Feedback matters: Learnings from Toastmasters & adoption in the business environment

Before I moved from Prague (CZ) to Bangkok (TH) to start HotelQuickly, I was a proud member of Toastmasters International. I was a member of Bohemian Toastmasters club for 3 years and hold a few exec roles including Club President. I enjoyed it so much that I co-founded another club — Prague Business Toastmasters — to help people from the business environment.

Toastmasters’ members meet regularly to speak in front of an audience.

There’s too many great things to mention about 🍞 Toastmasters, it would deserve its own article. Let me focus on one crucial thing which makes Toastmasters outstanding: immediate feedback.

Feedback to Toastmasters is what cars are to my 3-year-old son:

  • Something they cannot live without
  • A first thing to think of in the morning
  • A last thing in the evening
  • And they keep asking for more!
Same as my son is obsessed by cars, Toastmasters are about feedback.
Toastmasters love giving and getting feedback. That’s how they learn & grow.

During my 3–4 years with Toastmasters I saw dozens of people being transformed from novice speakers to confident professionals. They were WOW-ing the audience and winning local speaking contests. I think the secret behind their transformation was:

  • Positive & encouraging environment. No matter how much you sucked at your first speech, your peers would encourage you and make sure you get better next time.
  • Constructive feedback received after each task, role or speech. #feedbackSandwich #nothingNew

Toastmasters vs. Business

At Toastmasters, everyone is not just encouraged, but expected to give feedback. Both junior and the most senior people are equal, they get feedback in the same way.

But in business environment, we often forget about the importance of constructive immediate feedback. There are companies which organise yearly performance reviews (#omg). Luckily, lots of companies, including HotelQuickly, shifted to quarterly reviews. But is that enough? Not really!

In a Toastmasters club, one can do 5–10 speeches per quarter. She receives feedback immediately after her speech, in front of all club members who learn from that feedback, too. As a result, her next speech is usually better than the previous one.

Toastmasters give feedback immediately after the role or speech is delivered.

Now imagine she would do the same 5–10 speeches per quarter, but would receive feedback only at the end of the quarter. In Toastmasters world that sounds as ridiculous as asking my son to go to sleep at 7pm. #impossible

However, that’s what we do at work. Very few managers have adopted a habit of giving feedback immediately after a task is done. I struggle with this myself, too. I used to be pumped up in the club and was giving feedback to 3–5 speakers during each meeting. But at workplace, it somehow doesn’t feel “normal”, it feels a bit awkward, so I (or we?) fall back to the comfort zone of quarterly or yearly reviews.

I believe our team-mates could improve tremendously if we adopt this one thing that Toastmasters pushes since 1931: immediate feedback. (Tweet this!)

#realityCheck

We all want to improve over time. But do we improve? Let’s do a quick & honest reality check:

  • As a developer, do I write better & cleaner code than 3 months ago?
  • As a manager, are my 1–1 better than used to be 6 months ago?
  • As a project leader, did I organise my last project better the previous one?
  • As a company leader, do I communicate our plans & vision better than a year ago?
  • …do I speak more eloquently during meetings?
  • …do I write better status reports than I used to?
  • …do I deliver better presentations?
  • [now come up with 2–3 of your own questions, I’ll wait]

Example: Job interviews

Interviewing job candidates is something we, managers, do frequently. But simply doing something frequently doesn’t necessarily mean doing it better, right? Can we say “The more we drive cars, the better drivers we become”? Not really. In fact, after a year of driving we get used to it and hit plateau. Only the drivers who practice deliberately, receive feedback and improve become professionals. The rest of us are mediocre drivers. (Tweet this!)

In business environment without immediate feedback, I see myself and my colleagues hitting plateau same as the car drivers after a year of driving. Let’s face it: was a job interview today better than the one I organised a year ago? Did I ask the candidate better questions? Do I get better in the last 3 months? Not really.

In Toastmasters environment, after each interview I would receive feedback from a peer. I would be expected to prepare and perform better than the last time. Someone would help me keep track of my progress and would hold me accountable. Would I get better over time? Of course my horse! 🐴

Now, let’s face it: what’s the slope of YOUR trendline? Are you progressing fast enough? (Tweet this!)

What’s the slope of your trendline? Are you progressing fast enough?

Surprise! Millennials want more feedback

A recent report from KPCB — Internet Trends 2015 (page # 110)— shows that millennials want training and development more than anything else. Surprised? Not really. But it’s good to see it black on white with a big fat red arrow next to it, right? 😃

So what?!

The members of Toastmasters clubs are well set: they’ll keep improving week by week. As long as they follow their processes and best-practices, they will grow and become proficient speakers and leaders. That’s set in stone, nothing to improve there. #onTheRoadToSuccess #goodForYou 👍

What can we do at our work environment? I believe there’s lots to learn and adapt from Toastmasters to our workplace. The following roadmap should help foster feedback at your company:

🚶STEP 1: Communicate WHY feedback is important

I guess you know already. Hint: So that people grow & improve over time #faster #better

🚶STEP 2: Teach everyone how to give feedback sandwich

Feedback sandwich is a common practice, nothing new. Just start doing it.

Always start with something positive, then give constructive feedback (what to improve) and wrap up with a few positive words.

Check out these resources:

🚶STEP 3: Organise an all-company feedback challenge

7 days, everyone at the company. Gamify it. Go crazy. Use a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of progress daily (it’s just a few days, you can do it!).

🚶STEP 4: Use weekly all-hands to promote feedback

For your all-hands meetings assign a person who’ll give feedback what & who can improve next time. This will foster the culture of giving & getting feedback on a weekly basis. Rotate the person.

🚶STEP 5: Export feedback stats & publish them during your all-hands meeting

Export only stats, not the content of the feedback.

It will take time for everyone not to feel awkward giving feedback. So repeat all over again that giving peer-to-peer feedback is a common practice.


Please let me know if you decide to implement the roadmap at your company. I’m very curious to see how it goes and would love to stay in touch. Tweet me @juhasm or reach out by e-mail michal@hotelquickly.com.

Have fun with feedback & keep growing!