Feedback

*This playbook is directly inspired by Matt Mochary’s philosophy on “Feedback”*

Why Feedback Matters

Frequent, transparent feedback is core to how you build a Conscious Culture.

First and foremost, feedback builds trust. It’s how your team knows how you feel, good or bad, so they’re not guessing or fearing the worst. Without trust, everything breaks down.

Second, feedback builds transparency. It lets everyone in the company know where they’re at and how they’re performing. It keeps them out of the dark.

Third, feedback helps us grow. It shows us what we need to do to get better. It lets us share our insights with our teammates so that they might benefit from it.

Feedback takes leadership, not just from managers, but from us all. Employees must embrace and welcome it. Otherwise, it does not happen. Without feedback, culture cancer starts to creep in:

  • You will be in the dark about the company’s problems: Ben Horowitz says that “a good culture is like the old RIP routing protocol: bad news travels fast, good news travels slow.” If every time your team brings up an issue you react defensively, they will soon stop bringing that valuable information to you, and you will crumble in your ivory tower.
  • Teams will gossip and operations will grind to a halt: When people aren’t able to share things openly, communication breaks down. When communication breaks down, operations slow. This problem only gets worse as your company grows, and as it grows it becomes ever harder to change that culture.
  • Your best talent will leave: A-players have no patience for defensiveness and amateur behavior. If you aren’t mature enough to listen to your people, face your problems, and work on fixing them, your A-players will find the founders who are.

Cultivating a Feedback Mindset

The process of giving and receiving feedback is not negative. It’s an opportunity to help an individual receive insight on what they are doing right, what skills they need to improve, and how this will lead to long-term growth. If done correctly, this should be a rewarding experience for both parties. A feedback mindset understands:

  1. It’s personal because work is personal.
  2. You can’t control how the other person will respond but you do it anyway because you are focused on the individual’s growth.
  3. This is an opportunity to have the tough conversations and help the individual course correct.
  4. You will only become better by repetition and building your feedback muscle over time.
  5. Brene Brown states, “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind” so continuously use language that creates clarity in the message you are sending to the receiver.

The first step to receiving good feedback is to want to receive the feedback, regardless of its content. If you trust the competency and integrity of your team, every one of these instances is important since it will definitely give you information on how the person is feeling, and may even give you information on how you and the company can improve.

The key to giving good feedback is to do it with the person’s best interest at heart. Giving transparent feedback does not mean intentionally being a jerk. It means expressing your thoughts and feelings openly to let the other person know where you are coming from, without harboring any anger toward them. Being overly kind is not caring. Feedback is caring.

Giving frequent and transparent feedback may be painful at first. When most companies start implementing this, it often brings up a lot of underlying resentment and issues that had previously been repressed. However, if you hang in there, you will notice that the amount and intensity of feedback is substantially diminished, and that your team will be noticeably happier and more productive.

How to Give Great Bolt-Style Feedback

Giving candid, effective feedback is the most important thing you can do as a team. This is how you grow as contributors, as teammates, and as friends. Good feedback is invaluable. Bad feedback is counterproductive.

Do it in Asana

You can use Asana and/or any other talent development/management tool to document your feedback. In Asana, create a task called “Feedback” in your 1on1s or team meetings. Write in new feedback entries as comments.

Format with thanks for and wish that.

Sample feedback:

  • Thanks for:
    • Being more vocal in recent team meetings
    • Coming prepared to our 1on1 with thoroughly pre-written issues and proposed solutions
  • Wish that:
    • You more reliably hit agreements, and organized your personal priorities/tasks
    • You let people finish their full thoughts before replying with your own

Layer on your insights and additional context

As you continue to build your feedback muscle you should aim to provide additional context on your observations. You can drill down by adding in the Situation (what occurred? context?), Behavior (What behavior did you see?) and the Impact (What did you think, feel or notice in reaction to that behavior or situation?). Any additional details that you provide will help the receiver understand your perspective and how you derived your feedback.

Example:

Thanks for:

  • Being more vocal in recent team meetings. During the last five team meetings, I noticed that you started to speak up a lot more. You’ve shared your thoughts about the status of the OKRs and took the initiative to propose new solutions to hit the targets. By taking that initiative to propose a new approach, it seems like the team will hit their targets way before the end of Q4. I started to see other team members feel more comfortable to share new ideas, great job!

Wish that:

  • You let people finish their full thoughts before replying with your own. I noticed in the last two sales calls with our partners, Fran and Robert, you didn’t allow them to finish their thoughts. You quickly jumped into response mode without allowing them to flesh out their ideas and questions; I noticed that they weren’t as engaged after you did this. I know you are super excited to highlight everything we have to offer and we know you know your stuff! But, because they weren’t engaged, we weren’t able to fully understand their concerns and how best we can solve them. It seemed as if we had to circle back and pull-out their thoughts towards the end of the meeting.

At least once a month in-writing, ideally every other week

To deliver feedback using Asana, create a new task called “Feedback”, and write it in as a comment. This gives you a full history of feedback for recordkeeping and reflection purposes. Take five minutes to write in your feedback (ideally you have notes written prior) and then submit them. A discussion should follow.

This should be done ideally every other week. However, it should be done no less frequently than monthly.

Respectful Candor, Zero Sugar Coating

Candor is vital to establishing trust. When you fluff feedback, people can misunderstand what you’re saying. If we practice candor from day one, then it becomes expected. Not leaving candid feedback should be considered a fireable offense … that’s how important this is and will help you create your culture of feedback.

Bad feedback: Wish that you were slightly more punctual to our meetings. I know you are busy and it’s ok when it happens, but I’d like us to start on time more.

Good feedback: Wish that you were on time to our meetings.

At least one piece of feedback per 1on1, both thanks-for and wish-that

During 1on1s, everyone must give at least 1 thanks-for and 1 wish-that. Nobody is perfect, every employee has room to grow. You owe it to your managers and teammates to help them grow. Give them constructive feedback. It is a requirement to include at least one thing. Both parties in the meeting must do it. If someone else isn’t doing it for you, they are breaking the bond you built at your company. There is no such thing as “No constructive feedback this week.” That means you are being lazy and not thinking critically about how the other person can improve.

More positive feedback than constructive: 2:1 ratio

Most weeks you should write at least two “thanks-fors” for each single “wish that.” If there’s a week where you have a particular wave of wish thats, then it’s ok to break this ratio. However, that should be an exception, especially with a top performer. If you find that you need to break this ratio too many times, and you consistently need more wish thats, it’s probably time for serious feedback.

Tag feedback as serious if their job is at risk (if it’s performance review level)

If you tag feedback / receive feedback from a manager as “[Serious]” this indicates that it is PIP (performance improvement plan) level seriousness where non-correction could lead to job jeopardy. All other feedback is normal weekly feedback that should still be taken seriously of course.

You don’t have to be right, just write what you think

Your wish-that or thanks-for feedback does not have to be right. Just write what you think. You’ll talk about it afterwards. But, do not hesitate to write a wish-for because you think the other person could have a valid excuse. Write it out, and discuss it afterwards. You may not have the full context so be prepared to be 20% wrong.

  • It’s important to note that you should check your bias as you craft feedback for the individual. Quickly scan your thoughts and ask yourself:
    • Do I have any preconceived notions about the individual? Is that affecting the way I view their performance or behavior?
    • Am I being balanced and rational in my thought process?
    • Am I being vague because I am worried about their reaction and want to avoid a difficult conversation?

Keep notes prior to the 1on1

Giving feedback ad-hoc during the week is sometimes necessary. But, you should have notes from earlier in the week so that you don’t have to think of feedback on the spot. Then ask each other if anything needs clarification.

Share in-person

Feedback should be written as a comment in your “Feedback” item in Asana (or any talent management tool that you have). You can choose to share verbally first and then post in-writing after, or post in-writing first and then share verbally after. Ask the receiver what process they prefer so you don’t miscommunicate and you create an environment that is safe for them. Give the receiver the opportunity to acknowledge, ask clarifying questions, and respond. It’s an opportunity to have a dialogue and gives the receiver the opportunity to have an understanding around what you are thinking.

Be prepared to adapt your communication style to different realities as you go through the feedback process

  • We all have different experiences, backgrounds, and identities that affect how we perceive the process of giving and receiving feedback. Open up the lines of communication by asking the receiver:
  • I want to make sure we work well together and don’t miscommunicate. Would you share what process works better for you? (i.e. document-review-discuss or discuss-document)
  • What are some things that are important to you when it comes to feedback and communication? Is there anything you think I should know about your style, expectations, or preferences?

Continuously follow-up

After you documented and discussed the feedback, follow-up at a later date. Check-in to see how things are progressing. What have you noticed? Did the behavior change? How is the receiver becoming better? Share your thoughts on what’s working or not working.

Feedback to others

If you have an issue with someone from another team, then you should schedule time to chat directly with them, 1on1. Follow the same steps but don’t avoid giving feedback because they are your peers. You have the ability to influence the individual’s growth and improve the overall performance of your employees.

Receiving and thanking others for feedback

It’s very important to thank people verbally after they share feedback. It takes a lot of courage for someone to provide feedback so you should express gratitude for their honesty. One of the most important components of receiving feedback is taking what you heard and putting it into action. People tend to stop giving feedback to others when they notice you haven’t changed. Discuss ways you can improve and key steps that you can implement so you can course correct.

This does not replace ad hoc feedback: give feedback in real time

If you’re at a place where you can give ad hoc feedback to your counterparts, do it! But also keep notes so that you can summarize it in Asana later.

Praise in Public

If you have positive feedback, don’t forget to praise in public

Pro Tip: Self Feedback

In addition to thanks for and wish that, add a section for self feedback.

How to Receive Feedback

  1. Show gratitude
  2. Listen attentively
    • Really try to understand what the giver is trying to express. Do so without questioning whether they are right or not: there is no right and wrong when expressing a feeling. It is very helpful to repeat the giver’s statements back to them by saying the following: “I heard you say [repeat their statement back to them], is that right?” They will likely add to your statement, in which case repeat it back to them until they are satisfied. Oftentimes, just hearing you speak their truth back to them will make them feel valued and calmer.
    • Many times, the simple act of having this open conversation makes both parties, especially the giver, feel better. However, it is crucial to remember that the need for feedback was caused by specific behaviors or events, and that unless these are changed, the need for feedback will return. Therefore, actually make an agreement on a new way to behave or interact.
  3. Act: Once you have agreed on the resolution, implement it. This is the best way to show to the giver that you care.

Where to give Feedback

1on1s (Mandatory – see below)

If you have 1on1s with teammates, there is always a feedback section. Feedback always flows both directions here.

Team meetings

Individual and Team Meetings can sometimes merge. The issue: giving negative feedback to one of your reports in a group setting. Doing so can elicit shame in the team member, unless they have previously agreed to radical transparency and actively want this public negative feedback.

Most companies opt to keep negative feedback only during 1on1 meetings. However, doing so can create a sense of non-transparency and hierarchy among the team.

The most effective teams are able to give and receive negative feedback in public. It is up to the manager to weigh the situation and decide. There may be cases where the feedback is more effective to give in private. As a general rule, public feedback, both positive and negative, builds the best teams, as long as there is buy-in from all team members to have feedback given that way.

Ask for wish-that feedback

Constructive feedback should be cherished. Your team members are in the trenches every day. They have knowledge about the company that you do not. Only by opening up the door to negative feedback will your team feel comfortable to give it.

Think about it from the other side: it can be quite scary to criticize someone who has power over you, you may even risk your job! Therefore, if you are to receive real, honest feedback and improve, YOU must make the effort to seek it out. Three particularly powerful ways to do so are:

  1. Ask for it: Make sure your team understands that giving you negative feedback will not be punished, but rather listened to and cherished. It is important to explicitly say this to them, preferably in a 1:1 setting. When asking for feedback on the company in general, it is useful to ask “if you were CEO what would you change?”. You can do this in-person or through a survey (which can be anonymized depending on the circumstances).
  2. Listen to it: Don’t interrupt your team member. Don’t give excuses. When they are giving you feedback, your job is to listen and understand what they are feeling. Only once you understand their issues, you’ve repeated it back to them, and they know that you’ve understood their issues, can you initiate a talk about potential solutions.
  3. Act on it: Actions speak infinitely louder than words. If you have agreed to someone’s negative feedback, work on changing it immediately. Do not let it fall through the cracks. Doing so will result in your team losing trust in your word, and in them losing overall motivation. Instead, give yourself actual Next Actions on this. Only then will your team feel safe to give you further feedback, and give them the confidence that their voices are heard.

Regular 1on1 Feedback is Mandatory

Regular written feedback, as per the guide above, is not just a recommended practice, it’s mandatory. While employees should target every other week, once per month is the minimum.

Consequences for Managers

Managers are required to hold themselves and their teams to this high standard. We all make time for things we value. If you as a manager are not giving feedback at least once per month, it means you don’t value it enough.

As per everything that’s mandatory, there are consequences if not completed. Missing this once will result in Human Resources escalating the issue to your Senior Leader. Missing this twice can result in the company requesting you to the exit the organization.