An organization is a symphony of diverse talents and skills. Much like a traditional symphony, a team that doesn’t have a conductor to provide guidance and give feedback can only produce noise. Influential business leaders ensure that those on their team reach peak performance and remain in concert. This is only possible when leaders embrace the three types of feedback—appreciation, coaching, and evaluation—and combine them into a continuous feedback loop.

How Feedback Saved an American Classic

In 2006, Ford was in trouble. The company had been the symbol of the American automobile industry since Henry Ford opened for business in 1903, but now it was losing billions of dollars annually and on the verge of bankruptcy. Watching his great-grandfather’s legacy crumble under his leadership, William Clay Ford Jr. brought in former Boeing executive Alan Mulally as CEO.

When he stepped in, Mulally found a company that had lost direction, was in financial freefall, and whose workforce operated in silos. For Ford to survive, Mulally knew that he needed to foster a culture of collaboration, open communication, and transparency. His first mandate? Establishing a weekly management meeting where leaders could openly give feedback, discuss problems, and express their opinions without criticism or fear of retaliation.

His approach was a game-changer. It sparked a renewed sense of collaboration that spread like wildfire through the organization, taking Ford from a $12.6 billion operating loss in 2006 to $2.7 billion in the green by 2009. As CEO, Mulally could have come in and fired all those he believed were responsible, but he understood that it wasn’t just about holding people accountable but also nurturing growth.

Reshaping Feedback

Whether it’s Ford Motor Company or a small business that’s beginning to scale, feedback fosters improvement, cultivates innovation, and helps build a resilient culture. Yet, many leaders find the feedback process so challenging that they avoid it altogether, which can have unintended consequences, including decreased productivity and a discouraged and resentful workforce.

As leaders, we must rethink our approach to how we give feedback, transforming it from a transactional, potentially stressful interaction to a nurturing, continuous process focused on growth.

Here are seven ways leaders can reshape feedback and strengthen their team:

1. Foster a Culture of Openness and Transparency

To stimulate an environment conducive to feedback, we must cultivate a culture that encourages openness and promotes dialogue. This creates a dynamic ecosystem where feedback is accepted and, more importantly, actively sought. As a leader, it’s pivotal to nurture this openness by seeking diverse viewpoints and acknowledging their value.

2. Transition from ‘Evaluation’ to ‘Evolution’

Traditional feedback systems often take a judgmental approach, pointing out an employee’s flaws and dwelling on areas of underperformance. While evaluations are an indispensable part of the process, the primary focus should be on development and helping individuals refine their skills. Also, highlighting the connection between an individual’s progression and the broader organizational goals can bring a sense of purpose and direction to the feedback process.

3. Advocate For Real-Time Feedback

Annual or semi-annual performance reviews are outdated and may fall short in a modern work environment. Real-time feedback has gained traction as a more effective practice, offering instant course correction and facilitating immediate learning. Leaders who give feedback shortly after an event or project allow team members to understand their impact and make necessary adjustments while it’s still fresh in their minds.

4. Be Specific and Actionable

It’s up to the leader to prevent ambiguity and potential frustration by being meticulous when delivering feedback. Providing actionable advice that is clear and specific sets expectations and gives employees a well-defined path toward development. This highlights areas that need attention and offers practical steps for improvement, creating a tangible roadmap for growth.

5. Prioritize Reciprocal Communication

As Alan Mulally demonstrated at Ford, feedback should be a dialogue, never a monologue. Leaders must encourage team members to voice their thoughts, perceptions, and suggestions in a structured manner. This bidirectional communication fosters trust, uncovers hidden issues, and develops a sense of shared accountability, ultimately strengthening the team fabric.

6. Lead with Empathy

Empathy is the cornerstone of impactful feedback. Leaders who understand and validate team members’ feelings, perspectives, and experiences personalize the process and make it more effective. When employees feel their leaders empathize with them, they’re more likely to be receptive, engaged, and responsive to the feedback provided.

7. Invest in Feedback Training

Feedback is a two-way street; leaders must learn to give it effectively, and employees must learn to receive and implement it. Organizations can ensure it is utilized productively by providing training that covers both sides of the equation. This approach enables a more robust feedback loop that fuels individual growth, team synergy, and organizational success.

The Music of Success

Feedback is more than a mechanism for correcting mistakes; it’s a force that propels growth, is the impetus of innovation, and can shape an organization’s future. It’s the language through which businesses evolve, reflect their values, measure their resilience, and predict their potential. By implementing the seven tips outlined in this article, leaders can create an atmosphere where feedback is actively sought, thoughtfully given, and constructively used, transforming not just individuals and teams but entire organizations.

We must all learn to appreciate the power of feedback and embrace it with a genuine desire to grow. After all, in the grand symphony of business, the ability to give feedback is the maestro’s baton that allows leaders to fill the auditorium with the music of success.