If you’ve set the right context within your team – established objectives, focused on professional development and clarified expectations – the next step is to make feedback part of your company DNA and build a ‘feedback process’. For me, having a structured process for feedback is the one of most critical elements that needs to be in place for any organization. I’m a strong believer that only those companies that focus on continuous improvement – both on an organizational and personal basis – thrive over the long term.
When I first began scaling my company after the dotcom crash, I struggled with how to how to train a very young team in online media, a space that was still very much in its infancy. There were few established roles and job descriptions and no proven processes to follow. We needed to write our own playbook, from establishing how to manage editorial functions to how best to service clients. I knew our culture needed to be nimble and learning-focused to support multiple iterations of our business model and a rapidly evolving set of processes. To do that, I needed to create a structure for feedback and improvement.
I started by first putting in place a simple system for quarterly performance reviews. Both the manager and the report would bring for discussion a list of areas in which they were doing well and areas for improvement. Giving the report a hand in setting parameters for a discussion about their performance immediately established the reviews as constructive business conversations rather than top-down evaluations. During reviews, both the manager and report were encouraged to give frequent feedback – both positive and negative – and check in on progress toward areas of improvement from the previous review.
Afterward, the manager and I looked closely at any areas of disconnect in a particular employee’s self-assessment; for instance, items that were listed as an area of success, but were really an area for improvement. I’m a strong believer that reviews shouldn’t be a surprise in either direction, but reinforce the feedback given by the manager between reviews. When a review is a surprise, it’s a good indicator something’s wrong with either the employee’s ability to self-assess or the manager’s delivery of feedback.
We next added a 360 degree feedback mechanism where the manager emails everyone with whom the report works – at all levels – and asks for areas of success and improvement. Positioning the importance of candid feedback to the employee’s peers and stressing confidentiality of the feedback is critical to this process. Sometimes it takes a cycle or two for a new hire to fully engage in delivering feedback about their peers, but once they do it quickly becomes constructive. I can’t remember an instance where it’s led to a problem in more than 7 years and its uncovered some substantial areas for improvement which might have been overlooked had we depended only on managerial input.
As our organization has matured and grown, we’ve moved to more formal and rigorous reviews twice per year that are tracked electronically and can be better analyzed for trends, using a web-based interface called GoalSpan. But the core principles have remained the same: Have a consistent, transparent process that is prioritized across the organization. Gather assessment from both the manager and the report. Leverage 360 degree review feedback. Give continuous feedback and improvement between formal reviews. Focus on having constructive dialogue about professional development.
I’m curious what process you’ve built for feedback in your organization or on your team. How often do you conduct reviews? How extensive are they? Any tips or best practices for making them work well?