Is a feedback culture part of nature or something to nurture?

Insights from Slite's Journey.

Is a feedback culture part of nature or something to nurture?

Insights from Slite's Journey.

Last updated
August 31, 2023
Written by
Keysa Yánez

Feedback, ah… what a loved and feared word. It can either be the door to growth or the door to loathe. We have been receiving feedback ever since we can remember; it's the way we learn, the way we get graded, the entry to opportunities and disappointments. Feedback moves us, whether forward or backward, yet, most importantly, feedback is the fuel for personal and professional growth. And talking about the latter, feedback is paramount for a company's sustainable development.

A team without feedback looks like that fresh herbs indoor garden you've been trying to grow for the past month, but you keep forgetting to water it, so it's dull, half-dead, and ultimately useless. Teams need feedback to develop ideas, cultivate motivation, learn from mistakes, improve processes, and iterate on successes. Gallup shares a fascinating insight:

4 out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they receive little to no feedback, and employees who receive feedback daily from their managers are 3x more likely than those who receive feedback once a year.

All of this sounds incredibly inspirational, but let's be honest: cultivating a feedback culture, though powerful and propelling, is a challenging task. Especially remote teams, where the opportunities for micro-interactions are virtually reduced to zero. And that's why we are writing this blog. We want to share with you everything we've tried at Slite to embrace a culture of feedback. We will delve into what worked and what didn't and share the nitty-gritty of what it truly looks like to implement a feedback culture.

The Role of Managers. Setting the Tone.

How frustrating is it when your company preaches a culture that not even your own manager follows? We are aware of the importance of managers as leaders in shaping a feedback-driven culture. It's clear to us: Managers can make or break a team. That's why we decided to try supporting managers with coaching and development that would help them create a robust environment. We also have yet to do this alone; we hired an external company, tmcglobal, that helped us get unbiased guidance for managers. A cornerstone of this approach has been investing heavily in 1:1s and feedback sessions. We hope this will trickle down, showing that leaders embody the principles we advocate.

What did we learn?

  • Coaching could be internal or external; either one provides different approaches.
  • Coaching ≠ meddling. It's essential to keep a safe distance between managers and their teams so their relationships are built naturally and without interference.
  • Coaching is usually not a once-and-done tool. Most managers at Slite still benefit from a set of external sessions and other, less frequent, internal sessions.

Performance Reviews: An Evolutionary Perspective

We have our own recipe for this one. We approach performance reviews like an F1 race; we all have our goals, but to reach them, we need to pitch-stop a few times to make sure our gear is top quality.

Extra insight: we use standardized templates to get ready for them in advance and come to the conversation well prepared. We're happy to share them with you.

The first stop happens after the first month. We book an initial touchpoint to align expectations and encourage feedback exchange. Attention to "red flags"  at this stage!!

This first chat is never about only employee performance; we are looking for fresh-eyes feedback on the product, understand their experience so far, and also take this moment to share the manager's and the employee's first impressions as well. We want this feedback to be as transparent as possible, and that's why the insights related to the product are shared across the team to build trust and encourage product improvements.

The next official stop would be in the 4th month, and from then onwards, we book performance reviews at 6-month intervals. These are crucial to encourage dialogue and track performance, growth, and development. These chats are important for managers and employees to collaborate closely, explore advancement, and address challenges.

What did we learn?

  • While the process is ongoing, we acknowledge that this process needs polishing.
  • After the 4th month review, managers can decide to continue reviews every 6 months or to have a review sooner if there are points of improvement that should be addressed quickly.
  • Our reviews are based on each person's hire date, so they fall on different dates throughout the year instead of all at once. While this brings a bit of complexity in some areas (like planning), the team feels this makes everyone's workload lighter, and more time and care can be put into each review.

Feedback Workshops: Empowering the Team

We are all in this together! Feedback is powerful and can be transformative for teams and individuals; that's why we decided to dedicate a space to launch a few workshops in our last team offsite. These workshops were all about emphasizing the essence of feedback and setting up straight when it comes to distinguishing between constructive and unhelpful feedback. We learned about non-violent communication (NVC) and the empowerment of team members to articulate feedback effectively.

What did we learn?

  • Just as with performance reviews, there's room for improvement in these sessions.
  • The momentum gained from such workshops is vital, laying the groundwork for a sustained feedback culture.
  • Keeping momentum and making feedback a part of everyone's workday depends a lot on individual preferences. There's a delicate balance between forgetting about it and forcing it.
  • However, practice makes progress; we keep on encouraging the team to make room for feedback and continue to make it a natural part of their interaction with their peers.

Engagement Surveys: A Holistic Feedback Ecosystem

Feedback isn't a one-way street. We know that engaging employees is vital for the company's health. That's why we launched surveys across the company that help us gain visibility into team dynamics. We have experimented with various approaches ranging from individual 1:1 interviews all the way to weekly/biweekly pulse surveys. However, lately, we have settled in with quarterly engagement surveys to strike a balance between frequency and depth since we want the feedback to remain relevant and actionable within a reasonable time frame and without being invasive.

What did we learn?

  • Interview formats are usually where we get some of the most valuable data. These, however, are time-consuming.
  • Either format you choose, the team will want to see actions or results from the feedback they've provided. You might only be able to address some issues, but providing actions and initiatives is the best way to show you're listening and you care.
  • We found that much more frequent automated pulse surveys (weekly or biweekly) felt a bit impersonal and didn't nudge us to push for improvements.

Resources we use to foster a feedback culture

We are a remote team, and for us, making sure that we are creating a safe space that promotes talks across people and teams is undoubtedly one of our most important quests. That's why we also support ourselves with resources that help us stay in the loop of the latest knowledge in this area, and we wanted to share with you our top 3 picks:

  1. Cultural Influence on Feedback: Erin Meyer's "The Culture Map" is a tool for enhancing cross-cultural understanding. We are scattered across countries, come from different backgrounds, and cherish the richness we all bring to the table. At the same time, we want to be able to navigate our different approaches in the most productive way possible, and that's why Erin Meyer's Cultural Map helps us be more efficient and effective in our feedback exchanges, regardless of our geographical boundaries.
  2. Walking the Talk: Radical Candor as the Guiding Principle: Radical Candor isn't just a buzzword at Slite; it's a philosophy woven into the fabric of our feedback culture. Recognizing that giving and receiving feedback is an acquired skill, we emphasize leading by example. Actions speak volumes, and the company's commitment to candid conversations resonates from the first week of an employee's journey.
  3. Foundation in Non-Violent Communication (NVC): We mentioned it earlier. We root our feedback in empathy and understanding; NVC helps us have a framework for articulating feedback in a way that nurtures relationships and drives growth. This approach aligns with our dedication to creating an environment where feedback isn't just given—it's received and acted upon constructively.

The Learnings

What's next: Continuous Improvement

Our journey in feedback culture is still ongoing. We are already preparing new ways in which we can continue fostering a space where feedback is natural and valuable. Here are some exclusive insights:

1. Informal Feedback: We have plans to conduct informal feedback sessions to equip employees with a platform to practice giving feedback with no strings attached.

2. Performance Reviews 2.0: Good questions make good feedback. Thus, we are fine-tuning our performance review processes to make sure that the feedback collected is meaningful and actionable.

3. Manager Round-Tables: Another project for us to try in the future. We want to facilitate regular interactions between managers to create a collaborative space for skill-sharing and practicing difficult feedback discussions.

Creating a feedback culture is a process. We are on a journey to cultivating a space where feedback is the means that serves as a beacon of inspiration. The path to perfection is far from being clearly defined, but we have something clear:

  1. Iteration makes perfection
  2. We have a genuine desire to foster a feedback culture.

Drop us a line

Hey I'm Mel,
Publishing online sometimes feel like shouting into a void so I want you hear what you'd like to read about! How do you want to improve remote work? Drop us a line.
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Written by

Keysa Yánez is the People Operations Lead at Slite. When not planning amazing Offsites, she can be found exploring British Columbia, hanging with her pup, and making delicious vegan food.

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