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Non Sequitur Fridays

Scaling Culture with Feedback

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Chris Savage is co-founder and CEO at Wistia. His last Non Sequitur was about cold brew coffee.

We didn't implement a formal feedback process until we were about 20 people. Formal feedback seemed like this horrible thing big companies did, which took a ton of time and slowed them down. I always assumed we would have an advantage by forgoing feedback in the name of urgency.

I was wrong. Learn from our mistake and start earlier.

I never thought we would need a feedback system and I certainly never thought I would enjoy the feedback process. Given my complete flip-flop, I wanted to write something that might have convinced me to try formal feedback earlier.

I believe that every company with more than two people will benefit from a formal feedback process. Are you ready to be convinced? Well, read on!

Finding problems in plain sight

We had problems that we couldn't see until we asked ourselves specific questions and struggled to answer them. It's so easy to ignore issues that are all around us until we confront them directly.

After we introduced a formal feedback process, we started systematically dealing with issues that we had previously pushed under the rug. Every one of these issues was harming our culture or stunting individual growth, until formal feedback forced us to address them. There is something magical that happens when you write down your problems. You take them more seriously and often end up fixing them.

Improving the small things

By not giving formal feedback, we were not allowing people to advance as quickly as they could have if they had been told how to improve. Sometimes even simple things like asking someone to proofread their emails better, which normally would never be mentioned seriously, had ripple effects. In this case, their emails were taken more seriously and given more weight, which made them more effective and made their job easier.

Making feedback familiar

Because we had no formal feedback process, giving and receiving any type of feedback was not a familiar or comfortable exercise for everyone. Many people were uncomfortable receiving constructive criticism, simply because it wasn't commonplace in our culture. We had a few people running around that no one knew how to give feedback to, who were doing their jobs, but could have been improving faster.

As feedback became the norm, every one of these people started dealing with feedback regularly. Getting comfortable giving and receiving feedback makes it easier to set higher goals, and higher goals help us do better work.

Recognizing the whole picture

When you're a small team and everyone is working at full capacity, it can be easy to miss some of the amazing things that people sitting right next to you are doing, that go unnoticed because they are not that person's regular job.

I can't tell you the number of times we've discovered that someone was doing something incredible that was going unnoticed. Inspiring initiatives have been uncovered, improper expectations have been overturned, and it's become easier to celebrate the accomplishments that are happening all around us.

How our process works

We spent a lot of time thinking about the feedback process. We wanted to make sure that it captured the collaborative and creative nature of our work and made sense for all different roles within the company. We also wanted to ensure that the process remained the same for everyone. In someone’s first year, they receive feedback at 30 days, 90 days, six months, and one year. Beyond that, everyone goes through the process annually.

Who

We ask all the people that someone works closely with for feedback to get as complete of a picture as we can. Most people call this 360-degree feedback, and we find that it feels natural with our collaborative and autonomous culture. This comprehensive style helps you take into account that perhaps there are other people that are really hindering or helping someone's growth.

The questions

Every evaluation includes the same series of questions. We encourage people giving feedback to answer the questions for which they will have the most helpful thoughts to contribute.

Our feedback process is centered around our core values. To really live and breathe our values, we wanted to codify them such that they directly influence growth and compensation.

Making the core values part of our feedback cycle forces us to consistently evaluate if people are living our values, and if these values are the right ones.

Our core values are: Delight, Impact, and Growth. Here’s an example of some specific questions we use to see if people are living out our values:

  • How much delighting is Brendan doing?
  • What things are holding Brendan back from delighting more people?
  • Do you think Brendan is having a big impact?
  • Is there any responsibility that Brendan has that you think should be owned by or distributed to other people?
  • How much do you see Brendan growing? (not his height)
  • What could Brendan do so that he could grow to be a better leader?
  • What would you like to see from Brendan over the next year?
  • Anything else you think I should know or that you want to pass along?
Running the feedback

We compile the feedback into actionable take-aways, so it's easy for the recipient to digest the information and begin acting on it.

A critical step is asking the feedback receiver to do a self-evaluation using the same questions. We always start a feedback session by running through the self-evaluation first. This has a disarming effect on everyone and makes talking about actionable feedback much easier and way more effective.

When should you start?

Often, the difference between making something good and great is getting honest and constructive feedback at the right time.

In a company that's moving quickly, it's easy to accept certain routines or travel far down paths that end up being detrimental to your overall growth. A formal feedback process encourages the questioning and reflection necessary to keep individuals and larger teams moving in constructive directions. Rather than slowing momentum, feedback catalyzes positive change and progress. Trust me.

We've been doing formalized feedback consistently for about two years, and it has made a remarkable difference. It makes it easier for everyone to learn and hold themselves accountable, and ultimately, it helps everyone grow much faster than they would otherwise.

Are you doing feedback right now? What does your process look like? What could you do to grow faster?

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