How to Give Effective Feedback at a Startup

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April 7, 2017

How to Give Effective Feedback at a Startup                             Posted December 15, 2016 by David Klein

Originally published by Forbes.

In my last post, I talked about creating a culture of feedback inside a startup. In this post, I talk about what great feedback looks like, within that culture – a topic that's on many of our minds as we enter year-end review process. Giving feedback is critical to helping your team and therefore your company thrive. With feedback, team members understand which behaviors to continue and which behaviors to change, all to be more effective in role. When done right, feedback actually has a multiplier effect – it motivates top performers and increases engagement by all.

As we approach year-end review processes here at CommonBond, I'm spending a portion of my time ensuring that leaders are equipped to give and receive both constructive and positive feedback and to do it well. We do this in order to position our employees, and our business, for success in 2017.

Giving and receiving constructive feedback

The first step is to identify how constructive feedback is best given. Looking at what McKinsey & Company (my corporate alma mater) does is a good place to start. When you give somebody feedback, you want to communicate three things:

An observation that is fact-basedAn explanation of the effect it had on you or othersA recommendation on how to do it better going forward

It can sound like this: "What I observed was [X]. I noticed it had the following effect: [Y]. In the future, to be more effective, I would recommend that you do [Z]."

Team members who are not used to working in a culture with direct feedback may feel uncomfortable delivering feedback the first few times they do it, but with repetition it can become second nature over time. That's one of the reasons why, at CommonBond, we hold two-way feedback sessions for every manager and direct report at least every 3 weeks (in addition to the real-time feedback we encourage throughout the organization).

Just as important as it is to give feedback well, it's critical to receive feedback well. Three things are important here too:

Receive feedback without getting defensiveInternalize the feedback through reflectionIncorporate the feedback with intention.

It can look like this: You listen to feedback someone gives you. You ask questions to clarify and understand. You think about the feedback – focus on where it's accurate and then commit to being better along that dimension the next time.

This can be difficult. As human beings, we're naturally wired to hear good things well (not bad things well). This takes practice (so do it often) and discipline (fight the urge to defend). When done well, it makes a meaningful impact on a company's people and performance.

Giving and receiving positive feedback

Simply providing constructive feedback is not enough; as an entrepreneur leading a growing company, I have found that positive feedback is a critical tool for driving the team's morale and engagement.

Here are a few ways I've seen positive feedback delivered most effectively:

Be specific. Specificity is critical when delivering positive feedback so that members of your team know which behaviors to repeat over time. Leveraging McKinsey's framework for constructive feedback can help you create a strong message for positive feedback as well. 

Provide: An observation that is fact-basedAn explanation of the positive effect it had on you or othersAn encouraging word, such that the desired behavior continuesMake it public. Making positive feedback public helps recognize team members for a job well done, and it also provides concrete examples of behavior that should be emulated by others. 

Here at CommonBond, we make a point of making positive feedback public in two settings: At our weekly company-wide meetings (what we call "lunch and learns"), I make a point of recognizing team members who have had a positive, material impact on a critical project or area of work. (Our team leads do the same in their daily team huddles.) All team members are encouraged to contribute to "CommonProps," a simple Google spreadsheet the team fills in with compliments to each other, which is then emailed out to the organization every Friday by someone on our Culture Team.

Clear and effective feedback is a critical component of management, performance and culture. It helps employees learn and grow, which helps the business ultimately succeed.

Tags: CEO Corner

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