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Think you’re good at your job? How to create a functional feedback cycle.

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Do you think you are a fantastic manager?

Do things seem to run as smooth as silk?

Are you creating the right products at the right time for your customers?

 

Even if you answered “yes” to these questions, you don’t actually know for sure that it is true. Of course you want to be great at your job (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post), but the reality is that it is really hard to know how you are actually doing. The only way to really know for sure is to collect data, and measure and analyze feedback.

When I first became a manager it was a challenging transition, largely because I went from being the doer (where my results and output were clear and very measurable) to being responsible for and judged by my team’s output (harder to quantify for me).

In school you are graded as a student and individual, and your grades are your own. Even if you work in groups on projects, grades are seldom assigned to the whole group. But at work that isn’t the case: you either sink or swim as a team.

Changing your mindset from doer to manager is tough, because even if you go all out – work lots of nights and weekends, and are awesome at your job – your success isn’t just based on what you do, but on what you do together. (Tweet this!) And the challenge with this is twofold:

  1. You have to learn to look at things in a longer timeframe. It isn’t just what you completed this week, but what your whole team did in a month, in a quarter, or more (the timeframe really depends on the projects).
  2. You have to learn how to motivate, collaborate, and function as a team. This is much more challenging than just doing everything yourself – where your quality and output is predictable – so you have to learn to handle the unpredictability that comes with teamwork.

These can be hard challenges as an individual or a new manager, because the feedback cycle is so much longer than when you are an individual contributor.  It is hard to tell a good manager from a great one by just looking at a month or two – you really need 6 months to a year (or longer) to accurately assess performance, since you have to look at who they hire, how they grow people on their team (and can they retain the good ones?), how work gets done, how they navigate through troubled situations, and so forth.

But you don’t have to wait that long to figure it out yourself. You can start setting up feedback cycles on your team right away to start measuring your performance (and your team’s!) and begin adjusting as needed.

success and feedback

What to measure

Your first challenge in creating a feedback cycle is going to be determining what areas you need to pay attention to on your team. Thankfully, this is something a lot of smart business consultants have spent a lot of time on and we can look at their research for inspiration. My personal favorite framework is the “balanced scorecard” approach, which suggests you look at 4 areas from your business:

  1. Financial: encourages the identification of a few relevant high-level financial measures. In particular…choose measures that help inform the answer to the question “How do we look to shareholders?”
  2. Customer: encourages the identification of measures that answer the question “How do customers see us?”
  3. Internal business processes: encourages the identification of measures that answer the question “What must we excel at?”
  4. Learning and growth: encourages the identification of measures that answer the question “How can we continue to improve, create value and innovate?”. [ source ]

Adapting this to your team can be done by turning each of these questions into ones that are relevant for your work and projects. For example, if you were on an engineering or software team working on a part of your company’s website or product, you might focus on:

  1. End results & outcomes
    • What are your core deliverables and how do they fit into the company’s top level goals and objectives?
    • Do you hit your milestones on time and within budget?
  2. Customer feedback
    • Who are your customers (they may be internal teams)?
    • How happy are they with your service/products?
  3. Process – how are you getting the work done?
    • How can you be faster, more efficient, or have more fun working as a team?
    • Are you doing post mortems, and what is the feedback? Has past feedback been addressed? You don’t want to make the same mistakes.
    • How can you do more with less?
  4. Learning and growth
    • Are people promoted on your team?
    • Would you describe your team members as top performers? Are they meeting their goals?
    • Are the right people in the right roles? Have you successfully filled your open roles?
    • How are you doing as a manager? Do people have what they need? Is the feedback you receive the same as last time (it shouldn’t be!)

The trick is to ask the right questions. In general, the questions you ask should be timeless: they should be able to apply to almost anything your team does, and shouldn’t change year over year.

How to measure

Once you have established your core areas of assessment, you need to figure out a lightweight way to measure each one. Some are going to be much easier to measure than others – but the trick is to make each one as easy as possible. Anything with a lot of friction or work is only going to interfere with progress, and that defeats the purpose (and decreases the likelihood you will be able to stick with this continuous feedback cycle).

With luck, you are already tracking/monitoring some of these things (like what you are shipping and when). Some of the other information is going to require a bit more work (like formal or informal surveys).

It is really easy to create free, anonymous surveys with Google docs or tools like Survey Monkey. You just have to decide on the best questions (the fewer questions you have and the easier they are to answer, the more likely you are to get complete responses), and the frequency with which you ask them.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, a good place to start is with quarterly surveys that take less than 5 minutes for your team. In addition, you should institute annual/bi-annual surveys that take less than 10 minutes for your customers.

Here are some tips to help you get the most from these surveys:

  • Aim for multiple choice questions with optional fill-in-the-blank comments. That way it is easy for people to complete, but also provides a way for the more vocal folks to share their comments. Scales (like 1-10 or strongly agree, agree, disagree, etc.) tend to work really well too – they are easy to answer and give you a variety of responses.
  • Make personal info optional, not mandatory. You will get more candid and honest answers from some people if they don’t have their name associated with it. However, some people may want a personal reply, and allowing them to opt-in gives you the best of both worlds.
  • Let them know how you plan to handle the feedback. If people are going to take the time to reply, let them know up front what you plan to do with their responses. Are you going to reply to people individually or summarize the results and share them more broadly? It is good to let people to know up front so they don’t feel like their voice is falling on deaf ears.
  • Tell them how long the survey is. How many minutes will it take to answer the questions? How many questions are there? Setting the expectations up front will increase the likelihood people will click through to complete it.
  • Make the survey one page. People are more likely to complete a survey if they can skim the whole thing in a glance and confirm that your suggested time to complete the survey looks accurate.
  • Give them a deadline. Usually a week is more than enough time to get a lot of responses. You can always send out reminders the day before and the day they are due.

In addition to surveying the team on process and performance, it is also important to make sure you are collecting regular feedback on your individual performance. You should ask for feedback religiously in one-on-one meetings. If you want to do something more formally, a once a year 360 review can be a great way to highlight any blind spots in your performance (and it is nice if you instigate this yourself – outside of normal company reviews – since then it is really about you actively learning about your performance from your team).

While you are thinking about ways to track and assess your own performance, keep an eye on people who are successful around you too. The people who are being promoted and recognized in your company are your informal mentors. Hone in on what is making them awesome and learn to emulate that in your own performance.

(Tweet this!)

What to do about the results

Of course, a feedback cycle wouldn’t be a cycle if you didn’t incorporate it into the way you are doing your work. In addition to things getting better (your process, your product, yourself!) people will be more willing to sharing candid and open feedback if they see that it is used for good (and heard).

There are lots of ways to incorporate feedback, of course, but as part of this process it is helpful to have a wrap-up summarizing the results (such as the scorecard or survey results) and a list of changes or follow-up actions that will be taken. It is also helpful to mention what was heard, but what won’t be changing and why (sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to make a particular change, or an issue isn’t likely to come up again in the future).

If the feedback was from a 360 review, or the results of a survey were particularly troublesome, it is worthwhile to have a meeting with your team to go over the results and talk through your action plan to handle things going forward. In addition to a written summary, this in-person meeting with ensure that everyone feels heard and clearly shows that you are taking these things seriously.

 

Then make the changes! That part is probably pretty obvious, but it can be hard. Letting people know that you will screw up, or that things won’t always run smoothly, but you are committed to improving can be a very liberating (not to mention truthful) clause to share.

Oh, and say thank you – because you are grateful for all the good feedback and ways to improve, right?
 

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