How a feedback culture can melt the ‘iceberg of ignorance’

The key to encouraging employee engagement and keeping people across company matters is by fostering a community with a healthy feedback culture, writes Monica Watt.

In a post-pandemic world, we’ve witnessed an acceleration of cultural change and technology adoption. Traditional workplace operations have been disrupted with fewer people arriving at an office each day and organisations offering some flexibility or creating a hybrid model.

These shifts present opportunities but also unique challenges such as structural change.  Changes to structure can lead to a sense of disconnect and disengagement, forming an ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’.

Consultant Sidney Yoshida developed the ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’ concept in the late 1980s, where it began gaining traction in boardrooms around the world.

Essentially, it describes the misalignment between what the employees see and hear, and what is communicated back to the executives. Despite the progress made over the past 30 years, many of the challenges of yesteryear still exist.

Unsurprisingly, the risk of a disconnected workforce has increased in the last 12 months. The switch to remote-based working removed the watercooler moments, inevitably creating a sense of distance physically and mentally within the team.

The key to encouraging employee engagement and keeping people across company matters is by fostering a community with a healthy feedback culture.

Providing benefits, team socials, and wellbeing initiatives are all well and good but to truly melt the ice, leaders need to watch, listen and understand what is happening from the bottom up.

The only way this can be achieved is if employees believe that they are in an encouraging and safe work environment. It must be one that allows them to speak up confidently and know that they will be heard.

The strength of a feedback culture will be underpinned by the confidence employees have in their ability to fearlessly raise their concerns.

Implementing whistle blower programmes or anonymising feedback channels can help employees feel confident that issues can be raised in a psychologically safe environment. When senior leadership supports employees in raising issues through the respective channels, it will set the right tone that feedback is encouraged and welcomed.

Building a strong organisational culture is the core of addressing a disconnected workforce. Culture is the lynchpin that enables all levels of the workplace to collaborate effectively.

In an environment where the hybrid model of working is becoming the predominant format for workplaces, it can be increasingly difficult to maintain a culture that encourages collaboration.

Instilling organisational values into each individual’s decision-making process and their formal performance indicators is one means to keep all employees, regardless of location, aligned to the culture.

In every business, the culture should act as the light on the hill for executives and employees alike.

Having the right infrastructure in place to allow for a two-way communication loop is central to building a sense of community and creating a feedback culture.

Whether it’s through messaging platforms or formal HR processes, technology makes communication much simpler. It is an enabling tool for employees to share their insights, experience, and anecdotes of what they are dealing with on the front line.

A formalised process of lodging issues through technology platforms can also help management and leaders understand when isolated incidents are becoming trends and issues, so they can act immediately.

That said, engaging with employees should not be confused with micro-managing. That approach to people management inhibits productivity, diminishes creativity and leaves little to no scope for two-way communication.

Speaking to employees is key to understanding the ins and outs of any organisation. Instead of going incognito, knowing what is happening on the frontlines through an open feedback loop, will help leaders effectively build and manage a successful team. At the same time, this will create an environment where employees can – and will want to – grow, develop, and enjoy their work experiences.  

Monica Watt is the chief human resources officer at ELMO Software.

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