Giving Feedback

Throughout the year, other humans may request feedback from you. This will happen when we do our quarterly 360 cycles, but individuals may also request feedback through Small Improvements or by asking you directly. The following guidance will help you to put that feedback together.

If you prefer to watch a video, here is a video presentation and some slides from Siobhan on Receiving & Giving Feedback

And here are the slides:

How do I give feedback?

When you are giving feedback, start from a place of care. We are all invested in the company doing well which means supporting individuals in their day to day work. 360 feedback is not a place to air grievances or deal with long-simmering problems (these should be addressed directly with the person or with their manager) – it is an opportunity for a person to learn about their work, their impact on others, and how they can improve. When we all improve as individuals it contributes to the company growing as a whole (see our value “learn continuously and grow together”).

360 feedback should deal directly with a person’s work, including their output, their working style, their communication, and anything else that is a factor in their performance.

Be specific

The most useful feedback is specific. This is one of the benefits to feedback being transparent (i.e. we don’t have to be vague to try to protect anonymity). This is true whether it is positive or negative. Just saying “good job” doesn’t tell a person what it is about the job they have done that is good so they don’t know what to repeat. However, if you say “I was impressed with the approach you took to fixing that bug – it’s not something I had thought of and I’ll try it when I come up with a problem myself,” you’ve identified what was good and what the impact is.

Be actionable

Feedback should be something a person can take action on. If it’s something beyond their control then it’s not particularly useful. Talking about a person’s personality traits is not particularly useful feedback. For example, “I struggle to understand Siobhan’s accent” is not useful feedback because there’s not much that a person can do about their accent. Focus on the things that a person can do something about.

Be objective

When talking about something a person has done, try to be as objective as possible. You don’t need to apply judgement. Do not talk about a person’s motives or intentions, focus on what actually has happened and on the impact that it has had. Don’t talk about an individual’s personality, focus on their behaviour. Talk about the impact that the behaviour has had on you or your work. One of the values of feedback is that it helps an individual see their behaviour from another perspective and to get a better overview of the impact of that behaviour.

Choose the right language

Think about the language that you use so that you are clearly understood by the person reading your feedback. It helps if the language that you use is specific rather than vague, and you should try not to exaggerate situations. For example, saying “Siobhan never takes important conversations seriously,” is a sweeping statement and it may be more accurate to say “Sometimes Siobhan doesn’t seem to take important conversations seriously: here are some examples [including links to P2 posts or Github tickets]”. As a guide, avoiding extreme words such as “always” or “never” can help.

Refer to company values

Our company values are a framework for the behaviour that we expect from people in the company. While they may still be in draft form, you still may find it useful to refer to them at times as they can anchor and give backing to your feedback. The draft list is here. Examples of feedback that might refer to company values:

  • Siobhan DMs me about work-related things that don’t necessarily need to be private – work in the open, welcome discussion
  • Siobhan doesn’t always consider the impact of her actions outside of the team that she is working with – the “team” is Human Made
  • Siobhan spends far too much time worrying about making things absolutely perfect. Often her work is fine a week before she actually publishes it – good today is better than perfect tomorrow
  • Siobhan sometimes shies away from conflict or resolving a difficult situation. The problem here is that issues fester and become worse than they may have been if they had been resolved earlier – focus on the positive, face the negative
  • Siobhan books holidays at short notice and doesn’t properly inform her team of her absences. This can make it difficult to rely on her for work – our culture of freedom depends on accountability

Approach

If you want a framework for thinking about how to give feedback, one method you may find useful is Situation – Behaviour – Impact. To follow this method you deliver the feedback in the following way:

  • Situation – you objectively describe the situation. This provides context for the feedback. E.g. “We are all expected to provide weekly updates”
  • Behaviour – you objectively describe their behaviour. This is the most difficult stage. Avoid making any judgement. E.g. “We are all expected to provide weekly updates, but Siobhan rarely manages to post one”
  • Impact – describe the impact. E.g. “We are all expected to provide weekly updates, but Siobhan rarely manages to post one; this makes it very difficult for the company to know what People-related activity is going on in the company at any time.”

This is just one method. You may find another method more appropriate to your own style and the relationship you have with your reviewees.

 Feedback Examples

  • Not very useful feedback: Siobhan is a poor communicator at times.
  • Better feedback: Siobhan can sometimes be a little blunt with people.
  • Best feedback: Siobhan can sometimes be a little blunt with people which can result in them getting defensive. This is less the case on P2 and Github where she has time to think through her responses. On Slack, though, which is more synchronous, her responses can be sharp. At times she may find it useful to step back before responding so she can put more thought into her response and its impact.
  • Not very useful feedback: Siobhan can be a little slow at doing things.
  • Better feedback: Sometimes Siobhan doesn’t prioritise things which are a high priority to me, and they can take her time to get to.
  • Best feedback: Sometimes Siobhan commits to things that take her a while to get to. I understand that she has a lot to do but this can end up blocking my work. If there is something that has been hanging around on her to-do list for a while it would help if she could communicate that she is blocked on it, either to get help from someone else or to just give everyone a better overview of the current situation.
  • Not very useful feedback: Siobhan can be pedantic.
  • Better feedback: Siobhan’s pedantry can sometimes get in the way of people doing their jobs.
  • Best feedback: Siobhan often picks up on the tiny details in a person’s work rather than focusing on the bigger picture. For example, she spends quite a lot of time picking up on spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in P2 posts. There are a few problems with this: it makes people feel stupid, and in a company where English is not the first language for many people that is quite unfair. Also, it wastes time looking at insignificant details rather than at the whole thing. It would be more productive if she focused on the content of a post, rather than worrying about details like that.

FAQs

I feel very uncertain about giving feedback. Can I get some help?

You can get in touch with me if you want to talk through any feedback, think about the best way to frame it, or figure out how to make it actionable. Feel free to ping me on Slack. Or you can it through with another peer, colleague, or your team lead.

How long will it take me to give feedback?

If filling out the 360 survey has only taken a few minutes, then you have not provided very useful feedback. It may take you 30 minutes or more to fill out the form, particularly the first few times that you do it. It will get easier over time though, particularly as 360s become more embedded in our culture.

Do I have to give feedback?

If feedback is requested from you, you can decline to give it. This is perfectly acceptable. You may not have worked with someone enough to feel able to provide feedback to them. If you are overwhelmed with requested, accept those ones that you can provide the most useful feedback to (i.e. those people for whom you can provide actionable feedback, not those people who you just want to tell they are wonderful).

What happens after feedback is given?

Once someone has received your feedback, be open to having a conversation about that feedback. It can be helpful if you can provide concrete examples. Be open to being challenged and to talking through feedback in detail.