Feedback: Leave Nothing Unsaid

March 18, 2024

Feedback is a gift, but can be tricky if you're trying to manage up as an operator. This write-up covers a no-BS way of receiving feedback from your exec and prying it out of them, and giving THEM feedback to help them improve. If you're an exec and you have teammates that struggle with giving you valuable feedback, read this, then send it to them. That way, they feel like they've been given explicit permission to tell you all of your flaws without fear. Good luck!

Feedback: Leave Nothing Unsaid

When collaborating with teammates, operators improve the most when feedback is explicitly given and taken. So, how do we make time for it, and how do we do it effectively?

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You may have seen this quadrant before, popularized by Stephen Covey’s Five Habits of Highly Successful People. If you haven’t, the four quadrants represent where we spend our time, divided up between things that are urgent or not, and important or not.

I’ve made my own version of this on what kinds of stuff usually fall in each of the quadrants based on an operator’s priorities below.

Look, Mom, I can draw! Sort of...

Operators tend to spend the most amount of time working in the first and third quadrants, where things are urgent. Unfortunately, feedback falls into Quadrant Two, where it is highly important, but not always urgent.

This write up will guide you on how to (1) make sure feedback happens consistently, and (2) how to make feedback as effective as possible.


Deciding what to share

We all feel a lot of emotions day to day, and not every emotion warrants a full-blown feedback session.

We don’t want to risk “feedback burnout”: what happens when someone receives feedback so often in such a formal manner, that they start dreading giving and receiving feedback.

How do we know what to share, then?

I’d recommend processing your thoughts first, before deciding to share it out loud with your Exec.

This will help you decide what’s actually important to share with your exec (and vice versa), and will make your feedback even more of a gift.

Everyone has their own ways of processing. Here are a few different methods:

  • Cognitively: As soon as something happens, pause and reflect. What just happened? Why does it feel like this? Is this something that will get in the way of your working relationship down the line? Think it through, and see how it feels after. Remember, cognitive processing is not catastrophizing: you can’t see into the future. You are taking a sober, logical, and rational approach thinking objectively about how this will impact your working relationship.
  • Writing: Consider taking a note of what happened and spending ~2 minutes writing about it. How does it feel to write and process? For writers, this will make you feel like you’re releasing any fear or anger you might be feeling. Only then will you be able to think rationally about what is going through your mind, and decide whether it is feedback-worthy or not.
  • Verbal: Talk it out loud to someone - it doesn’t have to be to a real human. You can use the engineering trick of rubber ducking your problems (where you talk to a rubber duck to think out loud, and the act of talking helps you process what happened.) If you don’t have a rubber duck, choose any inanimate object you like and talk to it.

Choose whatever works well for you. You’ll probably notice a lot of stuff falls under the category of, “It would be nice to share this, but it isn’t time-urgent or sensitive.” You might also notice yourself thinking, “I now feel better and see where my own fear got in my own way.” Great job - you coached yourself through it!

Here’s a few tell-tale signs that you have feedback to share, and it should be done ASAP:

  • You feel key relationships (either them with another person, or them with you) deteriorating due to this behavior.
  • You feel fear that trust is being eroded somewhere.
  • This behavior is happening often enough that they should know how their behavior is impacting you or other people around them, even if it’s not a big deal (the small stuff adds up.)


Effective Feedback Suggestions

If you’re still unsure what feedback you'd like to cover directly with your exec, it can be helpful to have a list of suggestions on what you can give and receive feedback from.

Here are some of my favorites:

Feedback you can give your exec to help them perform better:

  • Top goal ( “I noticed you haven’t worked on your top goal for X days in a row now. I am concerned this is going to push you off track. My gut says you need to have time to work on this, or you won’t feel good at the end of the week - what do you think?”)

  • Rest time (“I noticed you haven’t been honoring your ‘disconnect from electronics’ hour block, and I am concerned this is going to impact the quality of your creative work around X project. I think you should take 15 minutes to step away from all electronics right now. Can you do that?”)
  • Quality time with important relationships (“Hi X, you mentioned you wanted to prioritize time with your family/partner/spouse, but you haven’t blocked off time to do this. I’m concerned because I know how important family is to you, and with Y’s birthday coming up soon, I think they’d really appreciate quality time. Could you take half a day on the weekend to do focused 1-1 time with them? I could help you find a few options if you aren’t sure what to do, you just have to commit to taking the time with them and letting them know you want to do it.”)
  • Communication: Too terse (“Earlier, when you were speaking to X, I saw that s/he became scared that you disapproved of their work. I think it would be beneficial to check in and see if they’re feeling okay, or if you need to repair anything there. What do you think about sending them a message to check in? I can help you draft one.”)
  • Communication: Too soft (“Earlier, when you were speaking to X, I noticed that you were a little on edge when they said ____. Is that true? If so, would you be open to sharing with me how you felt? I think it’s healthy to let it out, so that you don’t compartmentalize unhealthily.”)


Feedback Framework

In each of the above cases, notice there’s a pattern:

  1. What behavior you noticed
  2. How you think it impacts their work/life
  3. Why you are concerned
  4. Suggestions from you on solving their problem
  5. Confirmation that it resonates with them

There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of feedback that is universally applicable - the list of suggestions in the previous section is just that - suggestions.

Only you can know what you wish were different about working with your Exec, and only they can know what they wish were different about working with you.


Consistency > Intensity

I’m a big believer in having more consistent feedback rather than intense feedback sessions. Consistency makes giving and receiving feedback normalized, and helps you resolve problems sooner than later.

As a result, if you are working with your exec, you should be aiming to give and receive feedback at least once a week. If you spend lots of time with your exec, you should be doing this almost daily.

How do you ensure this happens? To train the muscle in the very beginning, as you’re putting together your to-do lists, see if you can have this at the very top of it:

Screenshot of your Tasks list. (Not really, but you get the idea.)

It’s that simple: oftentimes, we don’t do feedback because we forget to. Having a reminder can be helpful.

Here are some other places you can put Feedback in. It fits quite intuitively, so experiment with which points your Exec is most receptive.

  • At the end of 1-1s, after going through Top Goals with your Exec. (You must be a timeboxing wizard if you’re going to do this, as it’s really easy for an Exec to derail your efforts and hijack the conversation, cutting into Feedback time.)
  • During a Retrospective or Postmortem. If you are already going over how a project fared, that’s a great time to share feedback live on how your Exec’s behavior or actions may have helped or hindered a project.

  • Asynchronously in Slack or Threads, with a comment linked in. Sometimes, your Exec might post something on the Comms channel that you want to give Feedback on. Perhaps you are concerned their words lacked empathy, or maybe they did a really great job in making someone feel heard. In these cases, use your async Slack channel to link the message back to them and share what your thoughts are. (I’m generally less of a fan of this for initial feedback sharing as I think communication happens best when tone and good intentions are accounted for. However, you’ll hopefully eventually build a level of trust with your Exec that is so deep that you both understand async feedback.)


Feedback for Yourself

Now that we’ve covered how you should give your Exec feedback, you are going to now solicit feedback from your Exec as well.

The best way I can think of asking your Exec for feedback is making it as easy as possible for them to give it to you.

I like using Magic Questions (Lightning) to make this happen. This is because:

  1. You can ask them to focus just on feedback around the critical stuff
  2. It comes with ready-to-ask questions that will cover most of the relevant topics about your performance

There are two things for you to remember if you want to get all the feedback possible:

  1. Always repeat the feedback to your exec to make sure you understand correctly. (“I think I’m hearing you say … is that correct?”)
  2. Always ask, “Is there more?” - there might be more, and you want to leave nothing unsaid. Do this until they say, “Please, there really is no more. I think you get it.”
  3. Bonus thing (I'm a rebel and like breaking rules): If you want absolute certainty, ask the Keeper Test: “If I were to leave tomorrow, how hard would you fight to keep me?” If you’re unsatisfied with the answer, ask them: “How can I become so valuable to you, that you’d have zero doubt in your mind that you’d fight hard to keep me?” You’ll have your answer on how to improve there.

In terms of responding to the feedback you’re given, keep in mind:

  1. Remember: feedback is a gift. (See more below - I’ll elaborate.)
  2. You can only get better if you’re given critical feedback. The sooner you get used to receiving critical feedback, the better you’ll become. This is true for most things in life.


Feedback is the Ultimate Gift

Your ultimate goal is to make Feedback the most valuable part of your Exec’s week: both in receiving and in giving it.

To make it a gift for your exec to receive feedback from you…

Choose actions for them that are immediately implementable, and they will see how drastically their life improves with your suggestions.

For example, if they want to prioritize time with their family, choose something that would be low-hanging fruit and high-reward for them to all do together, as soon as possible. Perhaps you book the excursion for them, and follow up by asking for a photo.

Once the event passes, make sure to ask: “How did it feel to implement X feedback?”

They will associate their new behavior with the feedback you gave them, and thank you for it.

This is obviously true for the “fun” things to implement, but it is also true for the harder things too.

For example, if you want them to prioritize working on Top Goal, set aside coworking time for you both, and hold them to it as if you’re a parent insisting a child work on their homework. Gently but firmly keep them accountable to their commitment.

Once they are done, immediately ask, “How did it feel to get all that work done just now?”

They will associate their newfound productivity with the feedback you gave them, and thank you for it.

👉 A last note: when you give them feedback and they agree to it, bake it into their Top Goals.

You can say, “Based on the feedback you wanted to implement, I’ve helped you make time to do…” That way, they can see that they also benefit from the feedback you’re giving them.

To make it a gift for your exec to give you feedback…

Show them that you implement Feedback directly and immediately.

For example, let’s say your exec gives you feedback that they wish you closed the loop better.

Immediately, in the next project you have, explicitly say, “Based on your feedback on X, here’s what I’ve done…”

This shows them that Feedback works, you take it seriously, and it’s the best ROI of their time spent.

Ask for more feedback. Once you’ve implemented their initial feedback, ask them: “Is there anything else you want me to improve on? Feel free to throw out your biggest wish-that’s, and I can try to make it happen.”

The more proactively you ask for it, the more effective you’ll be. The more effective you are, the more they correlate their feedback with your improvement. And the more you improve, the more unstoppable they feel.

TLDR: Feedback is a virtuous cycle. The direct correlation from feedback to action sends a clear message: Feedback → Results, for them and for you. Feedback → Leveling Up, for them and for you. Feedback = The best ROI, for them and for you.

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Regina Gerbeaux

Who’s Regina Gerbeaux?

Regina Gerbeaux (@_rpgbx) is the executive coach to some of the fastest scaling startups in the world. She is also a founder currently interested in the food delivery and logistics space.

Regina was the first person trained by Matt Mochary (executive coach to the CEOs of Coinbase, Brex, and many more) in the Mochary Method Curriculum.

Her tactical templates and operational write-ups have been referenced and used by fast-scaling companies, including BioRender, CoreDB, dYdX, and many more.

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