When it comes to workplace culture, actions speak louder than words. And in the wake of COVID-19 crisis, every organization’s culture was put to the test.

“In these difficult times, companies are finding out what their culture really is,” Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga wrote in an article posted earlier this year. “The way people show up — from leaders to front line employees — is based on the environment you’ve created for them.”

But the question on everyone’s mind is: How do you deliver on the promise of your organization’s employee culture when it matters most? According to Sahra Kaboli-Nejad, a Senior People Scientist and Diversity, Equity, and Belonging Lead at Culture Amp, the answer is feedback. 

Read on to learn the four tenets of gathering feedback Sahra shared during her presentation at Forward, a virtual learning experience.  

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4 tenets of gathering feedback during uncertain times

There are many ways organizations can face uncertainty. You might experience an office move or rapid growth. Or perhaps there’s a leadership change, organizational restructure, or company acquisition. 

No matter what the cause of uncertainty, the tenets Sahra shared apply in every situation.

Tenet #1: Challenge the resistance to ask for feedback

When facing uncertainty, many companies are resistant to ask for feedback. There’s a tendency to believe that you can put culture on hold until things smooth out. Sahra often hears things like, “We know our employees are going through change, and things like engagement are probably taking a dip. And so we don’t want to gather their feedback right now because it’s going to negatively impact our trend lines.”

But in reality, says Sahra, “this is the most crucial time to be acting and collecting on employee feedback.” When you understand your pain points and act on those, you can be more successful both during change and in the long run.

And, Sahra adds, “Culture is always there. It’s a living, breathing concept. And it exists whether you want to pay attention to it or not.”

Tenet #2: Close the loop with employees

During times of uncertainty, communication is essential. You might be thinking, “But we communicate with our employees all the time!” Remember, though, it’s not only about blasting your employees with updates. Employees will feel disconnected in this scenario.

Instead, Sahra says, “a crucial component of communication is listening. And this often gets overlooked.”

You need to absorb what your team is thinking and feeling so you can move forward. And the only way to communicate inspiring messages is by knowing what matters to your people.

Culture Amp’s 2020 benchmarks show this. When employees agree with the statement, “When I speak up, my opinion is valued,” engagement at those companies is over 80%. And when employees disagree with that statement, engagement at those companies is 32%.

Tenet #3: Let employee feedback fuel decision-making

Now that you’ve taken the time to listen to your employees, what have you learned? These observations and lessons can now fuel your company’s decision-making.

Sahra says, “employee feedback will not only help your people cope with change, but it can also drive the decisions you make in response to the change itself.”

Sahra shared an example from Culture Amp. To create a back-to-work plan, they started by surveying employees. They wanted to first understand how comfortable employees feel commuting to work. Then they used that knowledge to inform their plans and best support their employees.

Sustaining company culture in crisis

Tenet #4: Don’t allow feedback to get lost in translation

Not all employees need the same type of communication. HR and company leaders tend to focus on business rationale and corporate strategy.

But, Sahra says, “employees want to know what the impact will be on them and how they’ll feel. They want to hear the story and not just an explanation of the business and financial status.” And for many employees, Sahra says, the next question is “How is the organization pivoting to help them and the people who are impacted?”

And this is even more true when you’re dealing with change that’s extrinsic to your organization, like COVID-19.

This is why gathering feedback is so important. It allows you to understand what employees are actually hearing and feeling — not what you think you’ve told them or believe they need. 

Turn feedback into fuel at your organization

When you ask for, listen to, and act on feedback, you build trust and commitment with your employees. But this doesn’t happen automatically.

You need to build the skills of asking for and receiving feedback. What are the characteristics of effective feedback? What should people say (and not say)? How should they respond to the feedback they receive? Help your employees answer those questions to create a culture of openness and feedback.

If you’d like to turn feedback into fuel at your organization, a Udemy for Business subscription can help. You can assign relevant courses — like Feedback is Fuel and Dread-Free Difficult Conversations — to your employees or let them explore content on their own. Book a demo to learn more today.