Cracking the Culture Code

with Kim Malone Scott

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360 Feedback

Soliciting team feedback is extremely important.

Kim Malone Scott

CEO Coach, Management Manager, Author

Lessons Learned

Pay attention to what people are saying; watch reactions in faces and body language.

Reward the truth.

It is a great idea to share your self-assessment with your team.

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Lesson: Cruel Empathy with Kim Malone Scott

Step #3 360 Feedback: Soliciting team feedback is extremely important

I think soliciting feedback from your team is extremely important and I think it’s important to do it formally, but more important to do it informally. The way that I do it informally is if I do something where I think maybe I just screwed up, or I see somebody’s face. I watch people’s faces a lot or their body language. And I’ll call it out. I’ll say, “That didn’t sound just right to me and I’m noticing x, y, z person, you’re frowning. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

So part of it is just paying attention, not just to what people are saying, but to how they’re looking or whether they’re folding their arms, or whatnot.

Another thing that I’ll do is at least once a quarter I will say, “What should I stop doing?” Or, “What should I start doing, or what should I continue doing?” Just a pat phrase, another phrase that I’ve used is, “What could I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”

I think just asking that point blank, sometimes you’ll get nothing. If you get nothing, you have to embrace the discomfort. Right? It’s tempting for people to say, “Oh, everything’s fine.” And when somebody says, “Oh, everything’s fine,” it’s tempting to say, “Good, I’m so glad.” And then to sort of check the box, “Oh, I asked for feedback.”

You have to actually say, “No, there’s something. You have to tell me something. I’ll give you a week to think about it, but next week were not going to talk about anything in our one-on-one until you’ve given me something I’m doing wrong. I know I’m not perfect.”

In Japanese manufacturing facilities they would put employees in a red box and you weren’t allowed to leave the red box until you had identified something that was screwed up. I’ve never literally created a red box in my office, but you sort of have to be willing to push people to an uncomfortable place to give you the feedback.

And then the most important thing when you’ve solicited feedback is to reward the truth. You reward the truth in a bunch of different ways. If somebody tells you you stink, you buy a stick of deodorant.

So somebody told me that I was interrupting him a lot and I knew that I was. I’m an inveterate interrupter. And I also knew that it was a behavior I wouldn’t be able to change immediately. But I wanted to show him that I heard his feedback and that I was trying.

So I actually wrote “interrupter” on a rubber band and wore it around my wrist and I would sit next to him in meetings and say, “You snap this rubber band . . .” and we had the relationship where he would snap the rubber band, “. . . if I interrupt you.” And at least then he knew that I cared, even though I hadn’t managed to fix the problem. He knew I was trying. So sort of make your efforts as visible as possible to others to reward the truth.

Another part of rewarding the truth is, and this is the hardest part, is if you disagree with the feedback, one of the things that you owe the person is honesty about your disagreement and a fuller explanation of why.

So I would say that it’s never too early to start giving each other feedback. I would start it really early on in the life of a startup. Even if it’s you and a co-founder, you should be giving each other feedback. You should make sure you are clear on what you’re trying to do. Right? What direction you’re headed and you should be really clear on building your team.

I think you start doing this stuff really early and I think that if you can come up with a process that’s more efficient than ad hoc early on, that’s going to help you get in the mindset of scaling, of creating process that actually is more efficient than no process.

I think that one of the most important things to do when you ask for advice and then you decide not to take it, is to really take the time to call it out. To say, “I asked you for this advice. Here’s what you told me. I’m not going to do that and here’s why,” and explain it.

I also think that you can get away with that more easily if it’s in a context of you often ask for advice and you do sometimes take it. If you never take the advice, then you’re hosed.

There was one of the biggest jerks I ever worked with, went on this three-week listening tour, which basically meant dozens of people had to spend a lot of time putting together these decks that he was not going to listen to. It was very clear what he was going to do in the beginning. That is horrible. Never do that to your people. That puts you firmly in the asshole quadrant.

One of the trickiest things about getting criticism, especially when you’re soliciting criticism from somebody who works for you, so they’ve already put themselves out there to criticize you in most cases. One of the hardest things about that is when you disagree with what they’re saying.

I have found that one of the things that I will do is I’ll say, “I haven’t thought about it that way before. Let me think some more about it and can we have another discussion?” In a sense I’m trying to buy myself some time to make sure I’m not just reacting emotionally. Then, I’m also buying myself some time to find something in what they’ve told me that I can agree with, or that I can take action on.

But I think in the end, if you’ve asked somebody to give you feedback, you owe them the respect of telling them what you really think. And if you disagree, I believe in order to be clear, you have to tell them that you disagree, but you also have to explain why. And just take the time and the respect to explain that you disagree and explain why.

But I generally try to wait a day. Not a week, a day. For a self-assessment, I think it’s a great idea, by the way, to share your self-assessment with your team, as well as with your boss.

I think there’s no one right formula. At Google, it was accomplishments, strengths, areas for development. I think that worked reasonably well. Other places liked to talk about what went right and what went wrong. So there’s no one right. I mean think about something that works for you and just do it. Just start writing good things, bad things. That works fine.

I wish there were a great quarterly 360 tool. I haven’t seen one. Maybe one does exist out there. I believe that Qualtrics is developing one that will be good. But basically, the 360 should be extremely, extremely lightweight. Again, you shouldn’t be allowed to ask for feedback from more than five or six people.

They should say, “Misses, meets, exceeds. Check, check plus, check minus.” Just three simple categories. Eighty percent of the time it’s going to be in the middle. Ten percent, you’re missing. Ten percent, you’re above. Very simple. And they should only have to write a little bit and only when you’re missing or you’re exceeding.

It should not take people hours and hours to do, because you won’t do it quarterly otherwise. And formalizing it, I think, is really useful. So that’s it on the 360.

When you request feedback, again, you should put the people who work for you as part of your 360, but you should also, I think, reserve a one-on-one. Ideally, once a quarter, and tell the person working for you, “In this one-on-one, I want instead of the usual where you come with an agenda and I’m listening to you, I want you to come prepared to tell me what I can stop doing. What I should start doing and what you want me to continue doing.”

Or however you want to frame it. “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me? Feedback from me?” Whatever. Nothing too formal. Just do it and make them come with something.

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