Feedback Like A Startup – Part 1 of a series within a series

Lean!

Kaizen!

Continuous Improvement!!

Buzzword Buzzword!!

If you’ve been screaming these words at yourself in the mirror every morning and whispering them to yourself in your bed as you go to sleep, yet wondering why your enterprise organization is no better at the art of feedback than yesterday…well, let’s be realistic, if you’re doing things like this you’re probably not going to be helped by this article either.  Look!  I just demonstrated honest and open feedback right there, which guarantees that this is an article written by a genius.  

I also am no stranger to receiving feedback myself, like:

  • when my friend Gary informed me in 7th Grade that I actually *didn’t* look cool when wearing my jean jacket and sunglasses indoors for 30 days in a row
  • just yesterday when I had my wife proofread an E-mail I was about to send and informed me “this sounds like it was written by a sanctimonious jerk and not the hero of millions of people that you are” (the astute among you might’ve figured out that she doesn’t have time to proofread *these* articles)
  • when my business partner Matt Corstorphine informed me last week that I actually *didn’t* look cool when wearing my jean jacket and sunglasses indoors for 30 days in a row.

As the above no doubt demonstrates, being a startup or being part of one does not magically guarantee that you will suddenly become very good at getting feedback *or* acting on it.  What I *can* magically guarantee is that some of you reading this article likely stopped at the headline, thinking

Wow.  A startup.  If only I could join a startup.  That’s the ticket.  Iterative feedback.  If only I ran a 3 person organization out of someone’s garage instead of (pick one):

 

  • an enterprise organization full of thousands of people
  • a team of 80 reports
  • a 3 person organization out of someone’s garage

 

  • dancing on top of this speaker at the nightclub,

 

then I could experience the magic of those startup hippies receiving and acting on feedback every single moment of the day.

 

Well, if that dream speaks to you, then hold someone’s hand and chant “kum ba yah”, my friend, because I’m about to reveal to you:

  • the art of getting useful feedback often and how to do it without people trying to throw you out of a window
  • who the MVPs of your organization are when it comes to feedback, regardless of your size
  • what to do with feedback when you get it, including being emotionally prepared for it (what?)
  • the TRUE SECRET behind feedback (related, when you should never, ever, *EVER* ask for it)

 

At least I will when this 2-3 part series concludes, because there’s *no way* you’re going to read a 17 page essay in one shot!  I mean, who comes here to read lengthy treatises anyway, right?  So with that out of the way:

  1. Seek feedback *often*.

While you shouldn’t be harassing people for feedback, you should be looking to get feedback at very regular intervals.  When I say regular intervals I don’t mean to daily levels, as:

  • most people can’t give you quality feedback on a daily basis
  • most people don’t *want* to give you feedback on a daily basis
  • you won’t want to *get* feedback on a daily basis.

I have to put this disclaimer in because I have seen too many organizations who have taken my advice on getting feedback and suddenly started trying to get feedback *all the time*.  In the event you haven’t angered everyone on staff with this, you’re locked into a cycle of thrashing based on feedback versus ever moving forward with a solid direction.

If you are still determined to get daily feedback despite my advice to the contrary, the best way to do so would be to have a daily meeting time-boxed to 3 minutes with about 6 people (30 seconds each).  However, in a lot of large organizations that don’t force much time accountability, your “3 minute stand up” meeting easily turns into 60 minutes without someone ruthlessly moderating, particularly if you have people in that meeting who like to talk or people who simply like to meet all day because, well, that’s what they do.  We’ve all met them, particularly if we’ve ever consulted for large enterprise organizations.

I’ve had the most success in larger organizations when the feedback touchpoint is weekly.  This gives you enough time for people to really think about their feedback and also allows you to have a slightly longer meeting if necessary.

Some of you “Lean Startup” people are likely choking at the advice to even regularly schedule this meeting as “you should get the feedback only when you’ve built and measured!!  Then the learning can commence!  TOYOOOOOTA”   Easy there.   If you are part of a large enterprise organization that doesn’t attempt to book its higher level people into 4h worth of meetings a day, by all means, you don’t need to adhere to a set feedback schedule.  However many times you will find that unlimited flexibility isn’t there for your participants.  While scheduling *another* meeting to react to a meeting seems counter-productive this is often the only way to guarantee someone’s time.

  1.  Exalt and raise up people who are willing to offer you candid and tactful feedback.

You cannot teach someone how to care.  We’ll come back to this one later as this deserves its own article.  But keep that in mind.

People who volunteer their feedback are immensely valuable.  Ideally your team is full of people who give feedback openly and fearlessly, but many people either

  1. don’t care enough to give feedback
  2. aren’t knowledge enough to give feedback
  3. are frightened about giving feedback.  You might scoff at this but in my history with consulting/team building, I’ve heard many people through many orgs say the “I can’t lose this job, I’ve got [a house payment | 7 children | a Rottweiller with very expensive tastes] so I can’t risk offering feedback”.   The fear is real.   Whether you want someone riddled with this kind of fear to be part of your team at all is another article in itself, but this legitimately holds some people back from making change.
  4. would rather just quit rather than offer feedback.  Seriously.  There are people out there who are so discussion/conflict-averse they would sooner leave the job than give feedback at all.

From the startup perspective, I can tell you that without the feedback our team received during private beta, you would have seen a radically different inContract than the one currently servicing high-performing freelance management consultants and the companies that want to hire them.  As it is, we recognize that users who volunteer great feedback after release are those who truly care about our product, and thus have given them elevated user accesses / previews to new features before anyone else (I might have spoiled the surprise here for some of our users, but we’ll live).  Likewise, in your organization, someone who is giving you feedback is someone who cares.  That’s not something you can get a certification in.  You either do care or you don’t.  People who give you that should be treated like gold.  They are taking part of their time to invest themselves and their thought process into your organization.   If you don’t believe me because you think I’m too good looking to be trusted with any advice for your monolith corporation, then

  1. I respect your judgement immensely and am flattered by it
  2. go read Seth Godin talk about the same thing

 

The important thing about elevating these people is that you are also able to trust their feedback more readily when the feedback is positive.   If the person is giving critical thought to what can be improved, then they’ve also given critical thought to what is already working.  This gets overlooked because many managers in the corporate world would prefer to surround themselves with people who just agree with everything they say and pretend that they are receiving “feedback”.  That’s actually called an echo chamber.  And the tough part about being in an echo chamber is that the echo drowns out the actual message that is coming from outside.


Next:
How to *hear* feedback like a startup does, and better yet, how to *action* feedback like a startup does!  Featuring how to emotionally prepare yourself for feedback.  What?!  Yup.