Here’s an increasingly common request I’ve gotten from startup founders recently:
“We have used the resources on your website extensively in our culture setting process, and we just made our internal culture guide public. Now we’re planning a system for goal setting and performance feedback. How should we go about this? We’re looking for best practices or examples of this, especially in a relatively flat hierarchy?” - Health tech startup founder
“We are a 15 person organization, having doubled in size over the past year. No HR person. We have no structured way to give and receive peer-to-peer feedback, outside weekly one-on-ones between managers and their direct reports. We're looking to do two main things: design a process (potentially using internal design and engineering resources) that would facilitate feedback and self-evaluations. We'd also like to conduct trainings internally to get people on board with the process and how to give "good" feedback.” -Financial tech startup
Startup companies are getting smart to the fact that building a culture of feedback is important. And just as defining your culture is easier done earlier on in your company’s growth (I’ve written about that here), defining your feedback process is also easier done earlier on.
There’s been so much written about how BIG, established companies give feedback. Here’s two good examples:
- Google uses OKRs to set goals and semi-annual 360 reviews to give employees feedback. For the performance reviews, Googlers pick a group of peer reviewers, including co-workers who are both senior and junior to them. They are graded on a five-point scale ranging from “needs improvement” to “superb.” Groups of managers meet and review peer reviews together so they can calibrate them. This process is designed to reduce managers' bias because they have to explain their decisions to each other. Managers then decide the final evaluation, which is used to set compensation. Googlers can also give feedback to their managers using Google’s Upward Management Feedback survey. If you’re going to adopt this model, you need to make sure you have plenty of time and HR resources to dedicate to it.
- Netflix has a practice of expressing feedback — both good and bad — in front of large groups, in a style called radical candor. According to former Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord in Harvard Business Review, “When we stopped doing formal performance reviews, we instituted informal 360-degree reviews. We kept them fairly simple: People were asked to identify things that colleagues should stop, start, or continue. In the beginning we used an anonymous software system, but over time we shifted to signed feedback, and many teams held their 360s face-to-face.” I find Netflix’s model incredibly admirable, but if your company adopts this model, you need to consider if you want employees to hear harsh feedback outside of a private setting.
But how can young startups give feedback? Before you invest in a digital tool that helps you automate the process, it’s important to build an in-person process based on your company’s culture and values. This is called making some agreements.
Follow these steps: Define WHAT TYPE of feedback you want to give, WHO should give feedback to who, HOW the feedback should be collected and given, WHEN everyone should give and get feedback, and how to help everyone ACT on the feedback.
After you've picked several of the options below, put them together in "pillars of feedback." The term "pillars of feedback" comes from Spotify, which uses these four pillars to support continual dialogue between employees and managers: 1) continuous one-on-one feedback, 2) development talks, 3) calibration, and 4) compensation.
TYPES OF FEEDBACK (pick a few for your organization):
- Examples: AltSchool’s CEO Rebuilt Google’s Feedback for Startups
- Tools: Impraise includes real-time 360 feedback
Self-evaluations and Goal Setting
- Examples: Google uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and How to Set OKRs
- Tools: Halogen software explains why Self-evaluations are so important
- Examples: Facebook's Team Feedback and Design Critiques
- Tools: Impraise includes team goals, as well as personal competencies, behaviors, and skills.
Upward Feedback (From employee to managers)
Downward Feedback (From managers to employee)
- Examples: Radical Candor: The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss
- Tools: How to give Radical Candor feedback
Employee Engagement Surveys or Pulse Checks (From employees to top leadership)
- Examples: How Airbnb and Kickstarter get honest employee feedback
- Tools: Know Your Company, 15Five, Officevibe, Culture Amp
- Examples: Jump Associates built a culture of giving constant feedback with "Pure Intentions"
- Tools: Building a Feedback-Rich Culture
- Examples: Google's employees created their own coaching program called "Career Gurus"
- Tools: How to Coach Managers to Coach
WHO GIVES AND GETS FEEDBACK
360: Everyone to everyone
- Examples: Facebook's comprehensive performance reviews incorporate peer, manager, and self-evaluations
- Tools: Impraise, Qualtrics, Halogen
Peer to peer
- Examples: JetBlue Uses Peer to Peer Praise
- Tools: How to Create an Effective Peer Review System (JetBlue's Lift Program)
- Examples: Spotify's managers are called servant leaders: "Working at Spotify you will have a manager that is a servant leader who focuses on your personal development."
- Tools: When to give Feedback one-on-one vs. in a group
HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK
- Three Questions for Effective Feedback: Stop Keep Start (SKS)
- A star and a wish, also known as "a rose and a thorn" and "more of/less of"
- Stanford d.school's "I like, I wish, I wonder"
- At Google, peer reviewers are asked to state one thing the reviewee should do more of and one thing that they can do in a different way.
- Ask a neutral party to facilitate a feedback session. They simply ask each person to go around and answer questions-- use the in-person phrases I show above: SKS, more of/less of, or "I like, I wish, I wonder"
- Anonymous feedback allows employees to give feedback without any negative consequences. However, some experts are against it. Claire Lew of Know Your Company says, "I’m a big believer that anonymous feedback is evil. It breeds mistrust."
WHEN TO GIVE FEEDBACK
- Ad hoc: Having a culture in which it's okay to give feedback informally, before and after meetings
- Annual: Typical annual performance review
- “Always On": when a survey or feedback tool is always available
- Weekly or Monthly: either in person or via an online tool
- Pre, during, and post projects: done in teams (post-project feedback is usually called a retrospective)
RESOURCES ON HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK
Be Open but Considerate
- Examples: UsTwo explains how to give context that is specific and actionable, constructive and purposeful, and timely in an appropriate setting.
- Tools: How to Give Feedback that Helps People Grow
Avoid the Feedback Sandwich
- Examples: Psychologist Adam Grant explains the problems with the feedback sandwich
- Tools: How to balance positive and negative feedback
Make it Feel Normal
HOW TO HELP EMPLOYEES ACT ON FEEDBACK
- Example: 4 Best Practices on How to Act on Feedback, The Right Feedback Mindset for Employees
- Tools: Psychometric tests (these tests don't provide feedback on behavior, but they can help team members understand how others will act upon feedback) IDEO and LinkedIn Use 5Dynamics, others include Myers Briggs, Big 5, and Hogan Personality Tests