When talking about feedback and the value of it in workplace, there is a dominant belief that by giving feedback, especially if it is critical, there will be an increase in performance.
Amazon, Google and Netflix are common examples of companies that attribute part of their success to their culture’s promotion of direct and blunt feedback and use it as a driver to attract and promote the best employees.
The prevalent role of feedback in these performing organizations has left managers to think that feedback is the foundation for performing employees.
The main benefits attributed to giving positive and negative feedback are:
- Better performance
- Increased confidence
- Improved relationships
- Increased engagement
- Tool for continuous learning
but is feedback all good? Is it really able to deliver these benefits?
M. Buckingham, head of the ADP Research Institute, People & Performance, and Ashley Goodall, senior vice president of Cisco Systems in an article in the Harvard Business Review reflect about how three main assumptions may influence the real benefits of feedback:
1) People around you are more aware than yourself about your flaws, thus they are in a better position to show you what you cannot see for yourself.
However, no person can be wholly objective: in a feedback, more than half of the rating reflects the beliefs and characteristics of the person giving the feedback. Over the past 40 years psychometricians have shown that people don’t have a common definition of an abstract quality, such as creativity. The evaluations are shaped by personal beliefs and experiences.
2) if you lack certain abilities your colleagues should teach them to you
The latest studies in neuroscience we discovered that when we receive criticism, even if constructive, our brain focus only on the information necessary to survive. The brain reacts to critical feedback as a threat and narrows its activity. Thus telling people their shortcomings doesn’t improve their learning; on the contrary it impairs it.
3) Great performance is universal and analyzable and once defined, it can be transferred from one person to another, regardless of the individual.
The consequence of this assumption is that employees believe one size of excellence fits all, but excellence is not homogenous. Trying to retrofit every individual to the same model of excellence can become frustrating for even the best employees.
So it is possible to coach employees toward better performance and give feedback to really improve and benefit employees?
Giving feedback following the insights of M. Buckingham’s research should start by knowing the characteristics of the person to whom feedback is given, listening actively and understanding their uniqueness. Feedback should be consider as an opinion, because each person will have different reactions to the exact same thing. Feedback is telling to the person your reaction to their work and let them have the insight to learn from.
Giving feedback, according for this research, is more about perception than objectivity: as each human being filters everything through its specific view of the world, the real value of feedback lies in the opportunity to people to exchange constructive opinions.
What do you think about this topic? Do you agree with this view?