Adopting a feedback-friendly culture is a tough task, but one that'll help your organisation drive employee engagement and get to where it wants to be faster. In a recent webinar, we caught up with someone who’s been on the front line of developing and embedding a feedback culture.

Having spent the previous seven years building a multi-award winning learning and development function at Virgin Holidays and three years at River Island, Nebel has experience of people development at all levels, from apprenticeships through to leadership development and talent identification.

Nebel is focussed on delivering development solutions that have a demonstrable business impact as well as improving employee engagement and morale. She was joined on the day by her team at River Island: Chris Britton, Joanne Earle, Matthew Van den Branden and Mike Collins.

Based on that conversation, this ebook covers:

  • Why fostering in-the-moment feedback is important for an organisation
  • How learning and development helps create an environment of effective feedback
  • How to support people to deliver feedback with impact

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Section three: How to give feedback fairly

Question: How do you give feedback on assertiveness without it becoming aggressive?

Matthew Van den Branden, Learning and Development, River Island


We work using the AID model, a simple but effective model for giving performance feedback: actions, impact, desired behaviour are the three stages. In addition, the other components for Model the Way for Managers also look at aspects such as emotional intelligence, leadership qualities and management drivers. It’s about getting our managers to recognise the people aspect.

People often misinterpret the word “assertive”. They assume assertiveness as just giving information without regard for the recipient. The idea of being assertive is recognising what you’re thinking and recognising what the other is thinking.

The AID model can give feedback and support on maintaining the right level of assertiveness. It also helps to keep feedback precise, constructive and objective (i.e. not opinion – good or bad). We always need to return to the basic questions: “What do you think about when you relay your message? Are you really thinking about the other person? Are you considering both sides?”

Question: Is it right to give everyone the same amount of feedback? If so, how do you ensure that happens?

Nebel Crowhurst, Head of Talent and Development, River Island


It’s not possible to give everyone the same amount of feedback.

Moving away from a traditional appraisal enables you to take a more holistic approach to career development and performance management. We use three core elements: one-to-ones, in-the-moment feedback, and career development meetings.

The regularity of conversations is something we advocate rather than enforce. It’s about encouraging managers to have effective, regular one-to-ones with their people. We also empower them to make decisions around how often they should have them. For one person, catching up with their line manager on a weekly basis is needed; for another, it may be monthly.

We want to encourage an environment where managers are managing their people in a way that’s right for the person and not regimented or formalised. We have guidelines, parameters and ways we encourage people to operate. We want our managers to do things in an authentic and individual way.



  • Consider introducing the AID model for feeding back: actions, impact, desired behaviour.
  • Assertiveness doesn’t need to be negative as long as the feedback is precise, constructive and objective – not opinionated.
  • In a post-annual review world, career development and performance management should be supported by three core elements: one-to-ones, in-the-moment feedback, and career development meetings.


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Section 2: Using social and digital tools to support feedback and coaching

Question: How can social and digital tools support the development of feedback and coaching skills?

Mike Collins, Digital Learning, River Island


My focus is on digital tools, both in terms of content and the platforms we use. I have worked in L&D for over 10 years and been around digital tools for as long.

There’s now a huge number of social and digital tools available to organisations – whether it’s instant messenger, forums, collaboration tools or video. Consumer technology such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram has led to a huge drive for a more visual, personalised experience. The challenge is replicating our real life experiences online.

We also see the rise in social bolt-ons for learning management systems. Employees now increasingly expect to be able to work and connect remotely. We provide a suite of digital tools that are accessible through our online and intranet platforms as well as our communications channels.

Digital maturity

One of the challenges we have had to overcome is around digital maturity. Historically, coaching has been a face-to-face activity. When you talk about using digital and social tools to support coaching, there’s a lot of resistance. People ask questions like: “Why would I do a coaching session online?” and “How can I have the same connection and build the same relationship as I would build face to face?”

Digital maturity is key and won’t happen overnight. When you’re building a culture around in-the-moment feedback and connecting people in real time you have to explore how virtual and digital tools can support it. Face-to-face feedback still has a place. What we’re advocating is that those conversations continue through digital means. Crucially, we need to develop a high quality online experience that gives people confidence to take the conversations online as well.

One area we have focussed on is online communities, which now play a much greater role in connecting and providing space for people to develop those relationships.


River Island is a really complex organisation with a lot of different departments and communications channels. We are trying to break down that siloed mentality and encourage cross-department working and knowledge sharing. To do this we have created a whole host of resources.

We have created videos, which show real people doing real things. Of course role play can come across as quite cheesy at times, but you have to give that authenticity when you are providing a video so that people can relate to it. People learn from doing stuff.

We have also created a number of readily available job aids and encourage people to explore different digital tools through them.

Providing feedback remotely

People are encouraged to experiment with virtual tools and give real-time feedback. We want them to review a document together using a shared screen and to give feedback remotely instead of waiting a couple of days or a week to provide it face to face. This ability to instantly connect with people and give real-time feedback allows us to work more quickly on documents, designs and presentations.

At River Island we have many technical experts who have great experiences and skills to share. We are focussing on social and digital tools that get people to not think of their location as a barrier. We want to provide opportunities for people to provide feedback any time, any place, in a way that is not location specific and allows conversations to develop and build on any face time they have had.

There are challenges for us around social and digital tools, especially in our retail areas where wifi limitations can make connecting people difficult. We have launched two initiatives recently that can help people to think differently about how they position coaching in their business.

Workplace coaches

We have identified a number of workplace coaches. We encourage people to look at each other’s profile and see that they have something to offer to them. If we can connect these people, great. If not, we encourage coaching sessions via Skype, MS teams and mobile phone. This allows people who were not able to connect previously to have coaching sessions or give feedback in real time.

Our workplace coach initiative is going from strength to strength. We already have seen a massive uplift in people wanting coaching, and digital channels give people the ability to do it.

RIVA Connect

The second area is a new platform called RIVA Connect that will be connected to our online platform RIVA. It will help members of our business to connect and share skills and experiences with one another. We are supporting those people with a raft of resources and helping to bridge the gap.

Somebody will say they can travel or provide coaching or mentoring to another person in a certain location. It’s about culture that says that location is not a barrier. Somebody who is based up in Manchester can have a coaching or mentoring relationship with somebody in our London office, for example, and vice versa.



  • Provide a suite of digital tools accessible through online intranet platforms
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: in-person feedback is still king. It’s about creating a strong enough online experience that empowers people to continue conversations online.
  • Create a resource hub that encourages departments to break down silos and collaborate freely. This could mean reviewing a document together using a shared screen remotely instead of waiting to do it face to face.


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Section 1: The role of coaching in feedback-friendly cultures

Question: What role does coaching play in encouraging a positive feedback environment?

Joanne Earle, Learning and Development, River Island


Our coaching and feedback culture is the product of three core elements.

1. 70:20:10

River Island does an amazing job of bringing 70:20:10 to life. While this is an established tool in many HR and L&D teams, we use it to highlight the importance of coaching and feedback for individual development and the development of others. Every facilitated workshop stresses the 70:20:10 framework. The follow up activities not only aim to embed learning but to provide opportunities to feedback and coach others on what they have learnt. If I facilitate a workshop, I’ll ask: “What has brought you along today and made you interested in the workshop?” A regular response will be: “Someone was helping me. I was getting feedback or being coached and someone recommended I attend this workshop.”

2. Structured learning on the art of coaching

The second thing that we do to support this culture is provide structured learning on the art of coaching as part of a wider River Island programme called Model the Way. Delegates see coaching in action and are encouraged to practise their learnings by coaching up, down and across their colleague groups.

We also offer L&D-led one-to-one coaching sessions that managers can request. These sessions aren’t for problem solving, they’re for personal development. Attendees are encouraged to discuss how they’d personally like to move forward.

3. Coaching qualification

Lastly, our coaching culture has been created through our people. We have just introduced our first group of workplace coaches to the business, allowing employees to select a coach that will best suit their development aims. Our coaches have completed our in-house ILM accredited level 3 qualification in workplace coaching. Over the last 12 months they have completed:

  • A two-day workshop that explores workplace coaching.
  • 36 hours of on the job coaching.
  • A one-day reflection workshop.
  • A series of additional coaching assignments.

During this time they have been fully supported by the River Island L&D team and are all now accredited coaches.



  • Use formalised programmes and frameworks to highlight the importance of coaching and feedback for individual growth – both professionally and personally.
  • Provide training sessions that show effective coaching in action, and encourage people to practise their learnings by coaching up, down and across their colleague groups.
  • Consider hiring an in house group of workplace coaches, then allowing employees to select a coach that will best suit their development aims.

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