How to create a successful open feedback culture

Digital, informal, anytime: the new Henkel feedback tool

People Culture Oct 5, 2021

An appraisal once a year with your manager – this is still the usual way of doing things in most companies, yet feedback shared in this manner does not always have the desired effect. In the worst-case scenario, employees may even feel personally criticized or unfairly treated. An increasingly important tool in the modern work environment is informal feedback – i.e. feedback that is given spontaneously without going through excessive official channels, and is therefore more direct and less hierarchical. Henkel has created a digital feedback tool that supports this approach, creating the opportunity to receive and share positive feedback quickly and simply at any time.

Constructive feedback as a tool for personal and professional development

In an increasingly complex world, lifelong learning and continuous development are essential requirements for corporate and personal success. Professional knowledge is more important than ever before, but is changing in step with technologies and markets. Soft skills such as problem solving and communication have become vitally important – a change in culture is on the horizon. If we are to keep pace with this shift and continue to develop both personally and professionally, we need an open feedback and error culture, because this is what will help us to find new perspectives, identify our own strengths and weaknesses, and better reflect on our mistakes. Admittedly, it can feel quite awkward both to receive and to give feedback. What will people think of us, and what will they say? How should we convey our own thoughts and assessments? But even if it’s not always easy, achieving this kind of shift in perspective is exactly what makes constructive feedback so effective. Used correctly, it is an excellent tool for personal and professional development.

What is feedback?

“Feedback” is essentially information about a person’s performance that is used as a basis for improvement. Two or more people will discuss their perceptions of the other person or people. Feedback therefore always consists of two components: giving feedback and receiving feedback. Reflection and action form the core of constructive feedback, which helps people to realize their potential. It promotes self-reflection and thus forms the basis to take action on personal and professional development. Giving feedback in a constructive way is essential for a good feedback culture and forms part of a lifelong learning process.

Good feedback and error culture is important for corporate success

A good feedback and error reporting culture is also crucial for corporate success. Fostering a culture in which mistakes can be admitted and openly addressed creates opportunities to learn from those mistakes and do better next time. And regularly praising employees makes them feel validated in their performance and appreciated. Praise provides the motivation to push beyond your boundaries. A feedback culture that allows for errors and provides a forum for appreciation helps to create a better working atmosphere – and also keeps companies innovative. It is therefore important to regularly carve out time and space for constructive feedback as part of our day-to-day work. This could take the form of regular meetings or be project specific, but it should always be tackled as promptly and directly as possible.

Eine offene Feedback- und Fehlerkultur hilft dabei, eine neue Perspektive einzunehmen, eigene Stärken und Schwächen zu identifizieren sowie Fehler besser zu reflektieren – und kann ein entscheidender Faktor für die persönliche und berufliche Weiterentwicklung sein.

An open feedback and error culture helps to adopt a new perspective, identify your own strengths and weaknesses, and better reflect on mistakes – and can be a decisive factor for personal and professional development.

Digital feedback tool: Providing praise with just a few clicks and virtual cards

At Henkel, feedback is provided all year round. The company uses a digital feedback tool to supplement evaluations, allowing employees to receive appreciation and direct feedback from both colleagues and managers, at any time. This is how the feedback tool works: With just a click, employees can select a colleague to whom they wish to send a feedback request. The person selected will then receive an email requesting a response, with the opportunity to note down some thoughts on what went particularly well. This appreciation takes the form of virtual kudos cards labelled “Great Job!,” “Congratulations,” or “Thank You,” which are then displayed on the feedback page of the person making the request.

Henkel is creating a new feedback culture

We have focused specifically on creating a solution that is available at any time and that is straightforward enough that people will actually put it to use. This is a measure of Henkel’s commitment to making a cultural change, and of the full support the company is putting behind the initiative. With so many of us working remotely or using a hybrid setup, and physical collaboration becoming less frequent, these small acknowledgements are particularly important. And thanks to the feedback tool, it is possible to set things in motion without physical contact and in just a few clicks. With this initiative, Henkel is creating a new feedback culture – a culture in which feedback becomes routine and can be requested or given at any time, regardless of corporate structures and divisions.

What does “Giving kudos” mean?

“Kudos” is a widely used term to signify recognition. It is used primarily in the English-speaking world but also in other countries. The word is derived from the Greek κῦδος – whose meaning is approximate to glory or honour and is comparable to the French word “Chapeau!”

Hanna Reinermann, Global Head of Talent Management & Leadership bei Henkel


We need to speak to each other honestly and view feedback as a gift, because it gives us the opportunity to consider a new perspective and learn from it. The feedback initiative reflects the cultural change that is currently taking place at Henkel. We are thinking ahead and going in new directions.

Viktoria Ritter, Manager Global Leadership bei Henkel


Sometimes gathering feedback can be really difficult, because you never know what you will get. I think it’s great that the feedback tool allows me to decide who and what to ask. I can gather targeted feedback from selected people on areas in which I want to develop – if I want to know how my new project is being received by others, for instance. The feedback I have received using this approach has regularly helped me to find new perspectives – and also to take action where others see potential for improvement.


The feedback culture of the future

A modern feedback culture must be part of the future initiative at Henkel, because if hybrid models involving a mix of remote and office-based working are to become the new normal, providing “informal feedback” will become more of a challenge: Until now, bumping into somebody by chance while getting a coffee or making small talk before a meeting gave us the opportunity to express praise or even make suggestions. The virtual kudos cards make it easy to praise colleagues. Digital feedback tools enable simple interaction, anytime and anywhere, yet retain that direct approach and personal touch. By reducing the barriers to providing feedback, Henkel is also providing a boost to motivation and creating the foundation for further change. Satisfaction is growing and the culture change is progressing – step by step and with each piece of feedback shared.

“The most valuable feedback I’ve ever received”

“In my own perception, I always used to see myself as a selfless leader. Because that's my basic motivation. I want to develop others; I want my team to shine and leave each team member with at least one memorable moment that he or she can remember in crucial situations. In the aggregate, however, this was reflected to me in a completely different way. I must say, this surprised me quite a bit and I asked myself, “How can this be?”

At first, I thought it must relate to my occasional perceived arrogance. I've gotten that feedback quite a few times and there may be some truth to it. So, I went into the first conversation with my coach with this idea in mind. She listened to it and then said: “I'm not so sure about that. I also see a different tendency in the feedback you got. Is it possible that you want to protect your people from hitting their heads against the wall? Is it possible that you sometimes jump in too early and don't give them enough space to make their own experiences? Such a “protective instinct” is motivated by something else entirely and has nothing to do with wanting to put yourself in the limelight.”

Hannes Schollenberer


The feedback from my team members has encouraged me to strive to become even more authentic in my leadership style than before.

II hadn't looked at it from that angle yet! There was something to it. Next step for me: I wanted to understand where this perception came from and arranged to talk to six of my feedback givers. It was particularly helpful for me that we talked about concrete situations. They reflected to me that I had taken decisions too early, so it was very difficult for my counterpart to find their own way to solve the situation. Getting to know this difference in self-perception and the perception of others showed my blind spot and encouraged me to strive to become even more authentic in my leadership style than before.

Tips on good feedback

Not all feedback is good feedback. Anyone who has ever had to provide feedback has undoubtedly toiled over how to formulate it. These four tips will help to prepare you for your next feedback meeting:

  • be as specific as possible and focus on the behaviour, not the person;
  • explain the consequences that the person’s behaviour has or could have – to help the person be more aware of the impact;
  • provide solutions, suggestions for improvement and details of potential along with the criticism;
  • where possible, formulate the feedback in a way that would make you want to accept it yourself;
  • if the feedback is not entirely positive, provide details about mistakes but stay objective and constructive, and avoid making accusations;
  • good feedback givers wrap up their feedback with a question and provide pointers for the next steps to take, such as “What do you think about using this approach next time?”.

Three questions for …


... Armin Trost, Professor of HR management, speaker and consultant

How has cultural change also changed feedback culture?

The conventional employee appraisal has largely been phased out because it is no longer compatible with modern working methods and the new management style that we strive for today. Most companies recognize that things are moving very quickly. They are networked and structured into teams; their thought processes and management strategies are less vertical and more horizontal. There is no longer a top-down approach, because only giving top-down feedback is no longer effective enough and is often the wrong approach for what you’re trying to achieve. There is no need to institutionalize feedback; employees should be able to gather it proactively – and even praise only works if it is given freely and spontaneously.

What is the secret to giving good, motivating feedback?

It depends on many factors. In order for employees to learn from it, feedback should be given promptly and should show appreciation. But what matters most is the setting – the context in which the feedback is given. Proactively gathered feedback is more likely to result in behavioral change than feedback that is simply imposed. The relationship between the feedback provider and the person receiving the feedback also plays a role. Feedback should always “belong” to the person concerned. It should contribute to reflection and be intrinsic. As soon as people have the impression that these details are now on file and may have consequences, there is a risk of the feedback becoming a judgment – leading people to start justifying themselves rather than learning from the feedback.

Does it make a difference whether you receive feedback from your manager or from your colleagues?

Yes. If the manager is also the person evaluating performance, it becomes more difficult. In my view, a manager should never be both judge and coach. Making judgments while at the same time providing feedback does not work. These psychological correlations are often overlooked.