Stop Failing At Feedback

### Ben Gateley, Charlie’s co-founder and COO, on how to make your feedback suck less!
How much time and money do we spend on courses, coaches and conferences? All with the aim of bettering ourselves and the teams we work with. There’s a common idea that learning and development means acquiring (often expensive) external expertise. Yet one of the most cost-effective and meaningful ways for us to develop is to seek honest feedback from those around us.

So how do you develop a strong feedback culture?

Ask and you shall receive

The first time you hear honest feedback, it can feel like a sucker punch to the ego. But once you realise how valuable constructive criticism can be, the real challenge becomes getting enough of it! Rather than waiting for colleagues to dish up insights in their own time, we’ve found the easiest way to ingrain that behaviour is as simple as regularly asking for it.

A few considerations for when asking for feedback:

  • Be specific.

“Have you got any feedback for me?” is a lazy question. It’s just too vague, and it leaves the giver unsure of where to start. Be specific and ask something like, “how was I in that meeting? What could I have done better?”

  • Be timely.

Don’t wait to ask for feedback, do it in the moment. Face-to-face, over email, or via any other medium; do it while the occasion/behaviour you want feedback on is still fresh in people’s minds.

  • Create reminders.

These can either be personal reminders that you set for yourself to ask for feedback, or they could be company-wide reminders. Freddie the Feedback Fox (a literal, stuffed-toy fox) is just one cue we use to remind each other to check in!

Share it with the team

It’s all well and good expecting your team to solicit individual feedback, but we all need a prompt once in awhile. At CharlieHR, we share one piece of feedback each at our weekly kickoff. Everyone is required to bring something along – no excuses allowed. If all else fails, this ensures we make it a collective habit.

Put it in the right bucket

It’s also easy to give bland, generic feedback e.g. “you were great!” or “”I don’t think there’s anything you could have done better”. If we’re all honest with ourselves, these kinds of responses are complete cop-outs. Yet most of us probably use them more than we’d like to admit. Feedback should always be constructive; something that the receiver can go away, ponder on and action.

I find it useful to think about feedback falling into one of three buckets:

  • Stop

Behaviours I need to stop or change, e.g. “please stop picking your nose and eating it during meetings, it’s gross!”

  • Start

Things I need to start doing or behaviours I should pick up, e.g. “I notice when you turn up to meetings unprepared — you need to take time to prepare for them.”

  • Continue

Behaviours that should be maintained, e.g. “I’ve noticed you’ve stopped interrupting during meetings. That’s great, more of that please!”

As you can imagine, start and stop feedback is the holy grail. It’s the most actionable, so is likely to create the most impact for those around you. However, they can be the hardest forms of feedback to deliver, so we often shy away from it.

When you’re building a culture of feedback, it’s crucial to encourage those on your team to both give and ask for it frequently, as well as to ensure it’s of the most effective type.

Although it might be easier to just deliver a compliment in the short term, in the long run actionable suggestions are what will really help you and your team to grow.

Know your audience

Make sure you know who you’re talking to, and adjust your delivery accordingly. We’re all strange and individual creatures who take and receive things in different ways, so…

  • Remember to ask how an individual wants to receive their feedback: verbally, face-to-face or via email.
  • What does history tell you? Does the person you’re feeding back to typically take feedback well? The best feedback is not personal, but specific and objective.
  • We all love to receive praise, so if you’ve seen someone take on the feedback you’ve given be sure to let them know you’ve noticed it!

Incorporate feedback into a review

Feedback can form the structure of a monthly or quarterly review, and can be a good opportunity to turn reflections into achievable goals. Ask your team to bring along three pieces of feedback to their review, and discuss how they’re going to action change before your next meeting. Remember to make a note so you can track how they’ve done by your next meeting.

Reviews are also a good time to both deliver and solicit feedback from your team member. While it can sometimes be hard to think of something off-hand or in the moment, an open and honest discussion around your working processes and team dynamics, ideally held outside of the office environment, might spark valuable connections. Make sure to share relevant insights with the rest of the team on your return, particularly if the same issues arise over multiple sessions.


As with most company-wide initiatives, building a strong feedback culture starts with those in leadership positions. If you believe that feedback is important to your business, those in leadership positions must set the tone and lead by example. Great teams — both leaders and members — leave their egos at the door. Interestingly, while it’s great to get feedback from those you work with on a regular basis, I’ve also found huge value in hearing feedback from those I rarely work with. This can draw your attention to things that weren’t even on your radar.

Before you get carried away with external training budgets or booking airline tickets to conferences in far-flung places, think to yourself, “what could I improve today, simply by asking those that know me best?”

CharlieHR** is the HR software for small businesses. Building a company is hard, running one shouldn’t be. Find out more here.**

Neo Sepulveda

Neo Sepulveda

Software engineer at CharlieHR 💻. I like climbing things quite a bit 🐒.

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