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From StrategyDriven, 10/29/14, Human Feedback is the Greatest Path to Efficiency

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Feedback, at its core, is simply information about the results of past action that can improve the results of future actions. An airplane’s navigation system, the thermostat in your home’s heating unit, and a flashing electronic sign that displays your car’s speed are all examples of feedback that drives improvement. The plane adjusts its course, the heat turns off in the warm afternoon, and you slow down to the speed limit. Each time an adjustment is made, a “feedback loop” is completed.

It’s not happening in the workplace

This is so not the way information flows between human beings in the workplace. Although employees receive massive amounts of information via electronic sources, feedback from their boss—information that could help them improve performance–dribbles in at a very slow pace or not at all.

Why is this? 

Feedback actually frightens people—particularly to givers of feedback. Because almost no one does it well or frequently, leaders themselves aren’t accustomed to a healthy feedback environment in which everyone gives and receives helpful feedback.

Based on brain scientists’ research using MRIs that track the path of brain cells during feedback activities, it turns out that giving feedback often triggers a fight-or-flight stress response. The thought of having to go in and give “hurtful” feedback is stressful to a boss and triggers a flood of the same hormones that our brain produces when it experiences threats of physical harm to the body.  The fight-or-flight hormones hijack our mental, physical, and emotional capabilities. Calm, rational thinking becomes impossible because our brain cells have received the signal to divert all resources and our ability to run fast or fight hard.

You can reverse the fear effect

Once you are aware of this, you can re-wire your brain to see feedback-giving as a very positive way to help employees do a great job and succeed in their careers. Moreover, you will actually create very positive relationships with your team members as you share frequent and helpful feedback conversations.

Stick your toe in the water: 5 Steps for getting feedback loops spinning

  1. Spend 30 minutes envisioning success in the future. Record your ideas as you see positive things happening, say six months from now. What does it look like? How are each of your team members contributing to the success?

  2. Record 1-2 key improvement areas for each person in your group.  Which changes would enable this vision to come to life? If you have a long list of improvement needs for someone, do your best to select the top two priorities for impacting team success.

  3. Have great feedback conversations with each person.  Spend no longer than 30 minutes per person and stick to the 1-2 things they can improve on. Engage in a dialogue about actions that will bring success. Clarify and summarize what they are planning to do differently and how and when you will follow up.

  4. Invite their feedback back to you.  In the same meeting, be sure to ask how you can better support their success and improve on your leadership in the whole team. Listen carefully, take notes, and be sure to visibly adjust your behavior to show obvious improvement.

  5. Continue these conversations frequently and coach each person to success. Within a week, have another short conversation with each person. What’s going well, where are people stuck, and what new questions can the two of you discuss?  After the second week, you can start exchanging the feedback more informally—in hallways, after meetings, and wherever you see and work with people.

You have now started spinning human feedback loops. Enjoy the powerful results that follow!

Published, October 29, 2014, StrategyDriven

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