You’ve probably seen it: An employee in a restaurant struggles to serve a customer at the counter or work effectively on the line. The employee knows it and is embarrassed or frustrated. The customer knows it and is annoyed or empathetic. The coworkers know it and struggle to work around the issue. The manager knows it and makes a mental note to mention something later.

Well, later often never comes. The employee never gets the feedback from their coworkers or manager. This cycle that plays out nearly every day at work further instills a culture that doesn’t promote growth, doesn’t leverage failure to find improvement, and lacks the kind of engagement that fosters a positive and impactful service experience for the guest.

Feedback is critical to creating a restaurant where people are growing and learning, where people feel safe and valued, and where the norm is to accept failure as part of the learning and improvement process. The lack of regular feedback starts to diminish job performance and reduces engagement.

Creating a culture of feedback isn’t as simple as setting your mind to it and then telling the team you will be encouraging an environment with more feedback. Culture is a complex thing, and making a shift to a more feedback-rich culture isn’t an overnight mission. Instead, focus on starting to shift the behaviors by operationalizing the way your team approaches feedback. It’s all about making shifts in the way you do things so that, over time, giving and receiving feedback becomes the norm.

Creating safety and trust

Before your team can feel safe giving and receiving feedback from their managers and their peers, you’ve got to help establish trust. Trust is one of those company culture words that seems wishy-washy. Does it just take time to build trust? Does it take the patience of a monk?

No, building trust is about cementing relationships early and often. Help your team get to know each other to boost relationships that foster trust. Encourage them to talk to each other about their weekends, their projects outside of work, and how they are feeling about things at work. Make it OK for people to share their emotions. This doesn’t mean we all need to cry in the walk-in together, but it does mean that you have to create the space where people can say they are feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed, frustrated, or disappointed. Being able to express these real-life feelings is an important part of getting your team to participate in a feedback-rich culture. To get started, look at the places where your team normally gathers and find ways to get them talking about how things are going at work. During your pre-shift meetings, take a few minutes and have a few people share something going on in their lives, something they are proud of at work, or something they’d like their coworkers to help in improving.

Teaching better feedback

One of the challenges that most people face when wanting to share feedback with their coworkers or employees is not having a clear way to deliver it. Let’s face it: Giving feedback is often more stressful than getting it. You worry about getting the words right. You worry about upsetting the other person. You worry about getting a reputation for being a jerk. But on the other hand, most people say they appreciate when someone gives them feedback that can help them improve. It’s a weird catch-22—we like receiving useful feedback, but we don’t like giving it.

The real issue is that most people are not taught how to give feedback effectively, so they stumble through it a few times, get uncomfortable, and then retreat to the land of holding back. And let’s be clear, they are holding back useful information that can help someone else either keep doing great work or find ways to do great work. We need the feedback.

By developing and teaching a framework to your managers and employees, you can begin to get all the benefits of a feedback-rich culture: higher engagement, better service, and improved performance. It can be as simple as the idea I learned at ZingTrain, where employees and managers use a model called “liked best/next time,” with each taking a turn at saying what they liked best about the shift, the employee’s performance, or the manager’s leadership. Or it can be something like the “start, stop, keep” method used by Netflix, where the employees, trainers, and managers use those three areas to talk about performance. Try using either of those methods during training sessions, at the end of shifts, in your one-on-ones, or during performance-review conversations.

Creating a culture rich in feedback doesn’t mean drastically shifting your existing programs. It just involves a commitment to building trust and making feedback a normal part of your operations by developing a framework that the entire team can use. 

Employee Management, Mike Ganino: Crafting Culture, Story