Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce are always in the news, but most recently they're headlines have been eerily similar--highlighting "pointed, brave letters" from employees asking their leadership for change.
Google's employees most recently called on leaders to put a stop to Project Dragonfly, the company's effort to create a censored search engine in China. Salesforce workers pushed back on CEO Marc Benioff's support of the company's business relationship with Customs and Border Protection. Former Facebooker penned a note asking the company to hire people to focus on diversity.
These are obviously extreme examples, where employee feedback was made public and became news; however, this trend does point to an important topic that all founders must be aware. Listening to employee feedback, taking your team's suggestions to heart and accepting that change can come from the bottom up are vital lessons that every founder should take seriously.
Here are my top two tips for ensuring you aren't on the receiving end of a strongly worded letter from your employees:
Practice What You Preach
As founders, we usually develop a company mission as part of our founding documents, outlining what problems we are aiming to solve in the world and solving those problems is valuable. Most of us also outline the values we want our company to live by as we all work towards achieving our mission. At Techstars, our values are outlined in our Code of Conduct, which states that we give first, we act with integrity, and we treat others with respect.
In many cases, employee frustration comes from a lack of follow through on behalf of the company related to its values. In the case of Facebook, employees pushed back on the company's claim to prioritize diversity and inclusion, arguing that the company didn't do enough to eliminate 'unconscious bias' at the top.
When you set out to develop your values, really think through how you will ensure that they will executed on consistently--build the foundation for integrating your values throughout all of your business activities and ask for feedback frequently along the way. At Techstars, my co-CEO and I personally review our values with every group of new employees, making sure we reinforce them for everyone who joins our team and listen to their questions or feedback.
Create a Safe Space for Feedback
Asking for feedback can be one of the most difficult things to do as a founder. Our businesses are like our children, so hearing that they aren't perfect can be gut wrenching on a personal-level, but collecting honest feedback is an absolutely vital element to ensuring success as a founder. But creating a safe space to receive that feedback can be a challenge--very few employees want to complain to the boss after all. At Techstars we use a variety of different methods to gather feedback like open questions at standup meetings, "open door days" with leadership every quarter, anonymous People Ops surveys to measure sentiment to name a few.
Part of developing that feedback loop starts in your approach to receiving feedback, as the founder you set the tone and if your teams see that you are receptive to their input they will be more willing to share honestly with you. If you feel like you aren't getting the transparency you want, you can look to other methods like anonymous surveys or focus groups hosted by third parties or HR professionals to help employees feel more comfortable to share.
Those first few months and years are so critical to building you business, any misstep (no matter the size) can be life altering, so ask for input, then ask for more input, then ask again! And really listen. Take time to digest the outside insight you gather then look at it again 24 hours later once you've had a chance to let your emotional reaction settle in and review the information again with fresh eyes. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand the push back, but do so without bias.
Listening to and internalizing critical feedback can be the secret to success for many entrepreneurs--never underestimate the power that comes with a different perspective.