How to give and receive peer feedback – the startup way

Ongoing communications are vital for employee engagement and productive teams. We all know that without feedback, neither our peers nor we can learn and grow. Just an annual performance review feels like scarcely scheduled feedback overload. So how and how often should feedback be best provided? How much does company culture play a role? And how can we improve on requesting and being open to constructive feedback ourselves?

In an insightful and honest hangout, the SUPPORT OPS team discusses team member reviews. Below are some learnings with regards to feedback:

Buffer is famous for their radical transparency. Revenues, salaries, purchase history, it’s all public. They are now taking this a step further. Carolyn Kopprasch, Buffer’s Chief Happiness Officer shares how they are exploring Small Improvements in their quest for ‘transparent performance feedback’. 

  • Start from day one. Every new hire goes through a ’45 day bootcamp’ in which they are evaluated for culture fit. Being exposed transparent feedback, new hires either embrace it or they won’t succeed. ‘Graciously receiving feedback’ is a policy to make everyone feel that they can give feedback. There is no room for finger pointing or making excuses, actually ‘defensiveness’ is a dirty word in their books. 
  • Giving feedback to the CEO and senior leadership can be intimidating for anyone. To help, the rule is: If you feel it is important but are not confident to provide feedback publicly, rather give it privately then not at all
  • Language changes are so important! Feedback is called Feedforward, as it stands for ‘how we’re making you succeed’, whereas feedback connotes ‘how we are critiquing you’. 

Basecamp knows all about project management and team collaboration. Thankfully Chase Clemons, Customer Support Pro at Basecamp, not only hosts the talk but also shares some gems.

  • Consistency! Reviews were always looking back only very forward. So from reviews every 6 months they now happen every 6 weeks in form of informal conversations rather than ‘I am rating you’ kind of talks.
  • To get insights and start discussions for instance on ‘What can the company be doing better’ they use Know your Company. Both private and public feedback can be given . 

Wistia tracks video engagement. Like in many startups, there is a constant flow of information and feedback via channels like HipChat. Director of Customer Happiness Jeff Vincent candidly challenges the annual review as their ‘most intense moment of feedback’ and offers sound advice. 

  • To encourage feedback providing, being open about what you do and don’t know is important. Jeff asks the group when unsure and keeps the team rather more than less informed. In all respects, including hiring candidates.
  • Write feedback down first. Think it through properly and have examples handy for the talk. Too often, feedback is just given at a spur of the moment. 
  • If the senior leadership team is bad at giving and receiving ‘open and honest feedback’, no one else will be good at it. It starts from the top.

Automattic is best know for their work on WordPress. Surprisingly for a medium sized business, there is no official policy on reviews. Roughly once a year, a chat with the team lead is summarized for HR serving as basis for compensation/pay review. Chase Livingston, the Happiness Engineer at Automattic, shares some cool tips to keep feedback flowing in between. 

  • Automattic uses an internally built tool for kudos. Everyone gets 3 kudos a month so that each is ‘really deserved’.
  • Payforward! Each team member provides feedback to the next person. Based on a random list of order, person one has 24 hours to give feedback to person two (i.e. on how tickets are answered). Person two then provides feedback to person three and so on. Eventually everyone gets and gives feedback, while never being overwhelmed at any one time.

How do you handle performance feedback and help employees give and receive meaningful feedback?