Active Feedback in Practice

By on October 30th, 2015 in Industry Insights

In July of this year, I published a post about the importance of feedback – making it part of a team’s day-to-day way of functioning and investing in training on how to give, receive and take it beyond managers and direct reports. Three months later, I am reflecting on how TrueAccord is working to implement these principles.

In TrueAccord’s June/mid-year round of employee performance reviews, the leadership team debated about whether to spend time getting peer and upward feedback. We ended up doing it, though mostly over email (I find in-person conversations with the feedback-giver more effective – but it takes more time).

After this round of feedback, we discovered that:

  • Managers found team members’ feedback insightful and thought-provoking
  • Some of the feedback was a surprise, indicating a need to work on real-time feedback. This was particularly evident in responses to questions about feedback between peers and managers. (Again highlighting that when we think of feedback, we mostly think of top-down.)
  • Quite a few employees, when asked for feedback on peers or managers, could not think of anything actionable that person could do. This tells me we need more training in this area – and more encouragement. We held a training session in July on giving and receiving feedback, but are realizing that ongoing training is necessary

Our next round of performance evaluations is coming in November and I am keen to spend time gathering comprehensive feedback, despite how short we are on capacity.

In addition to making more of an investment in incorporating feedback into performance reviews, we also made feedback more integral to our work culture:

  • We agreed that 1:1 feedback sessions between employees and managers should take place on a regular basis – ideally, these become a part of the weekly 1:1 cadence.
  • We hold a weekly company all-hands (remember, we’re all of 30 people) with room for leadership to give the team feedback on performance – and opportunities for the team to give immediate feedback.
  • We’ve instituted an ability for team members to submit feedback/questions to the leadership team anonymously. Contrary to expectations (we felt this feature wouldn’t be popular because team members already have plenty of opportunities to provide feedback), a lot of employees chose to submit questions via this anonymous channel. We then held a leadership Q&A session to address these questions.
  • Finally, during our last quarterly “staycation”, we had a training session on giving and receiving effective feedback – with role playing on how to implement this on an everyday basis.

TrueAccord is going through tremendous growth. We understand that feedback carries particular importance at this juncture of our growth as we seek to attract passionate employees more interested in the mission of the company and their personal career trajectory than in bloated compensation packages. In this setting where quick growth is the norm (much more so than within a corporate environment), one’s career is a highly agile ship: it maneuvers much more flexibly than the Titanic that is a corporate career. This presents both greater opportunity and possibility of failure – it’s easier to turn the ship and it’s also easier to point it in a direction of an iceberg. Because of this, ongoing feedback is critical.

Two recent examples of career journeys I have helped steer in recent weeks illustrate the mechanisms we’ve instituted to enable ongoing feedback. Mechanisms that have been instrumental to our organizational makeup.

  • Jane joined us a year ago, is highly talented and a quick learner. She is very outspoken, provides frequent input on company direction and policies, particularly related to team culture and people management. In one of her 1:1s with her manager, Jane approached him asking for a growth opportunity, a bigger role – with a specific job opening in mind. She also reached out to the leadership team with the same thoughts. Leadership acknowledges that she deserves and is ready to take on more. We agreed the open role in question is not the right fit and will carve out a more appropriate role for Jane in the future. Without an open dialogue being part of our culture, Jane may have been hesitant to have this conversation, looking for a new role externally instead. In this way, a culture of feedback was critical in letting Jane know that her accomplishments are being recognized.
  • John has also been with the company for almost a year. He moved laterally from another startup and is clearly qualified for his current role, yet is not a top performer on his team. He has expressed frustration with his position, does not feel challenged and would prefer a different role within the company. Several 1:1 feedback sessions finally culminated in a somewhat heated discussion where John stated he “could do much better, but is not motivated by the role” and his manager clearly expressed that “to be considered for a new role, one has to excel at their current job”. This highlighted a key philosophical difference and a mutual conclusion that John would be happier elsewhere. Making feedback part of every one of John’s 1:1s with his manager is what enabled us to get the issue on the table – much in advance of the next performance review cycle.

A culture of feedback was instrumental in arriving at the appropriate outcome, but with more frequent feedback we could have saved time. In Jane’s case, the credit goes to the employee – the take away for management is to have these discussions in an ongoing and proactive fashion with our high-performing team members. As I mentioned, expectations of growth are very high in a startup environment and we would not be able to retain top talent if we required 18-24 months of strong performance in a role before offering more responsibility. With John, the misalignment and gap in the employee’s self-awareness could have been identified earlier – and the expectation that growth will only come with outstanding performance in the current role should have been communicated more clearly and assertively.

We clearly have work to do. The good news is that the leadership team is committed to building an organization that utilizes feedback to grow. This journey will take time, but I firmly believe that building a healthy organization requires an ongoing, constructive dialogue– and the way to do this is via an iterative approach, not a “big bang”. Let’s connect on this topic again in early 2016. I hope to hear from other companies on how you are making feedback part of both your year-end performance conversations and the everyday fabric of your company life. Please leave a comment or link back to this post with your responses.

Sofya Pogreb, COO, TrueAccord

Sofya Pogreb brings over 15 years of Financial Services experience to TrueAccord. In the past, she’s advised Fortune 500 clients at McKinsey and Company and headed Risk Management for the Americas region at PayPal. She holds a B.S. and M. Eng. in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.