"Think for yourself. Rasa was built by people no smarter than you. We cherish ideas and you have the power to change things without always needing to ask.When engaging in feedback, offer suggestions and ideas, don't just point out flaws."
This is one of the six company values ingrained into our daily work and used by team members to make decisions at Rasa. Bringing these values to life means taking a lot of deliberate actions and clearly communicating the expectations that come with them even before a team member decides to join the team. During the hiring process, the culture interview (which you will learn more about in one of our next posts) is a great way to talk about the Rasa company values with candidates. Recently, while discussing the values, a candidate asked me a simple question: "How do you give feedback at Rasa?" Simple, yet at that moment, I wished I had more time to answer. This blog post, which focuses on the six main steps we used to build our feedback culture, is what I wished I had time to share with them.
1. Give timely feedback
In a survey we ran recently to understand the team's feedback preferences, the word that came up most often was "timely." Sharing your thoughts on the impact someone's behavior had should ideally happen soon after the event occurred and not weeks or months later. This will give the person time to reflect upon the feedback and, if needed, act and change their behavior in the future. Feedback on something that has happened months earlier could be not only unhelpful, as it takes away the opportunity for change, but it could also undermine trust. Timely feedback, however, does not mean impulsive - processing and structuring one’s thoughts and emotions is an important step and should not be skipped.
Weekly one-on-one conversations between managers and team members are a great place to reflect upon the previous week and give each other timely, meaningful positive and constructive feedback.
2. Check your intentions and make sure you come from a place of care
Constructive feedback is a tool we use to help others understand how our thoughts and expectations were misaligned with their actions. If used thoughtfully, it is one that can help people grow and build trust. At Rasa, we prompt everyone to make sure they come from a place of care and be concrete about how they intend to help before they share their feedback. This short yet crucial moment of reflection can reshape the message's tone to make sure it lands as intended.
3. Consider communication style differences
We are currently 70 people from more than 20 different nationalities and with very different backgrounds. Each one of us has developed throughout our lives, consciously or unconsciously, a certain communication style. This means that a challenge we face regularly is how we align these styles to avoid miscommunication. The first step we took was to understand and label them. In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer speaks about a couple of main communication styles to be aware of.
One that can influence the way you deliver feedback is direct vs. indirect negative feedback preference - do you tend to be more frank or blunt when delivering feedback, or would you rather soften the message and be diplomatic? Another preference is receiving feedback in front of a group or in a one-on-one. And finally, low context/explicit vs. high context/implicit communication - is your message precise and concrete or do you focus on the underlying context and meaning, and not just the words themselves.
In our team, we balance these differences by defining some organisational guidelines - we share constructive feedback in private - a direct Slack message or ideally in a Zoom call - to create a psychologically safe workplace. To foster a culture of appreciation, positive feedback should, ideally, be shared in public as well. We stick to a low-context communication style by being explicit in what we mean to avoid misunderstandings.
4. Structure your feedback
We introduced the Situation-Behaviour-Impact framework to help team members deliver meaningful, concise, and non-judgmental feedback. There are a bunch of materials online that can help you learn the basics and get started. We chose this framework because it helps us formulate our feedback by focusing on concrete and observable behavior instead of our own interpretation. It also allows us to dive deeper into the impact this behavior had on us and our work.
To make sure the team knows how to use the framework and prepare to give feedback, I have hosted more than 15 workshops in the last 3 months with the whole leadership team at Rasa and other team members. The workshops were designed to create a safe and comfortable environment to explore something new, so the participants were only two at a time and they have been working closely together. They reflected upon their current communication preferences and had the chance to use the SBI framework during the workshop to give each other positive and constructive feedback.
I observed over and over how the vulnerability which giving or receiving meaningful and caring feedback brings, strengthened the relationship between the team members.
5. Share your praise and appreciation publicly
We prompt everyone to publicly share their positive feedback using our #shoutouts Slack channel or giving a shoutout in our All Hands meeting. These actions help us build a culture of appreciation and acknowledgement.
As part of our work to become a more equitable and inclusive company, we actively seek to make sure that nobody’s great work goes unnoticed. To learn more about recognition at Rasa, check our previous blog post.
6. How to respond to feedback?
We say "Thank you!" and mean it. We know that our colleague has put effort into delivering feedback in a respectful, helpful, and caring manner. We recognise that by thanking them first.
We take time before we follow up. We try to resist the urge to respond immediately to constructive feedback and allow ourselves some time to process what the person has shared with us. It is possible that our first reaction might not be the one we actually wanted to share with them. It is okay to thank them and tell them that we need time to process it before you get back to them. Even 5 min can make a difference.
We ask clarifying questions. If we are not sure what they are talking about, we know it is okay to ask more questions to understand what they are referring to.
We think about what we can do differently in the future and what the most impactful actions we can take are. If needed, we create a follow-up plan to make sure we address the feedback constructively.
At the end of the day, fostering a healthy and productive feedback culture is really about creating the right conditions for communication - creating psychologically safe spaces, setting up a structure around difficult conversations, examining motives and focusing on positive outcomes. None of this can happen by accident - it's the result of deliberate processes. At Rasa, we’ve spent the last few years setting these processes, ones we’ll continue to iterate upon.