The Feedback Fallacy

OMG, I just had a mental melt-down. Feedback doesn’t work as we thought for the last 100 years. Markus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall rock the boat.

I was reading the HBR (april 2019) and had to read this article 3 times, some parts even more. The claim: Feedback does not realise performance nor learning! “Telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel, and telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders learning.”

Isn’t feedback always useful? Don’t we want to help people to thrive and excel?  Yes we do, and it turns out that telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better – feedback – doesn’t work as think it does.

Our assumptions:

1. Others are more aware of our weaknesses, feedback helps clarifying this.
2. Learning allows us to acquire competencies through others teaching us.
3. Great performance can be analysed and transferred to us.

The HBR findings:

1. Humans cannot rate other humans, because they always base it on their understanding, never on our understanding. The “idiosyncratic rater effect”, more than 50% of their rating reflects only their own characteristics. Feedback is more distortion than truth.

2. Learning takes mostly place in areas of greater ability (our strengths), and getting attention to our strengths from others catalyzes learning.

3. Excellence is idiosyncratic. It is not the opposite of failure! In fact, excellence and failure have a lot in common (here really starts my mental melt-down). 

The point here is:
Since excellence is idiosyncratic and cannot be learned by studying failure, we can never help another person succeed by holding her performance up against a prefabricated model of excellence, giving her feedback on where she misses the model, and telling her to pug the gaps.

How to help people excel

  1. Look for outcomes. Excellence is an outcome, so take note of when a prospect leans into a sales pitch, a project runs smoothly, or an angry customer suddenly calms down. Stop the flow of work for a moment and pull your colleague’s attention back toward something he just did that really worked. “YES, That!”
  2. Replay your instinctive reactions. Describe what you experienced when his moment of excellence caught your attention. There is nothing more believable and more authoritative than sharing what you saw from him and how it made you feel.
  3. Never lose sight of your highest-priority interrupt. If someone screws up something, deal with it! But remember, this is merely remediating, it inhibits learning and does not get you closer to excellence. Just make it a personal learning experience. However, if you see someone doing something that really works, make that your high-priority interrupt. Stop him/her and the rest of the team and dissect the success. Not only he/she will grow and learn, everybody will.
  4. Explore present, past and future. When someone asks for a solution for a problem, start with the now. What is working for you right now? Relate this to asking to create new solutions. Then relate it to the past, when you had a similar problem before, what did you do (what worked)? Finally, ask for the future. What you already know you need to do? Maybe share one or two of your own experiences. Assume the person already knows the answers, help recognizing to.
  5. Focus on “WHAT”. Don’t focus too much on the why. Why didn’t that work or why do you think you should do that? Instead, focus on the whats – What do you actually want to happen? What are a couple of actions you could take right now? These questions create concrete answers.

What to do?

The right way to help colleagues excel – try some of this language in stead.

HBR conclusion:

“We humans do not do well when someone whose intentions are unclear tells us where we stand, how good we “really” are, and what we must do to fix ourselves. We excel only when people who know us and care about us tell us what they experience and what they feel, and in particular when they see something within us that really works.

Not mine, this is from the HBR magazine.

I think I need a meltdown first to rebuild my believe system with regards to the role of feedback in growth and the ability we humans have to project our thinking on others…

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