Stylight handbook

The inner workings of a product company

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Feedback

Goal

Feedback should…

  • be helpful for personal growth
  • be valuable
  • be relevant
  • uncover blind spots

When does feedback happen?

If you got feedback for someone, you shouldn’t wait: give it to them right away. Nevertheless, we find it helpful to have some time cut out to reflect and get feedback. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get burried in your work and not take the time to seek out feedback. Formalized feedback happens quarterly. The feedback sessions alternate between 1:1s with your manager and group meetings with your peer group. Getting feedback from a peer group is voluntary, but recommended. The fallback is having a session with your manager instead.

Feedback timeline

Why we do peer feedback

  • peers have valuable and meaningful feedback
  • feedback by peers provides a broader perspective of one’s contribution (manager may work in other team)
  • feedback from peers encourages teamwork and builds trust
  • separation from pay raise decisions enables giving and receiving feedback in an open and non-judgmental way
  • make re-selection a natural part of the process
  • 3 peers is a good tradeoff between broad vs. deep feedback
  • don’t do anonymous feedback for now, because of high risk of blowbacks and frustration

How does this peer group thing work anyway?

  • Pick 3 people, and invite them to be in your peer group
  • Arrange a 1 hour group meeting with them for the end of the quarter - pick a quiet space with a good atmosphere.
  • In your invitation
  • Before the meeting you and your peers reflect on the guiding questions
    • set yourself a 30 minute timebox
    • make some notes
  • Meet as a group - in person, if possible.
    • Remind yourself on how to give and receive feedback.
    • Everyone shares their points of view on the guiding questions - focus on behaviour, not the person.
    • Discuss - be curious, not defensive. Take some notes.
    • Come up with new personal development goals - during or after the session.
    • Thank your peers for their feedback.
  • Reflect on the feedback - the received feedback is yours and yours alone, you decide what to do with it

How to pick your peer group

  • Who are the people that can give you the feedback that will help you grow? Generally this could be anyone. A member of your team, someone you worked with closely lately from another team, a client, …
  • Be honest to yourself about why you pick people. Don’t pick someone because you expect to hear nice things about yourself. This is not about stroking your ego. It won’t help you grow.
  • Try to pick a diverse group in order to get a broad perspective. For instance different roles, personalities, gender, teams, how long they’ve been with Stylight, …
  • Pick at least one person outside your team
  • It’s up to you to cultivate trust with your peer group to get to the point where they feel safe enough to give you honest criticism.
  • Experience shows that a group of 3 peers is a good tradeoff between broad vs. deep feedback

Invite people to be in your peer group

Ask them personally or write them an email. Something like this maybe.

Hi,

I would very much value your feedback. Please let me know, if you want to be in my peer group. If you do, please take 30 minutes to reflect on the following guiding questions about me and take some notes.

your favorite set of guiding questions or metaphor here

I will find a suitable time and send you an invite once I gathered my entire peer group.

Thank you, me

Most people appreciate to know well ahead of time that you would like them in your peer group. The earlier you let them know, the better.

Guiding questions or metaphor

You may pick a set of guiding questions that other companies use below. You can also mix and match or invent your own. Or pick one of these retro tools [Stylight login required]. Which guiding questions work best for you also depends on what kind of feedback you are looking for.

Jimdo
  • I am particularly good at…
  • My work is particularly easy for me when… / It is particularly easy to work with you when…
  • What I have achieved over the past year is…
  • My work is hard for me when… / It is hard to work with you when…
  • As areas of development, I see…
  • Over the course of the next year, I would like to improve in the following areas…
  • I would like to place a particular focus on…
  • What will my contribution to my development be?
  • What could the organization’s contribution to my development be?
  • What or who could provide additional support?
Hypoport
  • What are my strengths? When and how do I show these strengths?
  • What is my potential? Is there a side of me that I should develop further?
  • Describe a situation where I could have acted differently. What could I have done instead?
  • Am I doing something that irritates you that I might not be aware of?
  • Is there some behaviour I should stop or change?
Buffer
  • If you had to make two suggestions for improving my work, what would they be?
  • How could I handle my projects more effectively?
  • What could I do to make your job easier?
  • How could I do a better job of following through on commitments?
  • If you were in my position, what would you do to show people more appreciation?
  • When do I need to involve other people in my decisions?
  • How could I do a better job of prioritizing my activities?
Spotify
  • What behaviour can I be proud of?
  • What achievement can I be proud of?
  • What behaviour could I improve?
  • What achievement could I improve?
  • How well am I doing in terms of impact?
  • How well am I doing in terms of culture?
Github
  • What behaviour should I start?
  • What behaviour should I stop?
  • What behaviour should I continue?
  • What do I truly long to do?
  • Where do you see yourself going?
  • What are my unique gifts?
  • What holds me back?
  • What has gone really well this quarter that we might celebrate?
  • What did I learn?
  • What didn’t go as well or might have been done differently?
  • What am I most excited about in this next quarter?
  • What concerns me most?
  • What changes, if any, would I suggest in my role?
  • What ongoing professional development will help me to grow in my current role and in the future?
  • How can the organisation help me to grow?
  • What would make me more valuable for my team / the organisation?

What kind of feedback are you looking for?

You should clarify this with your peer group before / at the beginning of your feedback session.

Knob one
“I need direct feedback. If you give me subtle suggestions, I won’t get it.” “I find too direct feedback very harsh and hurtful.”
Knob two
“I need an evaluation of my performance on a particular project or task.” “I need general coaching about how I - as a person - can improve and learn.”
Knob three
“I need more input on how to develop my strengths.” “I need someone to challenge me.”

How to give feedback

growth Check your intentions Feedback is information intended to help others learn and grow. Blowback is information used to wound. If someone has let you down or performed poorly, and you’re feeling resentful or angry - deal with your own emotions before attempting to engage in a dialogue. When you feel a genuine concern for the growth and development of the other person, you’re ready to talk - and not a moment sooner.
behaviour Focus on behaviour, not the person Focusing the criticism on just the situation you want to address - on what someone does or says, rather than the individual themselves - separates the problematic situation from the person’s identity, allowing them to focus on what you’re saying without feeling personally confronted.
connect Don’t be detached, try to connect Speak in “I” language, to share how you have been inspired, touched, puzzled, hurt, frustrated, or angered as a result of what the other person has said or done. Use nonviolent communication.

How to receive feedback

ready Get ready before asking for feedback Never invite feedback until you are ready for it. “Ready” means that you want to hear the truth, not simply validation. If after receiving feedback you feel defensive, it might be that you wanted approval, not information.
inquiry Be curious, not defensive When receiving feedback, it might be tempting to become defensive or “explain away” the criticism. Do not debate or try to explain your behavior. Instead, let the other person finish completely and try to listen deeply. Then ask questions with the intent of inquiry. Request examples. Stay curious until - even if you don’t completely agree - you can see how a reasonable, rational decent person would think what they think. Later, you can decide what you agree or disagree with, but for now, your goal is simply to learn. Reflect thoughtfully on what you’ve heard.
growth Cultivate a growth mindset See mistakes and feedback as opportunities to grow, rather than failures.

FAQ

  • Does this work remotely? I don’t have any team member that work at the same location as me.
    • Manuel: I worked in a distributed company before where we did peer group feedback sessions. We tried to do them in-person before or after company events when everyone was coming together anyway. But we also did them over hangouts. It is harder and not as great as in-person meetings, but it’s doable. My suggestion would be that you try this with a peer group over hangout. If you find that it does not work for you at all, you can of course go back to what you are doing right now. I think though, that a peer group will provide added value for you. Even over hangout.
  • How much time should I spend on reflection / preparing for a peer group session?
    • Manuel: I suggest to spend about 30 minutes on reflecting about the feedback recipient. A lack of preparation significantly decreases the benefit for the feedback recipient and suggests a lack of appreciation or interest.
  • Should I invite my manager to my peer group?
    • Manuel: We deliberately separated the peer feedback from salary negotiations, because it allows for more open and honest feedback both as receiver as well as provider. I would advise against having her in your peer group, but in the end it’s up to you.
  • Who monitors the measures developed in the peer group session?
    • Manuel: It is your own responsibility to implement the measures and goals developed in the peer group session. There is no monitoring by feedback providers or your manager, however you can ask for their help with the implementation.
  • Can I decline an invitation to a peer group?
    • Manuel: If you don’t have the time to properly prepare for a peer feedback session or have any other important reason you may decline an invite. If someone declines to be in your peer group don’t be offended. It is probably more helpful if they say no rather than saying yes, but can’t put in the effort.
  • I just started working here. Should I still meet with a peer group?
    • Manuel: Your peers may not be able to give you much feedback about your performance so far. You could, however, talk with them about your goals and aspirations by choosing more future focussed guiding questions.

Further reading