Transparency in Action: Skip Levels and Feedback

If you’ve been following along this blog for a while, you probably already know my position on transparency – in salary, in the workplace, and especially for the successful remote team.

(If you are new here, I’d recommend this post about what I call Aggressive Transparency, and this older Post on how Buffer approaches salary transparency is pretty good too!)

I have weekly check-ins with the head of Happiness at WordPress.com and my lead, Andrew Spittle. We also do somewhat less regular 3-2-1 sessions, which are a kind of roadmap slash feedback amalgam.

One thing that Andrew suggested for this latest session was for him to request anonymous feedback from my team – but, rather than going to me, this feedback would go directly to him. He’d read it, filter out what he saw as the helpful or constructive parts, and we’d discuss it in the 3-2-1. Sort of a remote, anonymous, skip level interview.

After a thunderbolt of pure animal terror, then a moment of thought, and I agreed with some enthusiasm.

Wait a second, you might be asking yourself – don’t you do quarterly anonymous Leadback Surveys with your team already? How many surveys can you put these poor people through?

The answer is, yes, I do solicit anonymous feedback from my team four times a year, and I do get a lot of really productive and helpful value out of those surveys. The reason this was exciting to me was mostly in having that information come to me filtered through the perspective of someone removed, someone whose opinion I respect.

This is important because, like any human, when I read these Leadback survey results, I  know they’re about me. Even though I put them together, even though I wrote the questions very specifically trying to find out where I’m going wrong and where I can be improving – it still is an emotional process to read them. It’s still an effort to remove my ego from the experience and focus instead on the What and the How.

The natural emotional and ego driven sensitivity to this sort of survey is a dangerous combination for me in this context, because leading a remote team is something I care deeply about, and is something I genuinely want to get better at.

This means that I am in the sometimes tough role of receiving this input, and also interpreting it, and trying to interpret it objectively and without my own best interests in mind – to find the Truth, and to use it to improve.

Of course, this kind of interpretation is impossible.

So, hearing that Andrew was interested in hearing the same information, and drawing his own conclusions – this was a great opportunity indeed. More than half of my team replied to his request, and from it he sussed out some really useful points of improvement, some of which were not even on my radar.

One piece that was harder, and in retrospect I’m not sure why, was putting together this feedback and presenting it back to my team. After all, they provided it, it wasn’t going to be any mystery to them where I could be doing a better job.

For some reason I was hesitant to make the content of this conversation with Andrew public – it felt like something I needed to guard, to keep private. Spending some time with that, I couldn’t find a good reason to keep it inside, and at least one great reason to share it with the team.

That great reason being, they needed to know that their voice was heard, and that I was going to keep working really hard to become qualified to lead the team. After all, my gut instinct, my default choice, to keep it locked in my own brain-vault, would actually be the worst case scenario – can you imagine being requested to provide feedback on your lead, and then never hearing about it again? 

So, I posted about it. Now they know. And they know I know, which is the important part.

If you’re curious – and of course you should be, I’m seriously burying the lead here – the three big pieces of feedback from my team vis a vis the Spittle Filter:

  • “Be easier to disagree with.”
  • “Be more hands off.”
  • “Spend more time doing the work that we do.”

 

 

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