Talent management is extremely important to us at Man Group. We do our best to nurture our employees’ development at every opportunity. Receiving feedback is a crucial part of gaining the self-awareness necessary to direct our careers toward our aspirations.
However, getting meaningful feedback is difficult: colleagues can feel uncomfortable delivering necessary but unwelcome truths, collecting feedback from multiple parts of the business can be onerous, and analysing the resultant data is not straightforward. Adaero, [Latin for “Appraise”], enables employees to anonymously enter feedback about their colleagues as part of an initiative to improve an organisations feedback culture.
Deploying a useful feedback tool that befits your organisational culture is easier said than done. We found that off-the-shelf feedback tools weren’t cutting it, and we wanted to remove as many distractions as possible from simply giving good feedback. Our solution was to build our own feedback tool using Python. As active contributors to the open source community, we thought we’d share the successes we’ve seen, and have recently open sourced the tool, and created a user guide so that others can freely install and use the tool for themselves.
Feedback, Done Right, Can Be Invaluable
Receiving useful, evidence-based feedback from your peers, seniors and those to whom you are a role model, can have a profound impact on your career. Feedback can lead to many great outcomes, whether it be: one small tweak to your workflow that notably raises your profile; the realisation that you should invest in nurturing a skill you didn’t realise you had; the acknowledgement that your lack of experience in a certain area is holding you back; or the heart-warming comments you’ve always needed to hear to shine with confidence.
Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, and how others perceive you, will shape your career.
We are keen believers that employees in all industries need feedback in order to improve. Without getting an outsider’s perspective on what makes us stand out from the crowd and what can derail us, it’s difficult to attain the level of self-awareness required to reach our full potential.
Data-Driven Talent Management
At Man Group, all our decisions are data-driven, from the investment decisions our portfolio managers or trading strategies make, to the business strategy we set; we’ll make use of whatever applicable data is available before making a decision. The same principle guides our talent management. We should all be armed with the knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses, as well as an understanding of the general perception others have of us in order to make good decisions of how to invest our time, what aspects of our job to focus on, and ultimately, what promotions or role changes to aim for.
Through fostering an environment of personal growth, we get more out of our colleagues and we all get more out of coming to work each day.
In an ideal world, useful feedback would be freely given and openly received after every notable interaction. With regular, useful feedback, employees develop a better understanding of what differentiates them from their peers, and how to invest their time and efforts in order to grow and shape their career in the direction they want. In a large, office-based corporation, this may seem ambitious to the point of delusion. However, in industries such as professional sports or careers where lives are at stake if mistakes happen (e.g. fire-fighting), this operating model isn’t too far from the norm. How feedback is given and received in your firm depends on your feedback culture, and any cultural shift is notoriously hard to achieve.
Technology and data alone won’t change the culture of an organisation, no matter how shiny it is, but it can certainly help you on your way.
Difficulties With Off-The-Shelf Tools
There weren’t any tools available in the market that suited our needs.
We found many other tools are over-engineered, like turning on a light bulb with a nuclear power station, and we wanted employees to focus their efforts where they can add the most value, simply on giving good feedback.
We wanted a focussed, simple tool aimed solely at helping our employees develop. However, third party options are often combined, and sometimes confused, with functionality for managing set career tracks, company or team objectives, and other HR tooling, that serves the firm rather than our employees. We wanted the flexibility to determine a timeline, set of questions, and a communication plan that allows us to fully differentiate feedback for personal growth from feedback for performance tracking, compensation or promotion decisions. By separating the two we’ve found the quality of the feedback given has notably increased and we are better serving our employees. We found off-the-shelf tools to be over-engineered due to their multi-functionality approach.
Other tools often include quantitative measures, but our employees, roles and experiences are all unique, such that important context is lost when feedback is forced onto a numerical scale, or answers have to fit pre-prescribed “core competencies” that may or may not befit each individual. Off-the-shelf tools often force users to pre-determine who should give feedback about who, e.g. through nomination, a functionality that lends itself to being gamed. We trust our employees to know who they can provide useful feedback to, better than managers or an organisational hierarchy could determine.
So, we decided to create something ourselves, with three guiding principles leading the design:
- Focus - No distractions from our sole focus of assisting with career development and performance;
- Simplicity - No unnecessary processes, features or hurdles that divert attention from what matters, giving valuable feedback;
- Optionality – Enrolling for feedback, and leaving feedback about others, is optional. Whilst we’ve seen significant uptake of the tool and usage has strong management buy-in, mandating usage for someone who really isn’t on-board rarely reaps benefits.
What We Built
The tool is driven by a pre-configured timeline passing through four phases:
- Employees (optionally) enrol themselves, they put themselves forward for receiving feedback;
- Any employee gives feedback on any other employee who has enrolled;
- There is then a short period whereby managers review the feedback that has been written about their reports. Even at this stage, feedback is anonymous, so managers and their reports never know who wrote what;
- And finally, feedback release. At this point, people managers have a face-to-face conversation about career aspirations and performance. Anonymised and collated feedback from across the team is a valuable tool in enabling this to be a productive session.
At Man Group, we try to promote a culture of constant feedback. So, for the majority of the year, the tool is in phase two. Two or three times each year we briefly move through the other three phases whereby feedback is collated, reviewed and released.
Using our three guiding principles discussed above – focus, simplicity and optionality – numerous design decisions were made through an iterative process:
- Anonymity: We are all more honest and forthcoming with opinions when we have the benefit of anonymity. Through anonymity, we increase the breadth of feedback that is gathered. Feedback that doesn’t require anonymity can be delivered without using the tool, something that we actively encourage.
- Optionality: Users opt in to both giving and receiving feedback. No matter how well phrased, based in fact, or even positive feedback may be, at some points in our career, we simply aren’t in a good position to make something positive out of the feedback that we receive. There are also times when we’re not in a position to give useful feedback; for example when people: have just moved teams or joined the firm, have had other conversations or meetings that have already focused their efforts, or other actions need to be taken to improve someone’s confidence or productivity before feedback can be useful.
- Manager Review: Giving useful feedback is a skill that needs practice and training. Not everyone will get this right all of the time. Introducing the manager review step allows us to filter out non-constructive feedback and focus training on a narrower group of people, whose core responsibilities include the management and development of their colleagues. In practice, we’ve found very little editing is required at this step, but it adds a necessary level of comfort.
- Automation: Users of the tool spend their time where they’ll add the most value - thinking about what feedback would be useful for their colleagues to hear. In comparison to many other tools on the market you don’t need to work out who may have useful feedback for you through nominating reviewers, answer any mandatory questions that may or may not be relevant to a specific person’s role, or your experiences with a colleague; or, make sense of a quantitative ranking system when roles, responsibilities and your colleagues are all unique.
- Experience Driven: Most of the time, the tool is running in the ‘give feedback’ mode. Users can repeatedly add to and edit feedback whilst experiences with their colleagues are fresh in their mind, rather than giving point-in-time, or ‘sound-bite’ summaries that lose detail and a grounding in reality, and can be biased towards your feelings about one, specific, recent interaction.
Timelines, questions, writers, reviewers and receivers of feedback are all configurable; so at least these elements can change as our culture develops.
For further details of the functionality available to each of the user types, we recommend you look through our user guide.
Whilst the value of this feedback tool is much harder to quantify than other elements of our business (i.e. the profitability of one of our automated trading strategies), investing in Man Group’s new, bespoke feedback tool has reaped great benefits: within just two feedback cycles, 73% of the business has voluntarily enrolled to receive feedback, and 75% give feedback on people that they work with. Most importantly, all employees now have regular performance conversations with their manager, and self-awareness has improved across the board.
This tool makes up one small part of a number of changes we’ve made, and will continue to make, in order to reach our end goal of feedback freely flowing and openly received every day. Whilst it would have been difficult to see the successes we have without the tool, good communications, training sessions, and support from our internal Talent Management team, are all crucial parts of the strategy too.
If you are a technologist interested in getting this tool set up, then you can find the code and installation docs on Man Group’s GitHub account.
If you work in Talent or HR, and are interested in finding out further details of how the tool works then we recommend you take a look at our user guide.