Gene Caballero of GreenPal Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful

Giving feedback is crucial to any position at any company — good or bad. Sometimes employees need to be reminded what they are doing well and what they need to work on to ensure that the organization as a whole can thrive.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gene Caballero.

Gene Caballero is an entrepreneur who brought his love for helping people and his 15-year corporate career together to help launch GreenPal. His creativity and his hard work background comes from his entrepreneur upbringing and curiosity to disrupt the status quo.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I am a co-founder of GreenPal which has been described as Uber for lawn care. Before I started my entrepreneurial journey, I was a hiring manager for a Fortune 50 tech company. I have been in lawn care my entire life. In high school and college, I mowed lawns to make a little extra money. When I graduated college, I got a job in tech sales. My territory was the west coast so I was privy to the newer technologies. I knew if people were summoning a stranger to pick them up via Uber or Lyft, they would do the same with lawn care. That is how GreenPal was born.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes our company stand out is the fact that we built it from the vendor-side first — not the homeowner side. Knowing the pain points that a landscaping professional faces on a daily bases, we knew that if we solved his problems, we could always acquire homeowners needing lawn care. When we first aggregating vendors for our first market, we sat down and start cold-calling local vendors. After explaining to them how we could help grow their business and remove some of their administrative issues, we knew we had something special.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Obtaining our first few customers was very humbling. We decided to door-to-door to market our business because we had no money to do it any other way. 100% sweat equity.

In 2014, we spent the entire months of April, May, June, and July interrupting family get-together and parties, going door-to-door, asking homeowners if they would use our service. After getting bit by a dog, being physically threatened by a homeowner, and almost being arrested, we were able to get 100 customers signed up and using GreenPal.

We knew this wasn’t sustainable but needed to get those first few users on our platform to see if we even had a business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Looking back this is actually humorous but not necessarily at the time. We were so naïve that we thought we could just pay a company to build our website because we didn’t have a technical co-founder — -or anyone we tech experience. So, we paid $85 for a shop-built website that was based on what they thought our future customers wanted and needed. It has since been rebuilt by a co-founder (after he went to software school) and the only thing that we kept was the “How It Works” animated video — $85k for a 1:30-sec video. And no, it was not directed by James Cameron.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

The advice I would give to leaders to help their employees thrive within their organization is to have “Stop-Start-Continue” quarterly meetings. “Stop” doing this, “Start” doing this, and “Continue” doing this in order to get to the position that you want. This will have an enormous impact on exactly what the individual needs to do to thrive. What I would tell leaders to tell their employees to avoid burnout is to visit other part of the organization to see how their work directly affects others within the company. If you are in sales, go and spend a few hours in the warehouse. This will help get someone realigned with the importance of their hard work.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is being empathetic. You need to have the ability to relate to your employees and be able to put yourself in the soul of your people. Without being empathetic, it’s very hard to rally your troupes around your vision and the goals that need to be laid out.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Taking a break and playing the piano helps me get my focus back and helps boost my energy.

Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices so it gets my mental capacity going again and helps me through my day. It’s like a mental full-body workout and lets me refocus on what I need to do.

We have a little music room in another office so other employees can do the same.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

Giving feedback is crucial to any position at any company — good or bad. Sometimes employees need to be reminded what they are doing well and what they need to work on to ensure that the organization as a whole can thrive.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Not giving direct feedback is being dishonest with your people. How can one get better at their position and/or thrive if they are not given proper direction. It’s a disservice to all parties involved.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

With any remote employees, I highly recommend giving any feedback face-to-face via Zoom or any other video conferencing software. 1. Incorporate the Good-Bad-Good sandwich — Start off by telling them something good or flattering. Then what they need to work on. Lastly, another positive attribute that they will help them accomplish the trait or goal they need to work on. Always end on a positive note. 2. Always ask them questions about situations and how they would have done it differently if given a second chance. 3. Always keep a helpful tone. This will ensure that they will paying attention and not be on the defensive. 4. Always listen to their needs and give them a chance to tell their side of the story. 5. Be very specific. If you generalize an issue, what exactly needs to be done may not be clear enough.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I highly recommend never sending constructive feedback over an email. That would be the equivalent of breaking up with a significant other via text. Get on Zoom.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

In my experience, timeliness is essential. Giving positive feedback when their praise is deserved needs to be done while its fresh on their mind. Negative feedback should be delivered the same way. If you wait too long, the opportunity is not top of mind and may have no impact on that individual.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss removes all barriers for an individual to thrive and lets them do their job. All of the noise, the politics, and the BS that would hinder someone from doing their best. I had a boss that would filter emails going to all of his employees that were of no use to the reps. This alone would save us 20–30 minutes per day. One small act that I still remember to this day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-).

Everyone should get a dog to see what unconditional love feels like.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The best piece of advice that I was ever given was by my dad. He said, “There are 3 8-hour workdays in 24 hours…pick which two you want to work and you will be successful.”

This has impacted me greatly because of the effort and time to start a business from scratch. There are no road maps or courses out there to help you along the way — it’s just you. This quote radiates the grit and discipline it takes to become a true, successful entrepreneur.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow GreenPal on twitter @yourgreenpal or follow me on LinkedIn

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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