The feedback Loop: Finfeed Q&A with Loop CEO Ben Barnett

By Megan Graham. Published at Nov 22, 2016, in Question and Answer

The HR world is experiencing tremendous digital disruption right now, and as we wrote about last month, tech solutions are changing the whole gamut of human resources and recruitment practices from prospective employee management to job advertising, application processes and interviewing.

Organisations are opting for newer ways (and higher tech solutions) of finding and retaining the right people. They’re also looking to manage them well, taking into account both efficacy and ethics. For many, the idea of ‘performance management’ is out, and it’s all about performance development; or as this Forbes article puts it, performance motivation.

One such person who has adopted this viewpoint is Ben Barnett, CEO of Loop. Loop is a new smartphone app which allows for instant and targeted feedback between those working together, which aims to generate ongoing conversations and greater possibilities for self-directed development and learning.

It’s an intriguing idea and could hold a lot of potential – so we caught up with Ben to learn more about it.

Finfeed: Hi Ben, thanks for the opportunity to chat. To get us started, can you give a rundown of what Loop is all about?

Ben Barnett: At its essence Loop is a feedback app that allows individuals and organisations to get real time continuous feedback. What’s unique about Loop is it lets individuals or organisations set either goals or questions that ensure feedback is targeted. So they’re receiving feedback on a regular basis to give them a sense of How am I going? The changes I made, have they been successful? How can I reflect on my performance?

For an individual they might set a goal that when having meetings, they’ll begin with a clear governing thought. It might be a very small skill like that. Or another, Tell me one thing I can do to improve my leadership. How can I make my team meetings more engaging?

For an organisation, it might have goals or a value set relating to a strategic plan – and it may be requesting organisational feedback against those values.

FF: So it’s not just a matter of scattered feedback where you have a meeting and ask everyone to tell you what didn’t go right – it’s more targeted than that.

BB: That’s right. The user sets a goal they’re focused on or they’d ask a question they’d like feedback on. They then invite particular people who are best placed and most trusted to provide that feedback.

FF: Would something like Loop be of particular use to a company who are in the process of creating or solidifying a set of values?

BB: I think that’s one part of it. For example, there’s an AFL club we worked with in the 2016 season where each of the players was able to give feedback to other players against a set of values. There are other organisations we’ve worked with where they ask employees to set signature behaviours that reflect a new culture they’re moving towards, and then invite peers to give feedback against those.

A new cultural behaviour they’re looking to establish might be ‘experimenting with a new way of doing things’. So the team leaders might have that goal, then invite feedback along the question of, Am I actually living this new cultural norm?

Then at an anonymous and aggregated level that data is made available to the organisation, so they can see Okay, X number of leaders are doing well on this new cultural norm, but we’re struggling with these others.

FF: Organisations already use feedback mechanisms like Small Improvements and similar models. How is Loop different? How does this particular technology enhance the process?

BB: Well, we think the starting point is one step back. Why should feedback not be given face to face? Our firm belief is that some feedback should be given face to face, there’s value in having that dialogue. And technology is not able to replicate the power of robust discussions in that regard.

But quite often those discussions happen infrequently and may not be targeted towards a particular skill or goal. So Loop gives individuals the ability to first set the goals and make them public to those they trust to provide feedback in real time.

But the second part is, there’s a huge transaction cost involved in giving feedback, and we think about 80-90% of these face to face feedback moments are missed. It’s just too hard; you need to arrange to have a coffee, you need to prepare for it and take time out to do it... So Loop allows for these opportunities for feedback to be picked up on the fly. If you’re at work with someone and you know they are working towards X goal, it might trigger you to provide that specific feedback that otherwise may have been a missed opportunity.

A third upside of our technology is we’ve made it as easy and simple as possible to give feedback via the tool. Just a matter of clicks is all it takes – and that’s something that stands us apart from the market.

Finally, and importantly, we have started at the performance development end, not performance management. Lots of others have developed new tools focused around performance management. We’ve said ‘let’s flip that’. Why don’t we give individuals the power themselves to set the goals and begin the feedback equation through Loop? That will lead to much faster performance development.

The data is retained by the individuals who’ve received the feedback, and if they want to share it with management or others, they can easily do that. But we wanted the starting point to be individual themselves – not a cumbersome performance management system driven by employers and managers.

FF: In terms of user uptake of the app, does it need to be adopted by the whole organisation first? Or can individuals decide to introduce it?

BB: Normally the way Loop is adopted is we would meet or be contacted by an innovative leader within an organisation, who’d say Hey, I want to try Loop with my team of 50. Then we’d help them to introduce it, get it running, and from there it would be distributed to others within the organisation based on that pilot.

Really, it is up to the individuals themselves if they want to start using Loop. Like any networked app, the more people you have involved in the network, the more successful the feedback will be. We would normally sell licenses to an organisation, who then make it available to people in their organisation. Then they’re off and running, with an annual subscription rate.

FF: On a somewhat broader topic, how do you feel newer technologies are disrupting the HR industry in general?

BB: That’s a poignant question. There’s a couple parts to it. There’s been three waves of development in terms of HR.

The first has been around accountability and the original performance management system. We must keep individuals accountable for their job, make sure they’re doing what they should be. That was the first wave, and I think a lot of that still permeates with the tech that exists now. But I think the world is moving away from that, as its quite disempowering for the individuals involved.

Second was to focus on talent, which was to say that we realise there are some people in the organisation who are disproportionately better than others – so we should focus on them, give them leadership interventions, training, focus on their growth... and almost forget about the other cohort in the organisation. That has created two classes of employees; those fast-tracked, and those who feel like they’re missing out on development.

I think the third wave is, As an organisation we need to empower everyone in the organisation, and the best way to do that is to give them control over their learning. Give them new opportunities to grow, to set goals and new opportunities to get feedback from those who know them best. It’s that third wave we’ve really tapped into in terms of putting the individual at the heart of their own development.

Interestingly, I think a lot of HR managers have been reading HBR, are accustomed with the debates around The performance review system is dead, it’s time to blow up HR – so they have come on board with the problem but they haven’t found many solutions out there. A lot of these managers I speak to are quite dissatisfied because the tech development has really just replicated old ways of thinking.

Whereas, we feel Loop is not only a new tech development, it’s actually embodying new ways of thinking. We expect there’ll be more tools in that area, but the most important thing now is to focus on putting all individuals at the heart of their own learning. That means organisations needs to find cheap, small, nimble tools that could be rolled out with very little administrative requirement, and roll them out to everyone, not just select parts of the organisation.

FF: In your feedback about your feedback app, what have people reported about regularity of use? Multiple times a day, a few times a week?

BB: We do a lot of analysis on that. Our observations in this regard is that this quickly becomes a tool that people adopt as part of their working life. It’s a tool they are opening up, if not daily, absolutely a couple of times a week. There’s a few reasons they’re opening the tool.

One is to give feedback to others. The other is to set a new goal. They may have walked out of a situation and decided they need to shift habit X.

But interestingly we see people opening up the tool a lot just to reflect on the feedback they’ve been getting. They’re not just flippantly getting it and forgetting about it, but continuously going back to it to create new goals or do things differently.

So we’ve created a section where you can bookmark your most important feedback. It might be feedback that makes you feel good, it might be development feedback about something you want to shift. We’ve seen an extraordinary number of people on that part of the app, thinking deeply about what they want to do next.

FF: The app allows for anonymous feedback – do you find most people opt for this?

BB: Interestingly, high-performing organisations who are more comfortable with feedback will quite often see people put their name to their feedback. Organisations just beginning their feedback journey are more likely to give anonymous feedback.

But what we’ve found is the more people use the tool, the more they’re happy to put their name to it. And importantly, they use the tool as a way to initiate an offline conversation. A manager might give several pieces of feedback on a skill to someone over the course of a fortnight, then at the end they might touch base with the person and say, Hey I’ve given you a bit of feedback on this particular skill, why don’t we have a face to face now? Those two worlds are certainly blending.

We hear that the face to face conversations are much richer because it’s not a one off surprise – there’s been a history, a story to the feedback. And it was given in reference to a goal that the individual has chosen.

FF: It sounds promising. Ben, thanks for taking the time to chat to Finfeed.

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