The Litmus Test For Any Business Culture: How Does Your Organization Handle Feedback?

“How can you tell if the organization you are leading has a healthy business culture?” 

While there are many ways to measure business culture and determine how healthy it is within an organization, these questions often come from leaders who expect a concrete answer.

I hear that question all the time.

For any business culture, my litmus test is:

“What is the expectation for 360 degree feedback in the organziation – at all levels – and how is feedback handled in terms of leadership development?”

Why is 360 degree feedback such an important issue from the standpoint of a healthy business culture (and essential for leaders to develop strongly)? 

Let’s look at a few scenarios to see how feedback and its use can be a litmus test for an organization’s culture.

First, some broad assumptions about leadership:

  1. Leaders are only leaders if they have followers.
  2. Leaders’ attitudes and their observed behaviors with their followers will drive a business culture.
  3. Followers only follow business leaders that they respect and feel they are respected by; leaders they feel have their best interests at heart and that they have a voice with.

When 360 degree feedback is rarely given…

In Scenario A, 360 degree feedback is rarely given, and even more rarely accepted in a curious, respectful and appreciative way. Feedback is generally given from boss to subordinate and in the context of performance reviews. In rare cases, it might be given when an individual is being “coached by an outside executive coach”.

You can postulate that in this scenario, the organization will have a challenge developing leaders who have any understanding that their responsibility is to serve their followers. As a result, leaders who learn to adjust their leadership style (within certain boundaries) to the expectations of their followers will not be the typical leadership behavior.

Leaders leading…but not influencing

The resulting business culture becomes one of leaders leading, but not really influencing and motivating their followers to outstanding and innovative performance. In other words – leaders without true followers.

Here is how this shows up: I was recently gathering feedback on a leader (this organization fits the description of this scenario), where the boss stated that “he must act different with me than he does with his peers and direct reports, because I think his behavior is really productive and the organization highly values his results.”

However, in the peer/subordinate feedback, I heard multiple complaints about the coachee’s overly direct and arrogant behavior, which had previously resulted in the coachee leader being demoted and his team assigned to another leader.  

Without consistent feedback, this happens…

The culture in this organization had not prepared the boss to give our coachee leader appropriate feedback (the boss likes clear and confident recommendations and saw nothing “negative” about the coachee leader’s behavior).

In fact, post the demotion, the coachee told me that while he had discussed the “why this action was taken” with his boss, he never understood what the expected behavior was to be ( we learned that peers and subordinates wanted partnership, brainstorming, vulnerability and knowing that the coachee leader was developing and championing them…instead of a solution recommendation).

So, without constant and open feedback:

  • The coachee felt “betrayed and demotivated”
  • The boss felt unable to describe the issue to the coachee leader
  • Many in the organization felt that they were losing an employee critical to helping the organization succeed

How healthy is your business culture?

Is feedback a double four-letter word? Never to be uttered or given except in extreme circumstances such as promotion or demotion?

If you find yourself saying “I don’t remember the last time I received feedback.” then pause now and contact Michael Shook or Barbara Stewart at 713-877-8130.

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