Giving feedback is one of the most important things you can do for your co-founder and for your team. You can read more on why here. But giving bad feedback can damage relationships, even with the best intentions. So, as a founder, it’s your job to get good at giving feedback, fast.
An effective feedback practice normalises giving feedback so even critical feedback can be given and received well. Here’s how to give effective feedback:
Effective feedback is given often.
We recommend giving your co-founder positive and critical feedback every day in the beginning, as part of a regular scheduled meeting. Having a daily meeting closes the gap between intention and effect – particularly if you’re working with someone you don’t actually know that well. We’ve found that tension in a team can come as a result of small miscommunications. These arise because two co-founders aren’t familiar with the way the other interacts – there’s a gap between what one person intended and what the other heard. Daily feedback means these miscommunications can be spotted early on, and often ironed out.
Daily feedback doesn’t just spot early miscommunications. It means you get more practice and your feedback has more impact. If you wait to give negative feedback, resentment can build. This makes giving that feedback even harder later on and risks the issue – or you or your co-founder – blowing up. If you wait to give positive feedback, your co-founder might not be able to double down on their strengths or feel valued for the good work they do. You’re missing a chance to have the effects of your co-founder’s best work compound even faster.
Effective feedback is honest and compassionate.
Feedback is one of the most powerful tools you and your co-founder have to grow and develop personally and professionally. To be effective, feedback needs to be honest while given compassionately to better your shared interests.
One of the most important things you can learn to do is have radically honest conversations with your co-founder. ‘The best thing you can do is deal with the conflict quickly. Discuss what you think about how the other works, any issues you have with their style or personality and what you can each do differently,’ said Toby Mather, co-founder of ed-tech startup Lingumi.
A co-founding partnership is about business, but it is a human relationship that requires care and maintenance. In a startup, there will be ups and downs. Issues don’t just ‘sort themselves out’ down the line. Disharmony among co-founders is one of the most common reasons startups fail. Front-load relationships with honest discussions about things that really matter, such as conflicts in working styles or loss of belief in your idea. A useful book on the importance of honest feedback is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.
But honest feedback on important issues is no excuse for being unpleasant or bullying your co-founder. Effective honest feedback is given compassionately. If you’re co-founders, your interests are probably more aligned with each other than with anyone else. Your job is to help each other improve and succeed together. Tough feedback can be hard to receive, but the best feedback givers give even the toughest feedback with the recipient’s perspective and interests in mind. No one likes to do a bad job – so make sure you’re giving feedback with compassion for the recipient.
Effective feedback is structured.
Having a structure to how you give feedback helps make your feedback easier to receive and more actionable. There are lots of ways to give feedback buEspecially for critical feedback, we recommend using the OEPS feedback structure to get started.
OEPS stands for:
O: “I Observed that you did X”
First, you state the concrete, specific behaviour you saw. Focus on the action itself – don’t imply any judgement about the person’s character or behaviour.
For example, “I observed you didn’t come in to the office last week and we didn’t have any face time together”.
E: “The Effect on me was Y”
Second, let your co-founder know how the action made you feel. Again, no judgement. You’re not trying to have a conversation about if the action was right or what other people might think. You’re just making it clear how you feel.
For example, “I felt confused and unsure of our relationship. I missed being able to discuss things with you face to face.”
Third, let your co-founder digest what just heard. Giving feedback isn’t about unloading on them. They might have questions or want to clarify something.
S: “I Suggest that in future you do Z”
Finally, make a suggestion for how your co-founder can do things differently in the future. Again, be concrete and practical, and make sure your co-founder agrees with how things will work in the future.
For example, “I suggest that in future we agree to be in the office on specific days, at least one or two days a week.”
The OEPS structure is simple, but takes some of the emotional judgement out of giving feedback. It allows the person receiving feedback to hear your perspective, not your judgement, and also to input on the next steps. At first it might feel a little forced, but eventually it will feel natural and easy to give feedback in this way.
Everyone gets feedback wrong at some point. Giving effective feedback is a skill. So the best time to start practicing is as soon as possible. Make a good feedback practice a default part of your company’s routine.