, many leaders inadvertently create disappointment and resentment since not all feedback can be applied.

Try this instead:
Be transparent about what you can and cannot address based on available resources, company priorities, and feasibility. Communicate your plans to address certain feedback and explain why other suggestions may not be possible at the moment.

5. “Sorry, but this feedback is just nonsense.”

We recently spoke to a business whose Managing Director (let’s call him David) commissioned a detailed Culture Audit. David read the results and largely dismissed them.

What happened next? High levels of attrition and underperformance against financial goals. Don’t be like David.

It’s true that some people just want a moan. However, many give feedback because they earnestly want the company culture to improve.

Try this instead:
Show people that their feedback matters. Provide regular updates on the actions you do take, based on the feedback gathered. The ‘you said…, we did…’ format is a useful tried-and-tested method here.

Celebrate successes, share progress, and communicate any changes implemented as a result of the feedback received.

Pause for just 20 seconds…

In these 20 seconds, we’d invite you to consider:

  1. Which mistakes have you noticed or made?
  2. What are you going to do about that?

Through honest feedback, we hope that leaders and HR teams can make their company cultures a happier, healthier place!