In my experience of working with charities they can be great places to work. Employees often love working there because what they do makes a difference and with that comes motivation and commitment. There’s a clearly defined purpose beyond profit.
However, I’ve found that this doesn’t necessarily always translate into a positive and productive workplace culture. Working in a purpose-driven environment can even make it trickier to bring up difficult issues when they arise.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, charitable organisations need effective feedback loops, so they can really listen to their people and build a growth culture that thrives. Here are seven ways that the sector can make the most of bringing in 360 degree feedback to meet that need.
1. Be clear on why you’re doing it
Do you want to shift your culture? Is it about developing staff? Has the organisation had a specific issue it wants to address? Bringing in a feedback mechanism just to tick a box for external stakeholders won’t work.
2. Be ready for the truth
Running 360 degree feedback will expose what your people think of others, so it’s crucial to have support mechanisms in place. It’s natural to worry about staff and volunteers’ reaction and what may emerge, but knowing the truth means you can move forward. Think about how this will be followed up.
3. Ask the right questions
Think back to the ‘why’ and focus your questions accordingly. What behaviours represent a positive working environment in your organisation? How do basics such as how you communicate reflect your core values?
4. Include stakeholders
Senior leaders need to have input into the process, and the executive board can be a good place to start. But also think more broadly about groups that could benefit from the process – do you have external funding partners with whom you work closely, for example?
5. Be gentle
People may be apprehensive about questioning the experience they have at work, particularly those who value the purpose of the organisation. Take a supportive approach, briefing participants on what will be involved and why you’re doing it. Arrange a debriefing session and, if possible, some coaching and support to address development areas that arise.
6. Take your time
You don’t have to run the process with all employees at the same time. Think about running a pilot with one group and taking the learnings from this when you expand. Another option is to offer 360 degree feedback to those who want it. Making it voluntary gives employees more control over the process so they don’t feel as though it’s being ‘done’ to them. They could even suggest questions to include, adding to that sense of autonomy.
7. Look at your culture as an organisation
With 360 degree feedback, it can be tempting to focus on individual behaviours but these don’t exist in a vacuum. Our behaviours are nudged by the culture and context in which we operate. The data the feedback process throws up will show you what your culture looks like and any trends that are stopping it meeting its goals. Using these insights can help inform a transformation.
Opening up your organisation to feedback has wider benefits, too. Managers can open discussions on wellbeing and mental health – issues that have come to the forefront over the course of the pandemic and continue to be drivers behind employee happiness and productivity at work.
Similarly, a feedback loop can ensure your organisation is delivering on its promises around diversity and inclusion. Asking the right questions and mining the responses for insights (on an anonymous level) will tell you whether there are groups in the workforce that feel less comfortable at work or less able to speak out.
It also provides a greater degree of transparency against the policies and processes in the organisation. Is your commitment to narrowing the gender pay gap reflected in how you conduct pay negotiations, for example? How easy is it to request reasonable adjustments as an employee with physical or mental disabilities? 360 degree feedback can extend far beyond performance management and career discussions. Stakeholders – such as your board of trustees or external partners – will increasingly ask for evidence of this, so it pays to be prepared.
With more transparency and psychological safety, charities can open up a culture where employees are happier to take risks, innovate and call out poor behaviour when it happens. Introducing 360 degree feedback into your workplace may feel like a daunting step but could play a crucial role in your future growth.