TradeLink News

Exploring Employee Feedback: A Collection of Early Learnings

Mareike Knappe, Head of People & Culture and Jonas Morgner, Head of Business Development at TradeLink

Like many early-stage ventures, the pleasure of working with highly talented employees brings forth the need for a proper employee feedback and development culture. Over the past two years, we have also begun navigating this path, revising now on gathered experiences on building our employee feedback cadence.

This article is not meant to lecture on the 'right' way to do things; it is our transcript of learning along the way. We believe there is no single definitive method for great employee feedback; it is an evolving and individual process. However, we hope our experiences ignite ideas and might be helpful here and there. We are also keen to learn from your insights.

The Initial Foundation: Defining Our Core Values

Our journey began with an essential first step in 2021 - establishing our company's core values. In a collaborative workshop, we defined four values that became the heart of our identity, enabling each team member to find their place within our vision. We recognized that our early hires significantly influenced our company culture and still do today. It was crucial for us to invest time in discussing and agreeing on these values, ensuring they resonated with everyone. Looking back, we feel fortunate to have established such a strong identity early on, allowing both current employees and potential new joiners to align and identify with it.

Developing a Framework for Feedback: Competencies

Later on, as a growing team, we took some time to find a universal way to give feedback to each other. We created a framework through company-wide competencies to build the baseline for our feedback cadences. They serve as a mutual foundation of which competencies we consider most essential to be successful at TradeLink. They summarize our expectations and how we want to act and collaborate. Today, they provide the common ground for any development discussion. Initially, this was a top-down approach, focusing on the most vital attributes we wanted to be evaluated across the board. Now, we run with ten competencies shared for each role, regardless of department or seniority. Some examples include:

Additionally, some teams might develop extra competencies tailored to their roles and teams. During feedback sessions, the employee, their manager, and selected peers evaluate and comment on these competencies.

We opt in for 360-degree feedback in a flexible cadence

We believe that the quality of feedback discussions is correlated with the corresponding input (as trivial as it sounds). Therefore, we run a somewhat fluid cadence to ensure timely and fitting development talks and avoid company-wide paralysis with fixed development talk periods. With our team of around 45 employees, we encourage managers to conduct growth talks with their team members every six months, with additional interim check-ins.

Further, we are huge fans of so-called 360-degree reviews. For such a review, employees, managers, and selected peers evaluate and comment on each company and team's competencies (level 1- needs strong improvement to 5-superb, or NA). Technically, we are using Leapsome to facilitate the process, and on average, 5-6 people are involved in one feedback loop.

Our People and Culture team monitors and supports managers in conducting regular reviews, and these conversations span all levels, with even founders receiving feedback from their direct reports and main peers regularly. Having the results of the reviews, within a growth talk, we discuss each team member's areas for improvement and conclude with defined personal development goals. Notably, these development goals are not necessarily linked to performance. They are intentionally designed to improve competencies, which overall enhance individual performance. Personal development goals can include writing self-reflections, reading a specific book, completing coursework, or seeking mentoring.

On top, we have discovered some company-wide matters that influence our overall feedback and performance culture positively:

(1) Make the start of new joiners as efficient as possible

In addition to our regular feedback cadence, we have made some thoughtful adjustments to how we welcome new team members during their onboarding process. Our People & Culture team conducts an onboarding review with our new joiners three weeks after onboarding. We want to ensure that our employees are well-integrated and have everything they need to start their roles successfully and thrive in the long run. We also actively seek feedback on our onboarding process to improve and continually be inspired by new approaches.

At the beginning of a new journey, we attribute importance to both managers and employees engaging in open feedback and setting clear expectations. This paves the way for meaningful growth discussions, which might seem obvious, but it is a vital foundation.

To make this more tangible, we have implemented two probationary period check-ins. The first occurs after two months, and the second is around the fourth or fifth month. We utilize company-wide competencies and add specific questions such as:

  • How has working here compared to your expectations so far?
  • Do you understand the expectations of your role?
  • How can we help you develop over the next six months?

(2) Getting your team's sentiments

On a company level, we run anonymous pulse checks every four months to stay in tune with our team's sentiments. These surveys cover various aspects of work, including satisfaction, engagement, communication, leadership, professional growth, and our Values and DEI&B.

We provide one to two weeks for completing the survey before executing a robust feedback loop. First, our leadership team discusses and openly communicates the results throughout the company. Subsequently, team leads delve into the detailed results at the team level and collaborate with their peer groups to develop meaningful actions at both the team and company levels. These actions are then reviewed by leadership and prioritized for implementation. This way, everyone actively contributes to shaping our company and introducing new ideas and support to make them a reality.

(3) Leverage your team intelligence

Every four months, we organize company-wide interactive retrospectives (Miro serves as our go-to solution). These 1h-sessions are designed exclusively for collecting feedback on various topics, from company values to operational processes. This approach ensures we remain agile and responsive to our team's evolving needs. Our People and Culture team carefully selects a dedicated topic for each retro and takes charge of the follow-up processes.

(4) Take your team along

After recognizing the importance of transparency in conveying our mission and company goals, we now conduct bi-monthly town hall meetings next to our weekly all hands. Our town hall allows us to zoom out and provide company updates on our progress, highlights, challenges, and performance over the past two months. Also, we open the floor for a prepared Q&A session with our leadership team and founders on any matter (company or private).

In alignment, we value these initiatives to support our target culture of openness and continuous improvement.

Carving out, this article is just a snapshot of our current journey at TradeLink, and by no means do we claim that we have reached the zenith. We remain curious, open, and eager to learn from the experiences of others. So, if you are navigating a similar path or simply want to share your thoughts, we would be delighted to hear from you. Feel invited to drop Mareike or Jonas a message.

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