Feedback – a quest for self-awareness, professional growth and personal development.
Feedback is a double-edged sword. You may have received useless feedback which raised frustration or even anger and thus had no positive impact on the people involved. Still feedback can become a crucial and valuable element of both workplace communication and private life, transforming people, the relationships they build as well as the social environments within which they live and grow.
Properly provided and received, feedback enables you to find out more about yourself and your actions; in particular, you gain insights into how the other people you interact with perceive you and your behaviour. As such feedback may help you more objectively identify your weaknesses and strengths as well as the areas of potential growth and development.
Acting on the conviction stated above, the Selleo team have been experimenting with feedback extensively and – in doing so – have developed a constructive feedback system which supports the co-workers – as individuals as well as members of teams and a community of work – in their attempts to understand themselves and each other better as well as to facilitate their professional and personal growth. The Selleo feedback system consists of a few apparently connected elements:
- 360-degree feedback sessions, where each individual is free to exchange feedback with their work circle, i.e., all the co-workers the person interacts with,
- RevYou – an online service which helps to ensure that the code a developer submits is thoroughly reviewed by their colleagues;
- client satisfaction surveys, which enable those who serve a specific client to elicit the client’s assessment of the quality of solutions implemented as well as the level of service delivered, and finally,
- MMS (Merit Money System) – a system which enables each and every Selleo team member to reward their co-workers with kudos (reward points which convert to bonuses) as a token of appreciation for their colleagues’ efforts, performance, demeanor and other aspects they deem worth rewarding.
The following text is the first article in a series which aims to describe the different components of the Selleo feedback system in greater detail.
360-degree feedback sessions
One of the elements of the feedback system in Selleo is a periodically organized 360-degree feedback session. We were inspired to experiment with the practice by Jurgen Appelo and his Management 3.0book. To cut a long story short, each co-worker – whatever their position or area of responsibility – is invited to take part in a gathering during which the participants are free to give and receive feedback to and from each other. Participation in the session is not obligatory and you are free to refrain from either providing feedback for a specific individual or receiving feedback from them. Despite the voluntary basis, about 60-70% of the people choose to take part in the event, and the fraction of those who choose to attend has been growing steadily. The feedback exchanged is usually focused on performance, behaviour, communications and attitudes.
Rules for giving and receiving feedback
Providing and receiving feedback in a constructive way can be quite a challenge and a daunting task indeed. Some people initially struggle because they simply do not know how to give another person feedback or receive feedback from them; few people have been trained or offered an opportunity to practise the skill before. Thus we chose to introduce a couple of rules which make the whole process easier for the participants to handle. We have opted for and advocate the following set of rules for giving feedback:
- Give feedback only when the recipient is ready to take it.
- Always maintain eye contact with the recipient. Admittedly, looking somebody in the eye may feel hard, especially if you are about to criticise their behaviour. However, people who maintain eye contact are generally considered more confident, honest, and reliable. They seem interested in the interlocutor, who in turn are more likely to accept the message.
- Be specific. Your recipient must know exactly what you think they did well/wrong – focus on some specific behaviour that caught your attention, rather than a generic evaluation of a person. The former is more descriptive and based on your observations, while the latter seems more judgmental, accusatory, and refers to your interpretations, which may be flawed. Try to avoid statements starting with “You…”, and replace them with “I-messages” instead.
- Provide both negative and/or positive feedback as need but use feedback sandwich with caution. Feedback sandwich is a technique used mainly with negative feedback, when you want to highlight delicately the mistake of a feedback recipient. To achieve this, you sandwich criticism between two pieces of praise. The idea behind this method is to make the negative feedback more palatable to the recipient. If you use positive feedback to balance a negative message, it may diminish the value of your praise and the feedback recipient might feel it is not genuine.
- Focus on the feelings the behaviour evokes in YOU. When giving feedback, use “I-messages” to express how a person’s behaviour affects you and your work, trying to be as specific as possible. If you concentrate on your own feelings, the recipient does not feel attacked and is less likely to get defensive. On the contrary, it creates more favourable conditions for self-reflection and awareness that might lead to future improvement.
- State clearly what your expectations are. Specify what kind of behaviour you expect and suggest a few alternatives on how to change things for the better. Explain how the expected change in behaviour will affect you and your work.
- Be realistic and do not expect the impossible.
Guidelines for receiving feedback.
It is a good idea to remember that as a participant you aim to become aware of how you and your work is perceived by others and to gain some insights on possible improvements. The following rules may help you benefit from the feedback you get.
- Taking part in a 360-degree feedback session is voluntary. Besides, you do not have to accept feedback from a given individual without giving a reason for your decision.
- Do not interrupt the feedback giver, while they are reviewing your behaviour. A lot of people will feel the need to discuss the comments, try to justify their actions or even deny what they hear. Don’t do it, just listen. The point is to understand the other person’s perspective. Naturally, you are allowed to ask for clarification if anything remains unclear.
- Use the feedback received to reflect on your performance, behaviour or attitude in question. Think through any constructive feedback or suggestion you may hear and remember that negative information can be useful and you are free to use it to your own advantage. You may share your reflections with the feedback giver and tell them what you are planning to do with the feedback, but it is not a must.
- You are the only person to decide to what extent you are going to take the feedback into account, which – if any – changes you are going to implement and what you are going to do with the information you received.
The advantages of 360-degree feedback sessions.
One of the unquestionable benefits of such 360-degree feedback is that the recipient is provided with feedback from a wide range of people working with them, and not just the managers or business owners. The approach allows one to understand and combine varied perspectives and arrive at a holographic picture of oneself and one’s contributions to the company. The feedback recipient can also gain a better understanding of how their behaviour and specific actions affect the work of other people in their team or, more broadly, in the working community. The received feedback is richer and more meaningful, and is thus more likely to lead to long-lasting effects, e.g., behavioral changes and improvements. Unlike traditional feedback approaches, 360 feedback sessions seem to encourage teamwork, foster better working relationships and increase the awareness of mutual dependency.
It is worth noting that the group sessions do not eliminate the need for one-on-one feedbackencounters. Some people in the company still choose to sort things out in private and the experiences from the group sessions simply help them conduct their exchanges more smoothly.
Thanks to the feedback sessions and encounters, the Selleo co-workers are provided with an opportunity to reflect upon their strengths and weaknesses as well as the impact they have on their colleagues, their team and the company.
They are often lead to identify opportunities to improve and grow both professionally and personally. Admittedly, this may not be a perfect working environment for everybody, but if you are eager to develop your professional and social competencies in dynamic interaction with your colleagues, then perhaps you might like to meet the challenge.