How to Build a Feedback Culture

The future of performance management isn’t about dreaded annual reviews or convoluted “stack ranking” systems. It’s about an ongoing dialogue between managers, employees, and colleagues.

At Handshake, our mission is to help all students build a meaningful career—no matter where they go to school, what they major in, or who they know. From the moment you step into our headquarters, we want our mission to be clear and our values to impact your visit. Our core values are showcased front and center to greet you as soon as you walk into our space. Our conference rooms are named after education trailblazers like Mary McLeod Bethune, Booker T. Washington, and Edith Nourse Rogers. In addition to always keeping “Students First,” one of our other core values is “Learn.Grow.Repeat.

As we built Handshake’s culture, business, and team, it was important for us to establish a strong culture of feedback founded upon transparency, consistency and equity. By designing a process focused on creating a growth mindset, we encourage our team to turn challenges into opportunities to learn and grow through feedback.

1. Keep it simple and scalable.

In building a company, there is a consistent tension between implementing too many processes while making sure that you’re scaling a team, culture, and business sustainably. We launched our first iteration of feedback reviews when we had just 60 people. Launching a new employee initiative at any scale can be tricky—here are three main elements we kept top of mind:

  • Meaning - Our team craves feedback. We are curious, want to always give our best and make an impact on students across the country. Our reviews needed to truly deliver insightful and useful feedback so everyone could continually grow, iterate, improve, and succeed at Handshake and beyond.

  • Simplicity - We were intent on not introducing a burdensome process that the team would come to dread. We’ve worked at companies where reviews can drag on over months, becoming a corporate nightmare to navigate. We wanted to design something that was simple and positively contributed to the team’s development.

  • Scale - We’re growing quickly (we’re hiring!) and need to set up processes that scale with our team rather than hinder our growth.

Handshake uses Namely for almost everything HR-related, from onboarding to payroll. When we thought about feedback review platforms, we wanted to make sure the tool we used would keep things simple and centralized. Namely’s feedback tool allowed us to kick off a new process using a tool that was already integrated into the team’s day-to-day.


2. Build your process around these three questions.

Our feedback reviews are straightforward. They happen twice a year, are 360° in nature, and include a self-review, peer reviews, and a manager review. Our reviews are grounded in three simple questions that focus on future impact and growth rather past performance:

  • What should I start doing?
  • What should I keep doing?
  • What should I stop doing?

For self-reviews, we also encourage individuals to create time for self-reflection: individuals describe a key learning that came from a challenging situation. Managers also provide a performance and growth snapshot for increased clarity.

3. Keep iterating and improving your feedback program.

We've iterated and improved the process over time by asking the team for feedback. In doing so, we learned a few tips.

  • Do reviews at the right time. At Handshake, our busy season falls in the months leading up to back-to-school. We quickly learned we needed to work around this timing to ensure success.

  • Add meaning and personalization. We first launched our program with anonymous feedback because we wanted to ensure people felt comfortable participating. However, we learned that the team wanted to follow-up with peers to gain additional insight so they could seek out the best ways to improve so now our reviews not anonymous.

  • Include everyone. This summer, our interns participated in a feedback review from their managers and other team members that they collaborated with on projects. We’ve created an "interns first" culture at Handshake. Our main goal is to make sure our interns leave Handshake not only with new professional skills, but a better business and work culture understanding that will set up them for longterm success.

It’s never too early to provide your team with feedback. Everyone wants to do well and seek out guidance to make sure they understand how to succeed in their careers. By not creating processes for feedback, your team will likely not receive this clarity and guidance. Designing reviews that are meaningful, simple and scalable is an important cornerstone to creating a growth mindset culture focused on feedback . We’re gearing up for our fall review cycle at the moment, and I’m excited for the team to share more feedback about how we can improve our process as we continue to scale.

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