Cultural implications of ongoing feedback

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I’ve been in a lot of meetings the last few weeks – client meetings, networking meetings, sales meetings, community meetings – many with my coworkers Jim, Claudia and John. At our company trip last month, we all re-committed to one of our original objectives around debriefing after every meeting together. We’d been sporadic before, but since then we’ve been doing a really good job of spending five minutes after every meeting giving each other feedback.

I’m not going to tell you it has been easy to fit in the schedule or even have the conversation. That’s why we are putting special focus on ingraining it into our culture until it is natural. At first, it feels a little awkward, especially for those who have given and received many performance reviews over the years. Its hard to overcome the natural tendency of bracing for unpleasant news or taking a deep breath to deliver something you’ve been waiting to say for a while. But after a few meetings, the conversation really flows naturally. It really feels more like back and forth rather than up and down, and that’s what I find most interesting.

Jim and I have been experiencing the benefits of back and forth feedback with each other since college. Amidst constructive and unconstructive cultures and performance reviews at a variety of companies, we’ve always had a ton of respect for each other and given each other tough criticism as well. Today we are harder on each other than ever, but it feels totally safe because we have a relationship built on helping each other. Theoretically, that should become much more challenging as we add people with different roles in the organization who have new or historic relationships with us and each other.

So far, so very good. What’s most interesting about these debriefs is the quick turn they take from one-way feedback sessions to helping each other improve and generating ideas as to how the company can grow. After one of John’s presentations a couple weeks ago, I told him I’d been watching carefully to come up with ideas for how he could have been more effective. And then he did the same for me the next day. We weren’t reviewing each other, we were helping each other work better with our clients. After Claudia and I met a potential partner company for lunch, I opened up to her about where I thought I had fallen short and then she was able to build on that to give me some feedback on how I could have steered the conversation better. Jim and I came out of a networking meeting last week that took a quick and unexpected turn into a sales meeting and even though the outcome was great, we still discovered in talking through our debrief something that neither of us had put our finger on individually – that we need to be able to give prices for certain types of projects on the spot.

We are huge believers in having a flat structure and culture and so far this feels like one of the best things we have done to lay a foundation for that. We’ll keep you posted on how this goes as our company grows, but I think we are on to something pretty unique and extremely valuable. Assuming we can stay really good at this, we’ll never need performance reviews!

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