Creating a Culture of Feedback Inside a Startup

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April 7, 2017

Creating a Culture of Feedback Inside a Startup                             Posted December 6, 2016 by David Klein

Originally published by Forbes.

No matter how great your startup's hiring practices, your company won't deliver to full potential without a strong culture of feedback. This is much easier said than done. And it tends to be more challenging for startups, where strong feedback systems don't yet exist and resources to create them are still tight.

But I can say that it is absolutely worthwhile for startups to invest the time and effort in implementing an intentional feedback system for themselves and their employees. If you don't, you'll end up spending just as much time (if not more) correcting for the fact you don't.

At CommonBond, we put in place the following structural guideposts to ensure feedback happens often and well:

Real-Time feedback

All members of the CommonBond team are strongly encouraged to offer each other constructive real-time feedback. This means that when anyone notices an opportunity for improvement or wants to praise a colleague or manager for a job well done, they are empowered to do so. Real-time feedback improves individual performance (and therefore company performance), and the more real-time feedback that's given, the stronger an organization becomes.

However, real-time feedback does not come naturally. It requires leaders to lead by example, which gives others the model for how it's done, the confidence to do it at all, and the skills to do it well.

Weekly 1-on-1s

Managers and direct reports at CommonBond meet weekly in 1-on-1 touchbases to discuss priorities and tasks, and to address any questions that either of them have. The key here is consistency. Because of the regularity and structure of these meetings, everyone walks away with a clear picture of what they should continue doing and what they need to improve on.

Every three-week feedback sessions

Every third week, there is a designated in-person, two-way feedback session where both the manager and direct report give each other feedback about effective behaviors and opportunities for development. This is important in keeping leaders engaged with their direct reports, while also enabling direct reports to be heard. These meetings enable professional growth for both the manager and direct report, and represent a stark contrast to some companies where feedback is generally limited to performance review time.

Semi-Annual reviews

At CommonBond, twice annually, there is a 360-degree feedback process for all employees and executives. This process gathers feedback for each employee from a few different colleagues and managers, and culminates in a review for each team member that highlights key strengths and areas for development. It allows for more in-depth feedback that reflects on accomplishments and areas for improvement during the previous six months, and enables managers and direct reports to align on goals for the coming six months.

It's one thing to say all of this; it's another thing to do it and do it well. For us, that meant measuring our feedback processes. You can't change what you can't see, and you can can't see something if you don't measure it. At CommonBond, for example, when we started tracking the three-week feedback sessions and reporting it out at our weekly leadership meetings, we saw the percentage of sessions that were happening on schedule go from about 25% to 75% in just one month. Once we started measuring it, we could also start seeing more real-time feedback happening throughout the organization. This also makes our semi-annual reviews much easier to write and less likely to contain surprises. In short, we became a stronger company.

We didn't arrive at all of this overnight – it took a lot of time and effort. I've noticed the most effective way to develop and implement this kind of feedback system, which actively involves every member of a company's team is to set the tone at the top with senior leadership, measure where you can, and then ensure that action is taken throughout the company.

This isn't easy. If it were, then everyone would be doing it. The fact that it's difficult means that if you do it well, it can become a competitive advantage for your startup.

Tags: CEO Corner

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