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Feedback is non-negotiable

Patrick Campbell Feb 25 2021

Feedback is something we all like to think we're good at giving (and receiving), but often times these sentiments are unintentionally hollow. We all have good intentions. After all, we know we and our teams can only get better through feedback. Yet, in most companies we end up fearing retribution or that we're going to be too "mean."

Amongst a team this becomes a contagion, where we self-fulfill a culture where we want more feedback, but we don't seek or give feedback. The wheel turns and no one gets better. Atrophy sets in. Failure follows quickly thereafter.

At ProfitWell, we've found that we over index on the principle of feedback being non-negotiable. We've had plenty of people come to us for a feedback culture only to realize how dramatically different a feedback culture can be relative to an average corporate environment. This environment can be taxing, especially since some individuals need to be coached into a new way of thinking when it comes to feedback.

The following is our attempt at centralizing some of this feedback thinking through an internal memo. Coaching feedback is a series of many interactions and sessions, but we've worked to create a "bill of rights" for our culture, so people have a place to start in the interview, onboarding, or development process. Authorship is shared by Peter Zotto and Facundo Chamut, as we publish these as a group.

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Feedback is non-negotiable

    1. Nothing is more crucial to success than feedback. It's the bedrock of sanding down our rough ideas and prickly traits in order to smooth us forward with momentum.

      Feedback can be uncomfortable though, both to give and receive. We've put a stake in the ground that no matter that discomfort, the act of giving and receiving feedback is non-negotiable at ProfitWell.

      Let's explore the why and how of feedback.
    1. Feedback is the means through which we build something great.
      A great allegory that illustrates feedback's importance is that of a photography professor who split his students into two groups. One group was instructed to work on one photo for the entire semester, while the other was instructed to work on one photo every day. Both groups could solicit as much feedback from the professor as they wished.

      At the end of the semester, the group that shot a photo per day produced noticeably better photographs. The repetitions and feedback they received from those repetitions allowed them to get incrementally better every day. The group that did only one photo improved, but they were only able to get feedback on ideas, rather than actual work.

      As we all try to improve, we need to do many reps and sets of what we're trying to achieve and then reflect on those reps and sets to make sure we're moving in the right direction.

      Reflection is the key here. After every attempt you can observe what went well, what didn't go well, and what you're going to do differently next time to optimize further. This introspective feedback mixed with how successful you were in your pursuit helps you get better. Of course, you can also receive feedback from others with a different perspective, thus compounding your development further.

      Feedback is the only way to get better quickly, because it improves the quality and shortens the cycle to doing something great. The discomfort and time feedback takes are the price we pay for trying to be better. It's part of the journey.
    1. Feedback is tough because it's personal and emotional
      Critical feedback hurts and can feel like a knife to the heart. Positive feedback can fuel you for days on cloud nine. It's a spectrum, but the continuum's ends can be quite extreme.

      Not all feedback is hard to take though, even if it's critical. We can easily accept feedback we've come to terms with, no matter the gravity.

      Facundo is a loud human. PC is a curmudgeon. Peter eats too much pizza.

      These aren't positive, but we'd have no problem accepting them.

      Feedback's hard to take when it grates against the stories we tell ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses. If Peter told Facundo he wasn't doing a deadlift properly and his form was off, he may have a hard time listening to the feedback, because Facu has been deadlifting for a long time and Peter hasn't done a deadlift since college.

      Facu could easily ignore Peter though, because Facu clearly knows more in this instance. Yet, imagine if Peter told Facu he was a poor leader. There isn't clear expertise here and Facu respects Peter, so this would be much more difficult to hear.

      As a provider of feedback we should be cognizant of the times we're giving feedback to someone that respects us about something they hold dear about their identity. As a recipient of this type of feedback we need to do our best to check our ego through cultivating a healthy self-esteem and embrace the beginner's mindset where all feedback is a gift to get better.

      Feedback's going to hurt sometimes. You're going to take it personally, and that's because you want to do a good job. You're not going to want to give it, because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings. While seemingly well intentioned, the higher aim is to make everyone better, and the only way we're going to do that is through feedback.
    1. Feedbacks easier when you know it's from a source that cares
      Putting feedback at the center of our principles and rewarding those who constantly give and receive feedback well is only the beginning. We also need to make sure those who are receiving feedback know the provider cares.

      How do you show you care? Well, you build relationships.

      Deeper relationships allow us to understand and respect each other's triggers. You're then able to give feedback at the level that the relationships supports. Facu and PC are going to talk to one another differently than PC giving feedback on an email to a team member he doesn't interact with much.

      We all naturally build relationships, but make sure you're putting in the effort with your reports, team, and manager. We don't hire people who don't care here, but since we encourage you to bring your whole self to work, make sure you're learning more and more about those around you. The more you know, the easier conversations will be, especially when you take your relationship into account when giving and receiving feedback.

      Relationships won't always save you - you may be particularly sensitive to something that's unknown or maybe you're just really bad at receiving feedback on certain topics. In these cases, make sure you lean into the most charitable interpretation (MCI), recognizing your reaction and not letting it impact the feedback.

      You won't always be perfect, but that's what growing is all about.
    1. Foundations of giving feedback
      When giving feedback your job isn't to tell someone what to do, nor is there any obligation for the recipient to listen to your feedback. Instead, our job as a feedback provider is to help someone get to an outcome and grow more effectively. As a recipient of feedback your job is to take in and understand the feedback from which you can filter to guide your decision making.

      In this vein, we may end up giving feedback on things we know very little about (or know less than we think). That's ok. When in doubt make sure you say something. Yet, realize the recipient of the feedback may have much more insight or a closer proximity to the problem that makes your feedback irrelevant.

      To keep the exchange effective, here are a few pillars of giving feedback.

      Embed feedback in a performance culture
      We already pointed out how feedback being non-negotiable is engrained in our culture, but you should realize this also is embedded into how we think about performance at ProfitWell.

      Those managers who prove ineffective at giving or receiving feedback don't last long here. Infractions could include being duplicitous with feedback, "picking their battles", or creating an environment where their team is uncomfortable receiving or giving feedback. This goes for those who aren't managers, as well. We can't breathe the benefits of feedback if we're not all on the same wavelength.

      Make sure feedback has the right context
      Whomever you're giving feedback to, no matter their role or seniority level, should know why you're giving the feedback and how the feedback fits into the bigger picture. You're ultimately trying to help the person with answering, "What should they do more of and less of?" Give as much context as possible, because you're giving them data to filter and make decisions around how to get better.

      Focuses on the future non-judgmentally
      Feedback isn’t about the present, it’s about the momentum you’re gaining to be better. Dwelling on the bad or the good, doesn’t do much to reinforce or help fix anything. Focus on the outcomes. Feedback is rarely about being right or wrong; it's about effectiveness. Make sure you understand the outcome and speak in terms about how you think a certain behavior (or lack of one) is making them less effective.

      Be clear and direct
      Our discomfort with giving and receiving feedback sometimes makes us generalize or keep things vague. You're not doing your job or helping someone if they leave the conversation not understanding your feedback or thinking something completely different than what you meant. Our favorite example of this is in the early days when Peter would give critical feedback and the person would actually think Peter was giving them positive feedback. You need to be clear, and a good test of this is asking the person what they're taking away from the conversation to confirm.

      Positive feedback is absolutely crucial
      We tend to focus on feedback being critical, because that's what we tend to have the most trouble receiving. We also think being critical is the only way to get better. This is not the case. Studies have shown that critical feedback is only effective when coupled with positive feedback. This doesn't mean do the "compliment sandwich," but does mean that if you're not receiving positive feedback, the critical feedback will wear on you. Make sure you're giving your teammates positive feedback and if you're not getting the positive side from your manager, give them that feedback. Positive feedback is also important for learning, because it helps us reinforce what we're doing well. Remember, it's about doing more of what works and less of what doesn't. You can't know what's working unless you get positive feedback.

      Feedback is non-negotiable, but the way you receive feedback is negotiable
      We all have different personalities and backgrounds. You should know how you best receive feedback. A lot of us think we're warriors who can handle critical feedback in front of a group. Yet, you don't get brownie points for the intensity of the environment. You only get points receiving and using the criticism to get better.

      It's ok to not want to receive critical feedback in a public setting.

      It's ok to want to get on a zoom to talk through things versus doing so via slack.

      It's ok to tell your team that you're sensitive about certain topics.

      You'll know your emotions better than anyone else, and you'll know how to receive feedback in a manner that's best for you. Just make sure to tell those who give you feedback your preferences. If someone who normally gives you feedback is sending some your way, it's ok to ask them to change the venue or give them a call. How you receive feedback is very negotiable.
    1. Feedback is non-negotiable
      If we're all trying to improve, the most effective way to do so quickly is through feedback. It's at the heart of your job at ProfitWell. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to give and receive. Yet, like most things worth striving for, achievement has some discomfort.

Work to improve your resilience to feedback and don't forget to lean on MCI. If you do both of these, ProfitWell will easily become the part of your career where your learning curve was the steepest.

You'll not only do better and achieve more, but you'll become a better person. You'll harness your emotions better. You'll learn to respond not react. You'll gain deeper relationships with those around you.

You'll just be better.


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This is a ProfitWell Recur production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space. 

By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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