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Why It’s Now Popular to Trash-Talk The Value of Feedback to Employees

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

Recently, I’ve seen articles with splashy headlines and lots of buzz on LinkedIn about the harmful effects of frequent feedback on employees and how it stunts improvement in companies.

The best example appeared on the cover of the latest issue of Harvard Business Review: “The Feedback Fallacy,” an extensive article by Marcus Buckingham & Ashley Goodall, March-April 2019.

There are many reasons given for the futility of frequent, honest feedback, but the major points they raise boil down to the following four. I have provided my responses to these points, based on my research that went into my recent books, The Feedback Imperative and The Everyday Feedback Workbook:

Feedback largely means performance ratings and performance reviews People feel judged by managers and managers are notoriously poor raters of performance.

Everyday Feedback Response: Performance ratings are only a tiny aspect of what helpful feedback is about. In fact, major companies such as Adobe and Microsoft, have stopped the practice of annual performance reviews in favor of continuous, open exchanges of feedback.

Brain science concludes that any feedback calling for improvement causes extreme trauma and stress. The receiver’s fight-or-flight reaction kicks in automatically and blocks constructive learning.

Everyday Feedback Response: While it is true that feedback can cause stress, I argue that the greatest stress is experienced by the giver, not the receiver. Also feedback is strongly desired by employees and correlates with positive employee engagement. This is confirmed by Gallup research and many other studies. Lack of frequent feedback is a key factor in turnover and employees’ feelings that no one cares about their careers.

Feedback and improvement ideas should originate from the employee themself. 

The rationale is that people learn and grow far more when they are self-motivated to do so.

Everyday Feedback Response: This seems unrealistic in goal-oriented companies that track their business performance and where employees’ goals must align with company goals. Employees don’t operate in a vacuum where their improvements aren’t related to the priorities of the team and whole company. If you start a business, you surely have goals & tasks in mind when you hire employees.

Different people do things differently and a manager can rarely explain what excellence looks like. 

The article explains that in today’s economy people can’t learn their jobs from anyone else; they must devise their own solutions.

Everyday Feedback Response: There are many standards and known methods for completing jobs and tasks in every company. One of the key roles for managers and experienced employees is to coach others and assist them to be successful A great manager or peer coach discusses goals with the employee, demonstrates some known methods to accomplish them, and leads a two-way discussion about how best to achieve the targeted goals. A lack of such coaching will bewilder the employee and make them feel they aren’t being supported. With the coaching relationship in place, the employee is more ready to jump in, try out the new approaches, ask questions, and adjust behavior. The coach partnership is a learning alliance in which feedback is a natural and helpful route toward the employee’s finding new solutions on their own.

While these articles sensationalize the notion of harm caused by feedback, managers can avoid negative effects by focusing on

  1. helping the employee learn and improve

  2. avoiding insulting negativity and

  3. remaining optimistic and respectful of the recipients of the feedback.

Feedback is nothing more (nor less) than information, and in our information-based economy, it is more essential than ever before.

“A concise and effective tool… It provides context, inspiration, and great actionable content.”

— Mark Holzbach, Creative and Tech Community Connector, Co-Founder, Zebra Imaging

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