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Embracing Feedback as an Organization

Leadership
Feedback

24 September, 2021

Brian Flanagan
Brian Flanagan

Head of Product and Growth at Optimity

Brian Flanagan, Head of Product and Growth at Optimity, takes the feedback that he both gives and receives very seriously.

Problem

Feedback is a gift. It has to be something that is culturally accepted within the company; this begins with the leadership and trickles down. You should be able to expect to give and get feedback from everyone around you. This is the only way that the people on your team will grow. It all starts with establishing a sense of trust.

I think it can be really beneficial when people share different ways of improving with one another. It’s a positive step forward, but some types of personalities may perceive the gesture poorly.

At Expedia, it was a balance that we had really nailed. It was a part of the company’s DNA. It was expected of you to ask for feedback, and others were expected to provide it in kind. This included your peers, your team, and those above you, as well. It really helps people grow a lot.

Actions taken

If somebody gives you a piece of feedback that you disagree with, you should not just put it aside because it does not make you happy. Sometimes it takes a while for you to take this piece of feedback and to internalize it so that you may benefit from it.

Many of our internal leadership courses were really focused on the self-awareness of the individual. There are so many smart people in tech, but many of them have not yet mastered this skill.

You think about the way that you behave and the way that you’re taking in all of this information around you. Our CEO at the time was very big on that. Their opinion was that, at the end of the day, every person should sit down with themselves in a retrospective. You sort of think about what happened during the day and are able to reckon with it objectively.

What were the decisions that I made today? What were the conversations that I had? How could I have brought about a better outcome than the one that we saw together? Where did things go sideways? How can we fix this in the future?

Not everybody has this zen-like level of self-awareness, so partaking in rituals like this is a really great practice to get into. It’s kind of weird now, in our world of Zoom meetings. Historically, you would have some transit time during work, even if only as you make your daily commute.

Not having these periods of reflection built into our days means that we need to actively allocate extra time to spend with these thoughts. It is always helpful to consider what we could have said or done differently in a given situation. This sort of insight is how people improve.

Lessons learned

  • Focusing on gradual, continuous improvement sets realistic expectations for what those around you are capable of in the immediate future. You don’t become super awesome at one task or another by doing it one time only. Improvement is something that happens over time and It will usually take years of hard work to get to true mastery.
  • A mentor can take a number of forms but often a neutral party with no stake in the argument is the best source of feedback. When politics or other things may influence the opinions of those closest to the problem, a neutral perspective from the outside may help you see things more clearly.
  • You should be asking for feedback from people on an ongoing basis. Building this culture of inquiry with your leadership will help you and your team get there together. Sometimes, an employee’s first reaction to feedback is that they’re going to get fired. It’s less about telling the person that they’re doing a bad job. It’s more about showing them what they could be doing better.

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