Yea sure, your performance review discussions are amazing. But they are not enough.
You do not have the same kind of exposure to your employee’s day to day work like his colleagues\peers have.
Therefore you should give your employees a “career growth” gift by giving them visibility to how their peers perceive working with them.
But, how do you do it in a way that gives actual valuable feedback, does not deteriorate interpersonal relationships within the team, and gets past any potential defensiveness of the person receiving the feedback?
This is one possible way to implement this:
Every half a year (half a year so that enough time passes between each feedback round to actually have differing feedback AND to not make this too heavy on your team), you schedule a 1 hour meeting with each of your employees (can be instead of that week’s 1:1).
First you should Always start with an intro. Reminding the person you are talking to the purpose of this process. The purpose of the process is to give all the people in the team a gift to their career growth and give them candid important feedback they might have not otherwise got if not for this process to help them grow and learn. A lot of people avoid giving serious constructive feedback when the feedback is not anonymous. which is why this process is so valuable. Remind the person you are talking to that sharing real candid feedback on his peers is something he is doing for their benefit, and constructive feedback will not be used “against” the person receiving the feedback unless there’s a serious red flag or that they do not improve after receiving the feedback (when its constructive).
Make sure you remind them that people will receive their feedback in a completely anonymous manner. The way to achieve this is that you are only going to share feedback (either positive or constructive) that was called out by more than one individual. Make sure that the person you are talking to understands that because that helps their feeling of anonymity and helps them open up more to provide constructive feedback.
Then you move to actually collecting the feedback. The question I use (thanks Modi Gendelman for the inspiration) is this: “You wake up tomorrow and you have the most world changing brilliant idea. You quit your job and you start your own startup. Here is the list of names of your current peers. Let’s go one person from this list at a time and I want you to give me for each person a number from 1 to 10.”
1 means ‘I would never have this person join my startup’, 10 means ‘this person will be one of the first I’ll call to join my startup’. This way your employee doesn’t directly stack rank his peers against one another.
Then you start with one of the peers on the list and ask for a number. Let’s say your employee says “7”.
You actually don’t care too much about the number. These numbers are VERY subjective and are based on gut feeling only. The reason you want them to provide a number is because this is the most important conversation starter for the discussion.
You ask “Why 7?”.
Then the employee lists different things about the person, things they are doing well, things they are not doing well enough. They talk, you type. Type everything. Don’t worry, you’ll post-process what you wrote later on. Make sure the employee talks about both positive and constructive feedback. Don’t haste through it. Embrace the silence. Let them think. Let them remember shared past experiences.
If you need a way to get more feedback on the currently discussed individual ask “Why is that person a 7 and not a 9?” (if you need more thoughtful constructive feedback) or “Why is that person a 7 and not a 5” (if you need more thoughtful positive feedback). Do what you can to capture both kinds of feedback on Each individual in the team.
Make sure that they back up their feedback with real world examples. If you hear “she’s very strong technically” you can ask which opportunities they had to observe that. You are doing this to make sure they base their feedback on real experiences and observations and not just gut feeling.
Lastly, in the spirit of openness, you let your employee know, that as a manager, it is very important for you to learn and grow as well. And one of the best sources you can get insightful feedback on what you’re doing well and what you could be doing better is your employees who are working with you on a day-to-day basis. Let your employee know that them giving you honest feedback is crucial for your growth and long term success and you’ll appreciate any piece of feedback they tell you. And you really should appreciate it. To help your employee with the toughest part of this conversation, let your employee know that you are especially interested in hearing constructive feedback on yourself as that helps you find blind-spots that you can improve on which you might not be aware of. The most important about this part is to truly be vulnerable and thankful for your employee that’s giving you this gift of honest feedback. The worst thing you can do in this situation which is already quite stressful is to become defensive. Accept any feedback you get even if you Think it’s wrong at the moment or you disagree. That will just break your employee’s trust and they may never share with you honest constructive feedback about yourself (which you actually desperately need for your own growth).
Now that you’re done collecting feedback from everyone on everyone, it’s time to post-process.
The main idea here is to go person by person, and look at all the feedback they received. Then see which points of feedback you collected on that person were repeated by more than one person (either the exact same feedback or very similar feedback).
For example, let’s say Alice said that Bob is not open to hear other opinions and that showed during Bob’s design review meeting. Let’s also say that Corey said that Bob frequently closes PR comments without addressing the comments or just marks “won’t fix” without proper justification or discussion. In my opinion, these two feedback points are talking about the same problem. Bob’s inclusiveness. Therefore you should rephrase these points of feedback to combine them to one point of repeated feedback.
Note all of the points of repeated feedback both positive and constructive, and put them in your employee’s next performance review for discussion.
When talking to your employee about his peer’s feedback during the connect discussion don’t rush to give commentary. Ask them to first read and tell you what they think and how they feel. What you’ll sometimes see is that positive feedback is well received, and constructive feedback will be either acknowledged or pushed back against.
If the feedback receiver is acting defensively and does not seem to “agree” with the feedback or maybe he has this perfect example as to why this is not a real issue, remind your employee that you are not here to judge who is right and who is wrong. The idea is to give them visibility into how their colleagues perceive them and what sort of impact they are making or missing in the team. Depending on the severity of the feedback and defensiveness you can be slightly harsh and direct and tell your employee it is firstly HIS problem that he is perceived the way he is perceived and this can affect their opportunities for team work and impact on others, But you will be more than happy to coach them through it if they want it.
In my team I can only say that this process helped a few engineers to drastically change their way of working with others, which was reflected in the next rounds of group feedback collection.
What are you waiting for? Give it a try, and let me know how it worked out for you!