The Power of Feedback
The Power of Feedback
In this multimedia series, sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, voices from the social sector will offer tactics, tools, and advice gleaned from the grassroots to encourage nonprofits and foundations to make listening to their constituents—and acting on what they hear—a smart norm for any organization committed to improvement.

There’s a well-worn adage that says “feedback is a gift.” But anyone on the receiving end can appreciate that’s not always the case. On the flip side, trying to give the gift of feedback can feel intimidating at best, or damaging at worst–particularly when nobody asked for it. Sometimes the most meaningful piece of feedback never registers, whether it’s because a person is fearful of speaking up, or because they did and were ignored or drowned out.

At SurveyMonkey, we believe the power of curiosity can change feedback’s bad rap. As children, we exercise curiosity by the minute. As adults, we need to relearn how to use it. And as leaders, we need to foster it across our organizations.

We believe in curiosity so much that we made it our mission. And we use our own survey software products to listen to the voices that matter most to us: our employees, customers, and the communities we serve. Along the way, we've learned a few things which others may value, including how curiosity can lead to greater equity in the workplace.

Working with creativity and curiosity researcher Spencer Harrison, associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, we learned that achieving greater inclusion starts with a mindset of inquiry. Harrison’s research finds that curious people ask open-ended questions that invite people to a discussion. Those who are less curious ask practical questions that drive answers, but not conversation. Yet based on a survey of more than 23,000 people at various levels of leadership working across industry, we found that while the majority of US professionals say they consider themselves “extremely curious” or “very curious,” fewer than half think that curiosity is valued in society at large.

What’s holding back individuals and organizations from embracing a mindset of curiosity?

What researchers Mary Murphy and Carol Dweck dubbed “the Culture of Genius” is a likely culprit. In this type of culture, some people are seen as inherently more brilliant, and others are intimidated and hesitate to ask questions or speak up. This creates an environment that stifles inquiry and reinforces negative connotations associated with feedback.

I’ve written previously about how curiosity is a great tactic to combat the Culture of Genius. If you dig deeper into what’s happening in your organization and build a culture that rewards curiosity, you can surface fresh perspectives and new thinking, including ideas that advance inclusion.

We use our survey platform to gather employee feedback on everything from how we furnish our offices, to the benefits we provide, and whether employees have a true sense of belonging. As CEO, I appreciate how connecting with constituents in this way puts SurveyMonkey on a path of relentless self-improvement as an employer, while growing workplace equity for our teammates. Here are a few examples:

Broadening the Definition of Team

When we surveyed our employees about company benefits, they gave us surprising and inspiring feedback. They asked: Can we extend our employee benefits to our on-site contractors and food and janitorial service workers? This feedback grew our definition of teammate, and started a dialogue about how we could support our extended team, who enhance the quality of our work environment.

We developed a set of standards for vendor partners’ health benefits, personal time off, parental leave, and transportation subsidies. All of our vendor partners were eager to collaborate to meet the new standard, and we helped them get there by investing our own money to share the cost.

The result is a benefit standard that’s better aligned to what we offer our direct employees, and one that we think sits in the top tier of each of our vendors’ industries. We believe it’s the first of its kind and we’re proud that our program already is inspiring other companies.

Moving Beyond Diversity to Belonging

Diversity can be approached as a quantifiable metric, based on demographics like gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Measuring inclusion is more nuanced, yet building a culture where everyone has a true sense of belonging is key to having diversity efforts stick.

To gather feedback on inclusion, we created a survey called the Belonging & Inclusion template, which measures the lived experiences of employees. Based on behavioral science research from Stanford, it includes a set of questions that measure several key dimensions of inclusion, including growth mindset, social inclusion, respect, and path to growth.

Applying it to ourselves, we found mostly welcome news: The majority of employees felt respected, heard, and valued. But we also uncovered areas where we could improve, particularly when it came to helping employees understand their path to career growth. Surfacing such opportunities was eye opening and changed the way we think and act to foster workplace equity and inclusion.

Creating this template was important to us, because of our internal focus on building an inclusive culture. And because we are in the business of feedback, in partnership with Paradigm Strategy (leaders in developing strategies for diversity and inclusion) we have refined the questions we asked our own employees, and made the Belonging & Inclusion template available as part of SurveyMonkey’s template library.

Using Curiosity for Good

Most recently, we have committed to crafting tools to build curiosity in the social sector. For the past three years we have piloted with the Fund for Shared Insight a feedback system called Listen for Good, which more than 200 nonprofits now are using. It’s an adaptation of the Net Promoter System, cofounded by Bain & Company’s Fred Reichheld, one of the world’s leading experts on customer and employee loyalty.

We’ve also introduced a new corporate social responsibility program to help our industry and the communities in which we work, SurveyMonkey for Good. To help set its priorities, we asked our employees and diverse stakeholders to give us feedback on what matters most to them. Their answers inspired our mission for this effort: to speak up for those without a voice to advance equality and make a positive impact on society.

Giving back has always been part of SurveyMonkey’s DNA with programs like SurveyMonkey Contribute that supports over 50 nonprofit partners globally. SurveyMonkey for Good provides us with the framework to expand our CSR efforts even further, and feedback from our most important constituents will continue to play a critical role in defining its priorities and strategy.

Bolstering curiosity in any organization is one of the best ways to advance workplace equity and inclusion. In the process, you’ll create an environment where feedback can be met with gratitude, and lead to meaningful change.