Innovations in business culture: The feedback festival

The giving and receiving of feedback is a standard practice during the performance review process. But how many business leaders go out of their way to create HOTT conversations (honest, open, two-way & transparent) across their organisations? Not many if my experience is anything to go by. This year, Brand Learning decided to push HOTT conversations to the limit by introducing a ‘Feedback Festival’. The impact and results surprised us all.

Despite being intensely people-centric, the Brand Learning culture of 360 face-to-face feedback conversations had become less of the norm. Email had become popular as people juggled busy workloads and international teams. Face-to-face feedback conversations still took place, especially if feedback was ‘challenging’, but it depended on individuals’ styles rather than being a uniform approach.

On top of this, the process of giving feedback to colleagues was onerous. It stretched across a number of weeks, peppered by reminder communication from HR. While we all know the cliché that ‘feedback is a gift’, it was an expensive gift to give, as people invested chunks of time writing sensitively-crafted emails that would ‘land correctly’ in the inbox of the receiver.

We decided to do something different: something agile, creative and ambitious. A feedback festival.

Across the entire organisation, everyone gave and received feedback on just one day. The act of giving & receiving feedback was viewed as a real business priority, integral to developing and engaging our colleagues, building relationships, and lifting our own capabilities to drive growth.

This is how it worked:

Every employee, including the Board & Co-founders nominated 4 people to give them feedback - mostly colleagues, but also clients and external partners if appropriate. One of those people had to be someone with whom you’d had a ‘challenging experience’. And then on the same day at each of our global offices, 100+ employees held a series of 30-minute feedback sessions. Diaries were cleared, written feedback prepared, and collectively we took a deep breath.

If truth to be told, we were all quite nervous before it started. How would it work having a day of giving & receiving feedback?

In the morning we were all briefed as a group. ‘Assume positive intent, practice active listening, provide evidence, use it to motivate’, our HR Director said. Importantly the leaders of the company set the day up for success by playing an active & passionate role in the briefing, and sharing their own hopes and fears. 

My first feedback session went well. I gave some feedback to a colleague who seemed enthused with what I had to say. I offered to help with some coaching in the future. We both left our meeting with a spring in our step and onto our next encounter. This was repeated by 100+ people across the building or via Skype throughout the day. Every corridor conversation was upbeat, positive and very different to anything I have experienced in the workplace before. The air was full of the buzz & energy of a rugby dressing room. It felt like the trust & bond between everyone had gone up a level. Everyone in the business held an equal role in the giving & receiving of evidence based feedback with the normal ‘role hierarchies’ ignored. The feeling of being part of something special, different, uplifting was palpable. That common shared experience normally associated with team sport was felt by all. The fact that we each got to practice our technique repeatedly across one day, will undoubtedly help to ingrain the culture of giving ‘in the moment’ feedback.

In the wrap up session at the end of the day, there was a genuine feeling of togetherness, of having been part of something that felt good, connected to our purpose. Of having enhanced relationships with people in a way that wouldn’t be possible through the normal working week. Or through the normal feedback process stretching over a number of weeks. People asked ‘Why have we never done this before?’ and ‘How can we do this more often?’

I could not encourage you enough to adopt a Feedback Festival for your business. There were many positive benefits that we just did not foresee when the idea was conceived. If your organisation is too big to do it all together, then consider doing it across your Business Unit or Function. The time & effort it takes to organise will pay off many times over.


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