When I wrote about why feedback matters back in January of 2018, we were continuing a journey that the engineering team at Qumulo had started and improved on over the years. Now we’re taking the entire company on this journey.
As a company like ours grows from a baby start-up to a thriving, enterprise-scale business, there are bound to be bumps along the way. With Qumulo’s values such as “We Share by Default,” and “We are Data-Driven and Experimental,” feedback is essential to our culture and to the company’s overall health. it’s a great way to keep things running smoothly as we grow and change! We believe it is important for every team member to have the skills needed to scale our human Qumulons, just as much as our technology and product.
We aim for foundational knowledge as a starting place. We’re sharing two basic models for giving feedback then expanding from there.
- Impact feedback – a simple and straightforward way to share how the actions of the recipient affected the giver of the feedback. When you connect how someone’s actions specifically affect you, the feedback tends to be more meaningful and, well, impactful to the recipient. We recommend a simple phrase such as “When you did X, the impact on me was Y.” X in this case should be factual and stripped of all the emotion or opinion we might tell ourselves about why someone did X. X should also be as short and as specific as possible. Y is all about how those actions affected you. Y needs to be about the impact of those actions, and ideally uses the language of owning one’s own emotional responses. The strongest Y statements use “I language” where it’s all about what “I” personally experienced and felt as a result of X. We recommend avoiding phrases such as “You made me feel…” or similar that might land as accusations, regardless of intent.
- C.O.I.N feedback – COIN is an acronym that stands for Context, Observation, Impact, and Next-Time. This is clearly a more elaborate feedback approach than Impact feedback, and it can be particularly helpful when you have feedback to give, but trouble articulating it clearly. We recommend starting by writing down all of the elements of COIN to clarify the components involved with the feedback. This can also work as a way to give yourself emotional distance if it’s feedback around a situation with great emotional intensity.
We don’t believe you should leave your heart at home when you come to Qumulo, and we want everyone to have the tools they need to be a full and complete person when working here. COIN can help with that, whether the situation feels joyful or despairing. Again, “I language” about our feelings is very important for successfully giving this style of feedback. The goal is to not place the responsibility of our feelings on others, but at the same time let them know when their actions are strongly influencing our experience as complete humans.
At Qumulo, it’s important that we all know how we show up, so we can choose to show up differently and become “part of teams of people we’re proud to know” (another key value for Qumulo).
- Pulling feedback – We’ve probably all attempted to solicit (or pull for) feedback with a generic question such as “How am I doing?” Most of us have gotten the generic, “fine” in response and left it there, assuming that we have succeeded in verifying that we were, in fact, fine. At Qumulo, we’re helping people look further than that and get the input we all need to strive towards excellence. If you’re not getting the type of feedback that helps you grow, we’ve been teaching these approaches to improving feedback, Being specific in your request is the first step toward more meaningful and useful feedback responses.
- Positive feedback – This style is often more powerful than negative feedback; It’s both easier and more common to give improvement-focused feedback, but helping your peers or direct reports create their own highlight reel of great performances that they can repeat? That’s like the gold medal equivalent for feedback.
It’s easier to pull ourselves towards excellence than it is to keep experimenting with how to avoid negatives. Help your peers see their excellence so they can go toward that light. rather than push away from the darkness.
Receiving feedback is its own skill, and while an entire class and exercise set could be done about it, for this post we only want to provide a teaser on how to make the feedback you receive the most valuable it can be.
As we respond to the growing needs of our population of delightful humans here at Qumulo, we may expand this into a class of its own, a great way to demonstrate how we respond to feedback. Important things to keep in mind when receiving feedback:
- Really listen to what is being said – If your first response to feedback is “That’s not what I meant,” that’s a sign of being defensive, or struggling to listen first. Do your best to really listen and hear what the person is saying to understand that this is how your actions appeared to them in that moment.
- Verify you heard what the person intended – Try to paraphrase or use mirroring language to repeat the feedback back, and confirm you understood what was intended. If you don’t understand it, seek to clarify.
- Seek to understand the core message – While it might seem that some feedback is superficial, work to determine if there is a deeper theme to it, so that you can work towards your own improvement.
- Identify potential patterns of when the behavior happens – Maybe you are grouchy before that second cup of coffee, if that’s the case, make sure you get it before engaging with others. Look for personal patterns that maybe only you see: Does the behavior in question happen after every “sportsball” game, or after your karaoke night, or when you’ve gotten nine hours of great sleep? Only you may be able to see an underlying pattern that enhances the observed behaviors.
- All feedback, no matter how alien-seeming, is valuable – if you receive feedback that doesn’t feel like you, understand that IS how you appear to the person giving the feedback. This may reveal more about the challenges in your relationship or self-perception than the feedback itself. It may not. Look for the 2 percent of truth lurking in all feedback you receive. That 2 percent, occasionally, can boil down to considering things like, “Perhaps my coworker is having a rough time and needs me to be extra kind to them.”
To conclude, we’d like to leave Qumulons (and other blog readers) with a few suggestions to help bring these feedback models with them into their day-to-day work.
- Practice these skills outside of the classroom (or office) setting. In the next week, go out of your way to practice these skills. They only get less awkward with practice!
- Ask yourself these three questions when giving or receiving feedback: (1) Where are the sources of feedback I receive today that I may not have realized was feedback? (2) What am I trying to improve in myself right now? (3) What am I trying to improve in Qumulo (or my workplace, department, team, etc.) right now?
We hope that professional and personal improvement is a continuous journey through the life of every Qumulon, and beyond.
Michaela Hutfles is a sideways E-shaped person (rather than T) with three major depths: agile software development, earth-building and performing arts of all flavors. For almost a decade she’s coached agile thinking and self-management to software developers and keeps teams focused on continuous improvement, growth mindset, and general meta-cognition. She’s building a tiny house on the Olympic Peninsula using clay, straw, and sand.