How do you ensure a robust feedback structure in your product practice?

  • 25 November 2022
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Userlevel 7
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This week I listened to a great interview with David Rock (CEO and co-founder of the Neuroleadership Institute) on the Brave New Work podcast. David had this to share:

People don't dislike feedback; they just dislike feedback from other people. We crave feedback, [but] feedback from other people creates a status threat. 

 

I get it, but feedback is a hugely important part of developing our skills and making improvements to our own performance and growth. Those learnings and insights shared — especially if we approach it with a self-aware and open mindset — can be hugely valuable to us as product manager and leaders.

So I’m curious, how do you ensure a robust feedback structure in your product practice? What are your go-to resources on this topic?

p.s. If you’re looking for resources on this topic, just out Kim Scott (author of Radical Candor) and Douglas Stone & Sheila Teen (authors of Thanks for the Feedback), and this latest episode from the Brave New Work podcast with Rodney Evans and Aaron Dignan titled Giving our feedback, some feedback on the future of feedback systems. They all offer up tons of great advice on how to tackle these challenging conversations.


6 replies

Userlevel 3
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Thanks for the podcast recommendations @scott.baldwin I’ll definitely give those a whirl.

In terms of feedback, there are a few steps I take to create a culture where feedback is a regular part of working and not just seen as something that is given when things go wrong.

  1. Understand how people prefer to give and receive feedback. Some people prefer written forms others prefer verbal. This breaks down barriers from beginning because you are setting the expectation that feedback will be coming their way and expected of them to give, but you are also meeting that person where they are at in terms of their preferences.
  2. Set an example of asking for feedback. For people I manage or interact with on a regular basis, I ask directly for feedback when we talk. I ask questions such as ‘how did you find that last meeting?’ ‘what is something you have learned from me in the last month?’ ‘what could I be doing better to work with you or your team?’. Showing I am open to feedback starts removing any stigma around the feedback process. (It also matters how you react! Being defensive and evasive are not helpful ways to build a culture of feedback. If you ask for it, be curious and clarify any misunderstandings)
  3. Give feedback little and often. In 1:1s, in informal catch ups, even in, for example, sprint reviews. I really stand by this quote ‘praise in public, constructive feedback in private’ (or something to that effect...). I find that when I feedback more often, positive or constructive, the better received it is because it isn’t always coming out of left field. It’s intentional and frequent.

Interested to hear how other people operate!

Userlevel 6
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Oh, man. This is my time to shine! (maybe….) 

How do you ensure a robust feedback structure in your product practice? What are your go-to resources on this topic?

 

I’m the type that really focuses on nurturing and elevating feedback (especially internally). There are various types of feedback and knowing the right location to put it takes some curation and training. A lot of what @Parveen Downer mentioned is absolutely relevant; especially the fact that people like providing feedback through the venue or means they’re most comfortable with (and not what you force them into). So here are some of my “go-to” tactics and tools: 

  1. ​​​​​​​Board of Ideas: I know, this can become a slippery slope if it isn’t nourished and given enough focus. In larger groups, this can be a little challenging to find the “sweet spot” but the concept alone is simple: give people a place where they can submit their ideas and give a generalized description. In full disclosure, this isn’t limited to just the product practice but it is managed/curated by the product team. 
  2. 1-on-1s: A lot of people enjoy providing feedback when they know they can trust you (the person) and that you won’t take feedback as a negative. This goes back to ensuring that you promote and encourage trust, confidence, and honesty between your teammates. Make sure you take time to address any situations where the person was involved so that you can have a two-way conversation about how it felt, what could be improved, and what challenges they were encountering. 
  3. Active Listening: I know, I know. Pretty much Empathy 101, right? More people forget to do this than you’d think, especially in a professional environment. Sound back what you’ve heard and how you’ve interpreted/took it. Make sure you’re all on the same page. 
  4. Compassionate Candor: I once spoke to a CEO that used this phrase regarding the feedback process and it’s stuck with me ever since. You’ll never break through barriers by holding onto some gripe you encountered with another employee. At the end of the day, everyone is there to improve the product and make the company successful from their respective position(s). Don’t take the conversation elsewhere, address it with the person and work it out. Be compassionate, be honest, be open to all feedback (especially if it feels like a blow to the “ego”). 
  5. “Open Door” Policy: Yeah, I know - we’re all virtual these days. But having an “open door” policy where people can pull you aside when they have concerns really helps them to feel comfortable in addressing concerns when they’re feeling it (for better or for worse!). Don’t get combative, just hear them out and talk through it. You never know how one misstep in the product process can be improved with the right feedback at the unexpected time. 

 

 

Userlevel 7
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@Parveen Downer and @david.morgan thanks for the replies. Looks like you have some great approaches. 

Userlevel 3
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Adding some ideas to @Parveen Downer and @david.morgan are saying, I will say that if you create a culture of:

  1. Trust
  2. Transparency
  3. Communication

You will be able to have open channels, an efficient 1:1s, spaces to have retrospectives based on a culture of critisism, and strongs relations between peers, leaders and team.

Userlevel 5
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We crave feedback, [but] feedback from other people creates a status threat.

 

I didn’t listen to the interview, but I can say there’s an important truth there. It’s especially true in type-a roles like product. I think a lot of us confident types crave validation more than feedback.

Early in my career, I had several crash courses in the public shredding of my ideas. Sometimes the ideas were crap. Sometimes my communication just sucked. And sometimes the critic was just a really mean, insecure leader. I learned a lot by working with and for some socially maladjusted people. I can look back and thank them now, but I don’t have to repeat their methods.

IME, these are the key points of creating a productive feedback culture.

  • Provide feedback constantly. Continuous improvement should be part of the culture, and we can’t do it in isolation.
  • Search for the positives first, criticism second. Most of the time, you have something to praise or learn from. Use that as the foundation on which you can build “room for improvement”.
  • Listen more than you talk. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some very thoughtful execs and collaborators that taught me the value of hearing people out and keeping your words few.
  • Write it down. If we’re discussing anything of consequence to our current roadmap, I always follow up in writing: “Thanks again, blah blah. Just to make sure I captured what you suggested today …” 
Userlevel 7
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Great suggestions @plainclothes - constantly, using our two ears more than one mouth, and writing things down in particular stand out.

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