Building a feedback and coaching culture – is it working?

Posted on October 01, 2015 at 10:04 AM

In this week's blog, Debbie Hance, our Head of Business Psychology takes a look at how organisations can look at the quality of their managers' feedback conversations and how coaching capability can be assessed.

Many of the organisations we talk to are still on their journey to improve the quality of feedback that people get whether from their line managers or from others (colleagues, direct reports, customers and so on). Many of these organisations have, somewhere in their people strategy, a desire to build a ‘feedback and coaching culture’.

It seems to us that there fewer organisations willing to pay for external coaches and are increasingly questioning the lack of a return on their investment in pure ‘coaching' and yet research indicates that the requisite skills of coaching are linked to higher performance and greater engagement of employees. Perhaps this is why many firms are still seeking to drive up the incidence of open, honest feedback and the quality of the conversations that managers have with people in their teams.

At Head Light, we see a great deal of effort invested in management training around the core skills of giving feedback, asking good questions, active listening, employing a facilitative, non-directive style) but we see less investment in the actual evaluation of such programmes. Indeed, we're sure that many organisations are unsure as to whether such training is really having an impact.

Engagement survey data might give part of the picture (if you include and can track individual items pertaining to management practice in these areas) but often surveys just ask if conversations are happening, if people are receiving feedback.  Assessing the quality of these conversations and feedback tends to be more challenging.  Feedback might be collected through exit surveys, though of course the sample here may be a little skewed: these people are leaving, and we know that the relationship between a line manager and an individual still accounts for a good proportion of people who decide to take their employment elsewhere.  So we may not be getting enough feedback on our better managers through this medium.

So, what to do?

Being able to help clients demonstrate the value of improved conversations is important to us.

Our Feedback Facilitator course is aimed at helping managers and all those giving feedback acquire and develop the skills needed. As a means of focusing people on their own individual development needs before attending our courses, we get all participants to complete a 360 degree review covering the skills and competencies which will be developed through the programme. As well as signposting development, it also provides us with a handy measure of behavioural change, which we use to help show ROI in the training. Traditional ‘happy sheet’ course evaluations – we know – really don’t hit the spot; they measure very short-term reactions to the training, they do not measure any actual shift or tangible workplace benefit as a result of attending and give no indication as to whether it was worth doing or not.

We think 360 degree feedback questionnaires have considerable mileage to be used as learning and development evaluation tools.

If you’re looking at much longer term, hopefully sustainable, changes, repeating the 360 degree review after a decent interval (12 months?  18 months?) helps you see this shift. Of course, you can’t rule out the developmental impact of other learning experiences on the scores, but it is quite powerful to show that people who attend a particular programme show significantly greater improvement in key areas compared to those who do not attend. Using a tool like this also gives each individual an opportunity to look at how their coaching abilities are seen in comparison to others, giving them a benchmark to aim for.

We use our own Coaching Capability Questionnaire which is delivered through our Talent 360 tool for this and has been developed specifically to help people understand their coaching strengths and development needs - and to demonstrate an improvement in skills. 

If we are still developing our managers, HR experts, L&D specialists and change leaders to be better at coaching and feedback, shouldn’t we also be doing more to check that behaviours (and culture) are changing as a result?  Because if they’re not, we need to be doing something different.

If you'd like to learn more about our 360, or our Coaching Capability Questionnaire, then do get in touch.

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