I’m sure that there was a time when a CEO or manager boldly declaring “my door is always open!”
was seen as progressive, even revolutionary. However, in today’s work climate, where employees desire
feedback and professional development just as much as traditional workplace perks and benefits, it isn’t
enough to simply declare oneself “approachable” or “open to feedback.” Megan Reitz and John Higgins
detail the problems with this mindset in their Harvard Business Review Article: managers often
underestimate the risk that employees take in “speaking up”, or the gaps in perception between
perceived culture of feedback and actual culture. In addition, this mindset creates ample
opportunities for false harmony. After all, if no one is giving feedback, that means things must be
going swimmingly, right?
Modern leaders have the responsibility to go out and actively solicit feedback from all members of
their team. The practice of soliciting feedback isn’t a reactive one, where leadership identifies a
problem and scrambles to figure out how angry people are and how they can fix it. It is a consistent,
proactive tool that allows leaders to leverage the collective intelligence of their team to identify
“rocks in the garden”: problems that exist just below the surface that prevent excellence from growing
and flourishing. It is the job of leaders to identify and dig up these rocks, and to leverage feedback
as a way to cut through the surface-level warmth and kindness that can come with false harmony and
identify and address points of conflict, dissent, or confusion. Proactive solicitation of feedback also
allows leaders to build highly resilient organizations
by deferring to expertise. If you want to know the challenges facing your Inside Sales Team, you can pick the brain of your VP of Sales, but wouldn’t
it be more effective to talk directly to your SDRs?
At Next Caller, feedback is built into the fabric of how we operate and interact with one another
on our team. To take this out of the hand-waiving theoretical pontification and into the concrete,
here’s how feedback structures look at Next Caller:
Like virtually all modern organizations, team leaders at Next Caller engage in regular 1:1s with their
team members for the purpose of giving and soliciting feedback. What makes our culture unique, however,
is that the CEO meets with every member of the team on a monthly basis to gain feedback on a specific
topic of cultural import to the organization. Topics and questions are circulated in advance so that
team members can come with thoughts and ideas prepared, and can see the impact of their feedback as the
CEO mobilizes the leadership team to address and implement the observations of the team.
These meetings give the CEO opportunity not only to gain a high-level understanding of how the
organization is feeling about a particular issue, but also to probe specific individuals who may be
more intimately impacted than others.
Team presentation? Feedback form. Week coming to a close? Feedback from. Hot-button issue or high
stakes decision? Feedback form. Setting agenda for Leadership Team meetings? Feedback form.
Leveraging only Google Forms and a click of the “send button”, we constantly poll the team for feedback.
This accomplishes two significant things: first, at the most basic level, it allows us to get insight
into how to improve ourselves as individuals and as an organization. Second, it models, normalizes, and
publicizes the practice of humbly asking for feedback. Believe it or not, feedback is contagious!
For these forms we request team members attach their names to their feedback.
There’s a time and place for anonymous feedback, but attaching a name allows the person
receiving the feedback to follow up. This is an imperative part of the process. Follow up in a
timely and thorough fashion allows the person giving feedback to feel:
Validated – Someone actually read this!
Informed – I now have more context or have had questions answered.
Able to Hold Accountable – I know that this was read and responded to,
so I expect to see positive change in this are
Rewarded – I am more likely to engage in giving feedback in the future
The image of the empty “suggestion box” springs to mind. Is it empty because your team doesn’t care
about providing feedback, or is it empty because they have no evidence that anyone reads or acts on
the feedback they give?
Organizational Health Surveys
I find it helpful to divide feedback into two groups: issue-based feedback (how does person X feel
about issue or topic Y) and organizational health feedback (how does our team feel about the
organization as a whole).
Organizational Health feedback can be collected conducted in quick snapshots, less frequent surveys, or
both (we leverage both at Next Caller). The purpose of this process is to get anonymized data that
gives you a holistic picture of where your culture is exceling and where improvements need to be made.
At Next Caller, we conduct in-depth org health surveys twice a year. With over a 90% response rate,
our team is clearly bought into the process, and it’s not difficult to figure out why. After collecting
all the data, we create heat maps for responses to visualize areas of strength and areas for growth. We
facilitate team-wide conversations on these areas to solicit concrete suggestions for improvement, as
well as how to leverage our strengths to grow the company, attract talent, and maintain high levels of
engagement. We are transparent with the data and trends over time. We agree as a team on the areas for
cultural focus so that leadership can be held accountable for driving change that directly addresses the
commonly identified challenges facing the organization. This drives buy-in and engagement, which drives
more high-quality feedback.
These initiatives then provide a north star for us to ask pointed, customizable feedback questions on forms and in team meetings to gauge our progress towards the ideal.
It becomes cyclical, and it has driven an average response of “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” on 91% of our internal organizational health questions, and an A+ Culture Score on Comparably.
For Next Caller, becoming an organization that lives and breathes feedback didn’t happen organically.
It was intentional, and sometimes painful, because giving and receiving feedback isn’t just a technical
skill: it is also a mindset. We went through an intense and painstaking process of establishing team
norms and values (our maxims) to provide a framework for how we interact and how we think about
feedback. This not only gave us a common language for holding ourselves and others accountable to
expectations, but also created a space of emotional and psychological safety devoid of defensiveness.
If we assumed the best, if we sought to understand, if we were relentlessly pursuing our goals,
feedback was no longer a threat to our expertise or competency, it was an opportunity to be our very
best in every way conceivable. Feedback ceased to be heckling from the stands, and started to be a sign
of deep and profound respect, as it was rooted in the belief that our teammates wanted to and had the
capacity to improve.
Tim Prugar, (https://www.linkedin.com/in/timprugar/)
Tim Prugar is the VP of Operations at Next Caller, a telecommunications
technology firm based in New York City whose mission is to create a positive customer experience
through real-time call verification technology. At Next Caller, Tim is responsible for People,
Performance, and Product, leveraging data and feedback to drive strategic and cultural decisions on a
daily basis. He’s excited to go to work by people who are excited to go to work! He can be reached at
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