I recently caught up with wtf Consortium co-conspirator, Luke Thomas, Founder of FridayFeedback.com and wanted to give you a chance to hear about his experiences in the business of transparent, real-time employee feedback, and how it’s changing cultures across the world.
Lisa: What led you to start FridayFeedback.com?
Luke: I launched Friday Feedback because of an experience I had at a past company. I switched between a few different managers in a short period of time, so I experienced different styles quickly. My last manager didn’t create the environment where I felt comfortable giving feedback. I became a bit unhappy, and (for better or for worse) I didn’t say anything about it. I left the company shortly thereafter, when in reality, if my concerns would have been addressed in a timely fashion, I probably would have stayed longer.
It’s because of that experience that I started researching tools and processes that enabled that constant loop of communication.
I believe every manager wants to be the best they can be, but busy schedules, and conflicting priorities can get in the way. So I thought – “why can’t a piece of simple software handle all the boring/routine administrative tasks, and give managers nearly automatic insight into the state of their team?” I sat on this idea for over 2 years, and decided in late 2015 I had to pursue it.
Lisa: At wtf, we sometimes talk about middle managers being comfortable with the status quo and, therefore, resistant to change in organizations. Do you see this play out with your users?
Luke: I see middle managers being torn in two directions. They are a liaison between the front line and leadership. To me, the only way to improve this struggle is by increasing transparency between the front-line employees and leadership (and vice-versa).
My favorite way of explaining this is based on the TV show “Undercover Boss.” In short, the CEO disguises him/herself as a normal employee, in an effort to discover ways to improve the company. What I love about this is that it illustrates the role of feedback, and the different types that matter. A CEO can stare at numbers in a spreadsheet, but data points will never tell him/her what to do next. When leadership allow themselves to collect richer feedback (by experiencing the day-to-day), it provides a new level of clarity.
Lisa: What trends have you discovered so far?
Luke: I’ve collected thousands of data points from employees in a few short months, and I’ve learned a few things:
a. By increasing the frequency (collecting feedback weekly/bi-weekly) you can create an environment where employees tell you about the little things going on. For example, an employee mentioned that a coworker’s music was a bit loud, and that perhaps, the policy around headphones should be reinforced in the next meeting.
If this issue dragged on over time, it could become a big deal. But because the employee alerted their boss promptly, it had virtually no negative impact on the employee.
I mention a negative issue, but this applies to positives, like peer recognition. The frequent cadence enables new insight.
b. Understanding Signals / Warning Signs The second thing is that for a few teams, employees have left (or been let go). In nearly every situation so far, the writing was on the wall. I believe there’s a misconception around employees leaving without any warning. They leave warning signs. For example, there’s a question in Friday Feedback that asks “on a scale of 1-10, how was your week?” For these individuals, there were several weeks of low responses.
c. Being Human – Caring About Your People’s Lives: The third trend I’ve seen is that employees will oftentimes clue their manager in on a personal issue they are having. Many employees will periodically let their boss know that “there’s a thing going on outside of work, so if I’m acting a little weird, it has nothing to do with you.”
I love seeing this type of transparency, because it helps everyone be more empathetic.
d. Attributed Feedback Encourages Positive Action I strongly believe anonymous feedback should be the exception, not the norm. A few reasons why:
The person reviewing the feedback spends more time wondering who said it vs. digesting the feedback itself. This is harmful, and in small teams, it’s impossible to maintain anonymity (as detecting writing style/structure can easily be done). I also see anonymous feedback apps being inherently negative. Feedback isn’t always negative – it can be positive too.
This feedback is nearly impossible to act on, especially in a targeted way. It leads to broad-brush solutions that many only apply to a small subset of the team (or even to an individual). If the feedback had a name attached, you could be much more targeted with the fix, as you go directly to the person and discuss it.
At the end of the day, if you receive feedback, but don’t take any action, what’s the point?
Lisa: What is your end goal with Friday Feedback?
Luke: The vision with Friday Feedback is to create an employee-centered experience that codifies and recognizes the work that each employee does. A manager has to rely on personal observation, which may not reflect the truth of an employee’s effort. Friday Feedback will combine peer feedback, personal feedback, and goals to create a single-view into an employee’s work experience.
I also want to break down the layers that exist inside an organization. Leaders need richer feedback from the front-line, and front-line employees need to understand the reasoning behind decisions made by leadership.