Three Ideas on Giving Feedback in Asia

Today I will share with you three great ideas I learned from Will McInnes. While he is not the inventor of these ideas, he is the one who first wrote them down in his great book “Culture Shock. A Handbook for 21st Century Business“.

Unfortunately in this limited space I won’t be able to explain what the bigger idea behind these ideas is. But I will show you why they are great to try in the Asian market.

The first one is 360 degree feedback. I know this is not a new idea, but the way how to implement it is. We all know that giving feedback in Asia can be a tricky business. We definitely don’t want our colleagues to lose face. The normal way of giving 360 degree feedback will often backfire. Instead of learning something about their strengths and weaknesses, employees loose respect for each other, become unmotivated or even quit.

But here is the a great way how to avoid this problem. Make a 360 degree feedback using survey monkey or another online survey tool. Write down questions about your own leadership style, contributions to the team, or whatever it is you want your colleagues to evaluate. Write down both – qualitative and quantitative – questions and let your employees fill in the questionnaires. It’s really that simple. Some questions McInnes suggests which I like are these:

  • What do I do that enables positive performance?
  • What do I do that impairs performance?
  • What should get more of my attention?

Notice that colleagues can easily answer these questions in a relatively objective manner without hurting the receiver of the feedback? The questions ask for concrete actions which should be changed – they don’t deal with the personality of the receiver. In Asia this can make an especially big difference.


The two other ideas were both implemented first in McInne’s company. My personal favorite is what he calls the “happy bucket” method. At the entrance of their office, they have three buckets. One is filled with tennis-balls, the other two are empty at the beginning of the day.When employees go home, they take a tennis ball from the first bucket and throw it into either – the happy bucket or the unhappy bucket – depending on how they feel at the end of the day.

At the end of the day somebody writes down in a chart how many balls were in each bucket. Do you see how awesome this is? With that the company is able to keep track of how happy the employees are over time. Whenever it becomes clear that employees have several bad days in a row, the management can take steps to find out what is wrong and what to do about it. Problems get solved quickly and easily. I love it!

The last idea is a tricky one in Asia. Very tricky indeed. You probably should not try it in a traditional Asian company. But if your corporate culture is developing more into the direction of a western, participative leadership style, then you might want to give it a try.

When you do it successfully, you might be able to reduce problems related to the culture of saving face. The “Church of Fail” is basically a meeting where chairs are arranged just like in a church, with an area in the front which McInnes calls the “comfort zone”. The concept is that volunteers come up to the front and answer three questions:

  • How did you fail this month?
  • What did you do about it?
  • What did you learn?

Funny idea? Yeah. But the smartest move is yet to come. After the employee has explained everything, all the people attending start cheering and clapping. The employee is rewarded for his failure, his willingness to share and learn!

In psychology there is a very simple rule: behaviour that is rewarded continues, behaviour that is punished evaporates. Well, I am sure you can see by now what enormous potential this technique has. But as I said before: in sensitive Asian countries you have to be very careful in trying it.

Go with the first two techniques first, establish a culture in which sharing one’s feelings is appreciated and where people are used to giving and receiving feedback, and you might be successful. Take it slow! Veeeery slow!

Okay, that’s all for today – see you tomorrow (god, this sounds like school)! A big thanks to Will McInnes for writing his great book and sharing his ideas. If you want to understand more about the purpose behind these techniques, I highly encourage you guys to read his book.

If you guys try to implement these techniques, share the results with me. Or, if you have other ideas for ways to create a culture in which feedback and learning is appreciated, share them with us in the comment section.







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