What’s Feedback Got To Do With Creating An Ethical Workplace?

On a flight from New York City to Chicago, I logged into the inflight WiFi and opened up the 2019 Global Business Ethics Survey.

The 2019 report reflected some concerning stats as it relates to how employees feel about their leadership, how much they are valued, and perceptions of an ethical culture:

  • 50% of employees report that their supervisors do not provide feedback.
  • Among five global regions, one-third to one-half of employees do not feel valued by their direct supervisor
  • 50% of employees report that their supervisors do not encourage professional development.

The big takeaway from the study is If we want to build ethical cultures our leaders need to model the behaviors we desire for our employees: we need to operate in a mode of value and respect; we need to be radically candid with one another; and we need to do all of this in a useful and timely manner.

Let’s start with feedback. One of the hallmarks of improvisational performance is the prevalence of real-live feedback from the audience to the performer. We take that backstage and offstage as well. In the parlance of improvisation, you learn to, “take the damn note.”

In working with Kim Scott and her team from Radical Candor, we are given an even greater framework to tell us both how we shouldn’t communicate feedback and how we should. Our goal in providing radical candor is to “challenge directly while caring personally.”

This presents us with a leadership issue as radically candid feedback can only be successfully executed when employees feel valued and respected; and when their expectations are clear and the feedback is useful and timely. To do this requires ongoing practice - work that will build up our muscles to listen to understand and respond with active empathy.

The improvisational pedagogy that underlies all the training at The Second City was developed at Jane Addams Hull House on the South Side of Chicago by arts pioneer Viola Spolin. She created these exercises and games as a way to better assimilate the immigrant children coming into her care.

It was Jane Addams herself who said, “Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.”

“Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.” - Jane Addams

Second City Works didn’t walk through the ethics door with the idea that we could use improvisation as a way to “practice” ethical behavior. We walked through the door with a more elemental understanding of a specific need: employers needed their employees to really understand and embody their ethics training and not just check a box.

Contact us to learn more about the relationship between ethics, leadership, and improvisational practice. And check out these podcast episodes that touch on ethics with thought leaders like Dan Ariely, Ash Carter, and Reverend Doctor Samuel Wells.

Break Free From Feedback Fails: The Feedback Loop, a workplace comedy series starring David Alan Grier, helps your team laugh and learn its way to a candid culture of effective feedback. Schedule a demo here.

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