THE LATEST MARKETING STRATEGIES AND SUPERPOWERS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX SUBSCRIBE

How our tech startup created a better workplace feedback system

According to Ben Horowitz in his new book ‘The Hard Things about Hard Things,” there are two primary reasons why people quit their jobs:

  • Employees hate their manager due to lack of guidance, misaligned expectations, and questionable feedback they receive. People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.
  • They don’t learn anything or feel like they are growing with the company.

When TINT started hiring like crazy (5x the team in 1 year), it was very exciting, but I knew that was only half the battle to grow the business. The other battle was retaining and motivating our employees. The answer to that was providing our employees the best environment to thrive and grow.

Many companies today practice a traditional workplace feedback loop with their employees. You know, the type where Manager A focuses on what Employee B did wrong in the past and demanding Employee B fix the problem a certain way Manager A wants it.

When we grew our team from five to twenty-two people in one year, I disliked the environment that our limited feedback system was producing. I realized how important it is to be proactive about giving and receiving feedback, before something becomes an issue in the workplace.

I am someone who loves to hear others’ input or opinions on how I perform—most of us like that to be able to gauge how they’re improving. But every time I received feedback from a colleague, I found myself reciting excuses in my mind to justify what I did poorly.

The worst part was after a few minutes, I would forget the feedback my peers had spent so much time preparing. It wasn’t that it was poorly written or presented. It was because the feedback we were giving and receiving was focused on the past – something we couldn’t fix or control. We were practicing feedback that was focused on what we did wrong (which makes us defensive with excuses), and was filled with specific directions to fix for the future that we may not agree with (which doesn’t allow us to improve or learn).

Very few of us were ever trained to give effective feedback – its important to be intentional about facilitating good feedback. So I decided to implement this practice called “monthly feedforwards.”

The Solution

We called our new system “Feedforwards” to emphasize their focus on the future. Our feedforwards center on positive, constructive comments, and is focused on suggestions, not commands. This helps frame a goal and allows individuals to carve their own path to the best solution.

 Feedback = negative opinions from the past (sometimes with direction for the future).

 Feedforward = actionable and positive suggestions for the future.

This is how we put it in practice:

The Product/Process

1) The feedforwards would be practiced on a monthly basis to create a habit people would remember. The worst is if we created an arbitrary schedule and no one ever remembered.

2) It would be mandatory for everyone to participate, including the CEO (me). This would create aligned expectations and no one would be looked like the ‘complaining’ one if they sent feedforwards to their peers.

3) Each employee would request feedforwards from at least 2 other individuals from anyone on the team (within or outside their department) by the 10th of every month. Those 2+ other individuals would now have the rest of the month to pay particular attention to the requestor to give actionable feedforwards.

4) Each employee would answer 3 questions the requestor:

  1. List 1 (or more if desired) accomplishment you really appreciated from this individual this previous month that you’d like to see more of? From either the business and culture point of view
  2. List 1 (or more if desired) challenge you’d like this individual to focus on next month? From either the business and culture point of view.
  3. Anything else you’d like to let this individual know about their performance on their day-to-day tasks and overall contribution from this past month.

These would be due at 11:59pm on the last day of each month. It would then be released to recipients on the 1st of the next month.

5) After each employee reads their feedforwards they received, they need to acknowledge that with the individuals they received it from either via email, online chat, or a quick in-person one-on-one. This is to confirm you read the feedforwards and a great time to clarify any confusion/miscommunications, ultimately clearing the air if there were any right then and there instead of bottling it up.

6) We needed software to automate reminders + track all the responses for a central repository of feedforwards. After much research, we went with small-improvements.com . They allow customizations with wording and easy ways to remind your team while securely storing everything with easy accessibility for appropriate parties. If you decide to implement this for your team, let them know I sent you and they/I’d be happy to share exactly how we customized everything.

The Result (thus far):

We are 5 months in practicing feedforwards, and instead of me telling you how it has performed, I’ll let our employees speak on behalf of this process:

Feed forwards have really helped me focus on what I need to get better at while giving constructive and actionable items of how to do so moving forward. Unlike simple feed back, our feed forward process is more of a pro-active system that has helped me take next steps and focus my attention on how to be more efficient instead of just reflecting on what could be done better.” – Colton, Happiness Hero 

Feedforwards have been an invaluable way for me to find ways to improve, to know I am on the right path, and to correct issues I had no idea were present. It is an honest and trusting forum that enables success in a way seldom seen in such a fast-paced, exciting company. It keeps us on track, it keeps us honest and it keeps us sane.” – Corey, Director of Sales

“A lot of the feedforward I would get back were things I knew I needed to tackle for the company but it was extremely helpful to hear from my fellow teammates about what they saw as important to the business. This helped organize my priority list and strengthen my confidence on what I needed to work on next.

From a skill set perspective feedforwards were a great ‘open door’ for people to give me support in all aspects of my work. In our day to day work I think a lot of things go unsaid so hearing that you are doing a good job with certain things does a lot for building confidence in how you are affecting the company. Our company is our people, so allowing us to strengthen each other with this new channel of communication makes the company a lot stronger at a much more efficient pace.” – Joel, Designer

Providing feedforwards for team members is a positive practice for any company looking to harvest an honest and open culture.” –Jessica, Operations Manager

Feedforwards from my colleagues have shaped quarterly cultural and professional goals I’ve set for myself. It’s been immensely valuable to receive transparent input that doesn’t necessarily criticize my work so far, rather focuses on celebrating accomplishments and sets benchmarks for the future.” – Saachi, Happiness Hero

Have a clear and open space to request and provide feedforward on a monthly basis keeps our team in a consistent process of progress, helping each other find the optimum approach to our work.” – Brandon, Head of Growth

“Feedforwards are a great forum for co-workers to provide honest, open, and direct feedback to their colleagues. It really helps to have a coworker bring attention to areas for improvement that we often times miss ourselves.” – Gurtej, Happiness Hero

“Giving your colleagues honest and direct feedback is difficult work. By giving context, creating structure, and eliminating egos, Feedforward makes it easy.” – Nathan, Director of Marketing

Closing Thoughts

With enough tweaking and iterating, our new feedforward process has been the answer to creating a workplace that is all about helping everyone improve for the future, and thus be able to grow with aligned expectations from their teammates.

Please tweet at me if you found this helpful or interested in implementing this for your startup/company @timsaekoo on Twitter with #socialstudies!