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The Shocking Truth About Feedback

Over the last 20 years, I’ve consulted to organizations large and small, and “lack of sufficient feedback” is an abiding theme and the code no one can seem to crack; the issue just will not go away. I see the same trends in employee surveys that I did in the 90s; literally. Here are a few:

  • Employees at all organizational levels rate feedback in the top-3 priorities

  • Employees report that they don’t get enough feedback

  • Supervisors and managers report that they do provide feedback

See the gap? My observations are backed up by no other than The Gallup organization, who adds an important link: feedback leads to engagement; engagement leads to retention. Here's what Gallup said in its “Seven Workplace Insights” from 2020:

  • Employee engagement is a strong predictor of performance during tough times

  • Frequent feedback is the primary lever of engagement among remote-workers

  • Even those who receive negative feedback wish they received more feedback

The number of workshops and slides designed to respond to this ongoing call for feedback is staggering. And the evidence is piling up to support feedback as a critical component of employee engagement and retention. Yet the issue persists. Consider this:

Somehow, we are more able to see the essential relationship between

feedback and learning in the context of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

than in the context of human interactions in the workplace.

Machines learn from feedback constantly provided by users. It’s not a “thing.” There isn’t a discrete event in the user experience called, “giving the machine feedback so it learns.” It is happening just by virtue of a user using and a machine running. It is standard operating procedure. Make no mistake: preparation is needed: the machine must be configured to learn, and users must be taught to operate the machine. But is performance feedback so different? Why so hard for organizations to ingrain it as SOP?

IMHO, the answer lies in something management guru Peter Drucker said many years ago. He said:

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers.

The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.”

Companies are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, "How can we increase the amount and quality of feedback?”, they should be asking, “How can we create an intentional culture in which feedback is not a discrete event but, rather, the standard operating procedure; the natural flow of conversation throughout the day?” Then, rather than producing ever-more how-to-do-it trainings and campaigns, they could solve for the root cause: how-to-be-it; how to be a place where feedback is SOP.

“Feedback is not a thing. It is a way.”

That’s brilliant! Who said that? I did. Just now. You can quote me on it. Consider this reframe: instead of viewing giving and receiving feedback as skills to be acquired for use at periodic intervals over a period of performance, view them as the primary channel through which business is conducted from moment to moment. Kind of like the AI example. By doing this, we may finally be able to crack the code on organizational feedback and, in so doing, build a new, bigger/badder neural pathway when it comes to human performance in the workplace.

My coaching challenge to you this week: imagine the possibilities for your organization!

Want more on this subject? Check out "Feedback February" on The Growth Platform.

Email us to hear how Grandinetta Group is making feedback SOP in startups, and to talk about transforming your organizational culture.

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