18.07.2014

Founders: Do You Have a Reliable Feedback Loop?

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One of the trickiest aspects of supporting and growing a company culture is also creating an environment where team members feel heard. When you’re a small team, that part often seems easy; just keep an open door policy and allow your people to come to you with their concerns in a judgement-free environment. However, that method becomes less sustainable as your company grows. If you want your culture to grow and scale along with the rest of your company, you’ll need a reliable feedback loop that can help sustain a culture of connectivity and trust between you and your team. Without it, that hard-won culture may just fall apart.

Establishing an Effective Feedback Loop

Now that you know what kind of company culture you want, how do you ensure that it scales with your company? Creating a feedback loop not only establishes a formal means of communicating with your team, but it also helps you determine the best way to manage your culture in the long term. Gathering and analyzing feedback is not a one-time event, and neither should it occur in response to a negative incident, or as part of an annual review (though you definitely need to have those, as well). In order to guarantee effective results, your feedback process should be a regular activity.

In its most basic form, a feedback loop should include the following steps: giving and receiving feedback, reflecting on that feedback, implementing change in response, measuring the result, then repeating. Gathering feedback may seem like the easy part, but it goes beyond asking a set of questions and gauging how people feel. You also need to allow your team to submit whatever information they might think is relevant; and once you have that raw data, analyze emerging trends in the company and what (if anything) needs to change. After those changes take effect, measuring the results is key, otherwise you won’t have an accurate view of whether it had any real impact.

The Key Ingredient: Your People

Having a feedback process in place won’t accomplish much if you don’t also focus on the people who provide that feedback. At first, you’ll probably notice that most feedback tends towards the negative--what needs to change and what’s not working right. It’s human nature to focus on those aspects, but don’t let everyone get caught up in negative feedback. If you’re the type of person who sees everything as a failure until you accomplish that one big goal, you’ll end up overlooking everyone else’s efforts, which can leave your team feeling under-appreciated.

The solution? Celebrate the little wins with them. It can be as simple as noting the uptick in feedback and thanking everyone for their increased participation. Just acknowledging and thanking people for the small things can go a long way. At the same time, you don’t have to smile and nod at everything. If you think you aren’t getting deep enough feedback, find a small, trusted group of people you know will always be honest with you. Different people will focus on different aspects of the company, so it’s important that you feel the feedback you’re receiving is honest and actionable.

Never Stop Learning

Finally, don’t ask ask for feedback or give feedback if you’re not prepared to make the effort towards improvement. Your business does not exist in a vacuum, and the example you set early on will have lasting effects on your company. It’s one thing to take feedback gracefully, but it’s quite another to internalize and apply it to the present situation. Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of asking for feedback and then never acting on it. Doing so will make it seem as though you only put on a show of listening. If your team sees you in that light, then they won’t see you as a leader worth following. Of course, the reverse applies as well; if you don’t believe that your team can properly internalize feedback and improve accordingly, you might lose faith in them as well.

While it may not make sense to establish a feedback loop in the very beginning, it’s something that you should always be thinking about as a vital element to ensure your company culture continues to grow and evolve. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, once said “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” Don’t wait until the “right time” before you start thinking about how to make things better. Ask yourself those questions as early as possible. The earlier you start, the easier it will be to create and sustain a reliable feedback loop.

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