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The Continuous Feedback Loop

Lately, I came across a couple of amazing organizations with smart ways to collect feedback. And that’s important, because feedback might be difficult, it’s important when working on a great company culture and employee engagement. When I ask HR people how they collect feedback they usually mention two methods: short watercooler talks and an yearly survey. Great efforts, but I’m sure there are better ways.

Ingredients for great feedback

Before we go on, let’s talk about the ingredients for good feedback. It’s the perfect balance between frequency and effort. Or how often do I give it and how much time will it cost me? The correlation between these two is quite simple: the higher the feedback frequency, the easier you should make it. Another ingredient is writing it down. It ensures there’s no ‘blur’ and the meaning is clear. And lastly: feedback should be a continuous process, people should know what to expect.

Those watercooler talks are informal, fast and easy to do, so that’s a big plus. But they lack consistency and aren’t written down. So what about those (often time-consuming) yearly surveys? To me they seem like nothing more than an excuse for not doing anything in between those surveys. And let’s be realistic, what do you remember about a project that you did nine months ago? Our mind also increases the impact of recent events, as Daniel Kahneman perfectly describes in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. I’ll get back on surveys later on.

One Button Question

At Vincit they want to know the ‘happiness value’ of the total company. They came up with a device that asks “How do you feel today?” and two buttons – a green one with “Great” and a red one with “Bad”. It’s right by the entrance, so everyone entering the office can easily participate. They show the results on a monitor in a common area. Being very basic this system helps to measure the company’s temperature instantly and to react if its value goes down fast.

Vincit Monitor

Slack / Basecamp / Flowdock

But let’s assume you like a little bit more feedback from your people. You like to keep it as informal as watercooler talks, but written down with the option to go in deeper. Some companies I visited use tools like Slack, Basecamp or Flowdock to check in on their people. It’s easy, it’s fast and it’s transparent when you use a main channel. And that’s good, people can react and self-organize to make things better. Of course, you can also add integrations like folks from SC5 did with their ‘anonymous questions’.

The great walls of feedback

Another great way to collect feedback is a feedback wall. An extra benefit: it decorates the office unlike anything else. This wall was used by Futurice when they moved to a new office.

Futurice Office Move Wall

It contained three columns: Good, Bugs and Improvements. Employees posted their feedback and everyone saw it, it was a common area near the kitchen. That makes it easy to read it all and who knows, you might even be able to solve something.

Surveys done right

Back to surveys. Although often misused by lazy (or misinformed) managers, they can be a great tool to collect detailed feedback. Especially when you remember the main ingredients for feedback; frequency vs. effort and writing it down. So why not try monthly and/or quarterly sessions, depending on the questions you’d like to get answered? Add at least one question with limited options like “How likely do you recommend our company to your friends or colleagues on a scale from 0 to 10?”. It helps getting a numbered metric so you can compare results from different surveys. Repeat questions, but not too often. Especially if you do monthly surveys. It’s better to use these sessions for measuring changes like an internal conference or hackathon. Extra tip: a cheap and easy way to review results is using Google Forms or Typeform.

Other feedback tools

So Sergey, what about mentoring sessions and one-on-one interviews? Well, they can be very good, but are very time-consuming. Also, they should be about creating the perfect environment for the employee to optimize his or her work, not about judging. Of course, your next question is about daily stand-ups and retrospectives on a team level. Good ideas as well, but not enough. They’re all about team level so it’s hard to think on company level when you’re at them. Also, a lot depends on the team leader or Scrum master. If they don’t pass on the questions or issues to HR, People Care or higher management, no one will know about them.

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