The concepts of "continuous feedback" and "continuous improvement" are central to agile and lean philosophy. Esther Derby and Diana Larsen have a wonderful book entirely about team retrospectives. "Inspect and adapt" itself, the 12th principle underlying the Agile Manifesto, has been subject to inspection and adaptation and trumped by "Plan-Do-Check-Act." Teams, processes, work-in-progress--all are ideally subject to frequent observation and tuning.
But what about the people? As agilists (or non-agilists with common sense), we recognize that we succeed or fail based on the quality of the people and interactions on a team, regardless of the process followed. If we are going to squeeze maximum value out of ourselves, shouldn't we be putting something in place to tune our people even before we tune our processes? The grim specter of Annual Reviews rears its ugly head. Or "360-degree Feedback."
Sure, I know there are some overachievers out there who constantly ask for feedback on themselves, the more painful the better, but count me in with those of you who got one scathing anonymous review on a 360-degree review ten years ago and never got over it. (Bob, I know it was you). The fact is that person-to-person reviews are tricky and somewhat risky, particularly when the person DOING the review has the power to impact the salary and continued employment prospects of the person RECEIVING it. And yet if you don't do power-oriented reviews like these with actual ramifications for someone, it is very hard to jump-start a culture where peers provide this type of feedback to each other in a way that everyone benefits.
Moreover, just as company-mandated "fun" isn't fun, company-mandated "feedback" is more about how to game the annual review cycle than it is ever going to be about personal self-improvement.
I honestly have no idea how to fix the annual review cycle, or indeed how a company should determine how much to pay its employees, particularly in a flat organization. I think it might always boil down to politics and whether the person is in high demand in the competitive job market outside the company, but that's just my guess.
BUT even though I am quite freaked out by the whole concept, I still think this is something each of us should do for ourselves. It behooves each and every one of us to launch our own interpersonal feedback revolution, for our own sakes. I consider this to be a routine matter of professional hygiene analogous to tooth or lint brushing. And I can suggest a way to do it that will make it almost painless, almost fun to do, and almost not terrifying. Here is my Interpersonal Feedback Revolution Manifesto:
I am toying with the idea of printing the format on little cards or maybe developing a smartphone app, to make this seem cooler, but those things aren't necessary. Here are what I regard as the key benefits of my manifesto:
Okay that's enough for now. But think about it. Ask for feedback, and provide help to the person in how you want to hear it. If only a few of us do this, well, I was going to say the world will be a better place, but you know what? The point is, if ANYONE does this, they will benefit. This revolution is measured qualitatively.
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