What is the shortest word in the English language containing the letters ABCDEF?

The answer: FEEDBACK

Feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication in any relationship, in the workplace or otherwise and it can build or lose trust quickly. As feedback is about clear communication, it’s also a reflection of your company culture.

I’ve had a number of conversations recently with clients about “feedback”. Many of them have been given what I would consider inadequate feedback in that it’s all one way, namely pure criticism or “this is what’s wrong”.

Why is it important to give feedback about what was even slightly positive or good about somebody’s actions and thinking? Feedback should, in my opinion, also be part of a learning process so that the person receiving it also receives ideas for “learning” to improve performance.

Neuroscientific findings suggest repetition creates new neuronal pathways, e.g. new thoughts and behaviours. Therefore, being focused on repeat behaviours or thoughts that worked even a bit on a daily basis, perhaps even several times a day, can help individuals build on success (see counter intuition below).

A quick test for you:

1) Recall the number of times you have received valuable feedback in the last week.

2) For each time place one finger of your left hand on your desk

3) For each time YOU have given what you believe was valuable feedback put one finger of your right hand on your desk

Have you run out of fingers? On both hands?

  • If you placed lots of fingers on your desk just now, the chances are that you work in a LEARNING culture.
  • If one or both of your hands still has a number of unused fingers the chances are that you work in a POWER culture.
  • In a LEARNING culture, feedback is part of a LEARNING game. In a culture that favours POWER, feedback is part of the POWER game

Individuals who recognise the value of feedback can by choosing their words and conversations start to affect the quality of their relationships which in turn positively affects the quality of their cultures and starts changing these cultures so that feedback becomes a powerful internal “tool”.

Yes, you might be thinking – all good in theory but what about the real world?

The success of Pixar – a business example

Pixar is the only film studio to have had nothing but hits and, according to Pixar Studio’s President, a peer-driven process for solving problems is behind this string of movies. In the Harvard Business Review, report Author Ed Catmull points out that there is a culture of giving and receiving feedback at every phase of the project. Pixar Studios conducts formal reviews when a project is complete, including at least five things that went well in the movie as well as five that didn’t.

Pixar Studios have also reframed feedback as helping each other improve performance and also make it clear that the individual concerned doesn’t have to follow this just to consider the feedback openly.

Intuitive Logic – looking at what you’ve done wrong rarely proves fruitful.

Whether in feedback or other contexts we tend to first want to confront people with what they have done wrong. Our ‘intuitive logic’ is usually that only once they will see what they have done wrong and will have taken responsibility for this wrong-doing will they be able and ready to start doing something about it. And although this sounds logical, it is doubtful whether it works. When people notice that they are expected to admit they behaved badly or made mistakes, they will often start to defend themselves and to justify their behaviour. Also, they may start pointing fingers at other people who, in their eyes have done wrong things, or point to circumstances which justify why they did what they did. When people are confronted they may feel threatened and not appreciated.

When this happens it is usually rather hard for them to open up and to start exploring ways to start finding solutions. This stuff is simple!

Rob Rave

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