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Creating a Safe Environment by Gathering Employee Feedback

Daniel Archer

VP of Engineering at Ritual

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Problem

"Lately, I find myself really leaning into the practice of creating a culture of feedback for my team. I ask myself - What is the best way to provide space for people to think? Without this space, it becomes difficult for people to weigh in and to feel like their opinions are heard and valued. Without enabling our teams to have this space to provide feedback, we end up creating more like a waterfall approach to management; it’s very top-down, providing no outlet with which to express frustration or feedback. It keeps people quiet."

"Without this space, it becomes difficult for people to weigh in and to feel like their opinions are heard and valued."

"Without enabling our teams to have this space to provide feedback, we end up creating more like a waterfall approach to management; it’s very top-down, providing no outlet with which to express frustration or feedback. It keeps people quiet."

When you have a lack of feedback coming in from your people, feelings get bottled up to the point of bursting, sometimes at unexpected times. People can be reserved and are not as engaged with their projects. They can begin to lack receptivity to new opportunities to collaborate or to think creatively.

Actions taken

"It becomes a matter of figuring out different peoples’ personalities and identifying those common denominators. I make a point to, on a recurring basis, set aside time for my reports to think in retrospect and to plan ahead. I think that it helps to get people outside of their day-to-day mindset—their sprint work, their tickets, their paired programming sessions. The foundation ends up being how you work with others. Stabilizing this foundation helps everything else fall into place; it’s like building a house."

Lately, we are encouraging more one-on-one coaching. Every paired relationship consisting of an individual and manager participates in what our performance management software calls a “Best-Self Kick-off”. This is a designated space that allows a direct report and a manager to get to know each other. They learn each others’ strengths and how best that they are able to collaborate and communicate with one another. This builds psychological safety into the relationship right from the get-go. For your skip-level reports, always try to take a step back and to allow their managers to lead and feel empowered in their own rights.

Lessons learned

  • You have to know your people; this process of collecting feedback has to be ongoing. You need to make it a process so that people know how to provide feedback; in this way, the olive branch does not feel like it panders to the people who report to you. Encourage your team to leverage that process. Give them the floor; always try to dig in and to understand what they’re fighting for. What is important to them? The brain requires this space in order to think freely and to evaluate effectively.
  • You have to have some level of self-awareness as a manager. It always pays to actively ask for feedback from your team on where you have room to grow. As a leader, you have to approach it with a desire to create a supportive environment where you feel safe yourself. Our emotional state can sometimes impede this process of self-evaluation. You need to be able to make yourself vulnerable at those points in time. It is a difficult discussion to have. To what extent was I in the wrong? How could I have approached the situation differently?
  • Be open to receiving advice on where something may have gone wrong. Be receptive to the reasoning that people give for their actions, listening closely to why they believed that their decision was the correct one to make. A given choice always comes from somewhere.
  • Closure is so important. Leaving somebody with ambiguous loose ends is never the answer, neither for you as a manager, nor for your reports.
  • As a leader, it can be difficult to always devote attention and time to every single situation. Leverage your HR team to make problems more visible and manageable. Encourage your team to do the same. Is the problem unique to you? Is it a problem that is felt throughout the organization? They will likely have plenty of advice on how to approach the situation.

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Daniel Archer

VP of Engineering at Ritual


Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyCulture DevelopmentPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesTeam & Project Management

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