Office of Culture and Experience

Fostering a Feedback Culture

July 10, 2017 • Leadership

What is feedback?  Why is it so important to my organization?  What stands in the way of me getting the feedback I need to improve my work and the work of my team?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, feedback is defined as “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.”  But why is it so important to receive relevant and timely feedback?  Once a year the supervisor has a formal process of sitting down with each direct report and reviewing their performance of the last year.  Isn’t that enough?

Furthermore, we as leaders must not only provide that feedback necessary to our direct reports, but we must also be willing to receive it from both our supervisors as well as those we supervise.

In my department, I was trying to figure out a way to improve the feedback loop in both directions.  No one should be surprised when the once-per-year Staff Feedback is completed.  I needed a way to foster a culture of continuous feedback both up and down.  I wanted to have my team know that ownership of the department and the work they did started at the lowest level while those of us in management positions were there to facilitate growth and success and remove the impediments.

I recently read Radical Candor by Kim Scott and it reminded me of the value of something I had experienced in other organizations, but had not yet implemented here at UNTHSC: Skip Level Meetings.  The idea is that if you have direct reports who also have direct reports, you conduct a meeting with their team (with their permission) without them being present.  The absence of their supervisor creates an environment where team members feel more comfortable expressing their opinions that will help them drive their department to further improvement.  I conducted mine using the Appreciative Inquiry model and found them to be very productive.  The feedback is then compiled into de-identified statements and delivered to that supervisor in a coaching session that allows them to develop action plans for areas of improvement while also developing ways to continue to foster their strengths.

Diagram by Kim Scott: 


In her book, Kim also illustrates feedback into a chart with four quadrants.  Having grown up in South Mississippi, I was raised on, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  That’s a great way to have a polite society until you find yourself in positions of leadership that require candid feedback in order to succeed.  Having a deep-seated desire to always be nice, will keep you in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant, lacking the ability to directly challenge those you work with.  As I continue to improve the feedback I provide my team, I’m focusing on Radical Candor and how that falls into the category of caring personally for my team as well as challenging them directly.

So, why should we foster a culture of continuous relevant and timely feedback in our departments?  I would argue that the key to improvement is that feedback be relevant and timely. Without it, a journey of continuous improvement is virtually impossible.


  • Appreciative Inquiry focuses us on the positive aspects of our lives and leverages them to correct the negative. It’s the opposite of ‘problem-solving.’ ”–T.H. White
    • White, T.H. Working in Interesting Times: Employee morale and business success in the information age. Vital Speeches of the Day, May 15, 1996, Vol XLII, No. 15.
  • Ruinous Empathy: Occurs when you care but don’t challenge. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good or criticism that is sugarcoated and unclear.
  • Radical Candor: The ability to Challenge Directly and show you Care Personally at the same time; saying what you think while also caring about the person you’re saying it to.


Nathan Ribelin

Director, Helpdesk and Client Services

2017 HSC Fellows Candidate