Only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.  Gallup.

Feedback and recognition in the workplace are always hot topics for debate.  The general view and business ‘rule’ appears to be that feedback is an essential tool in managing and engaging people and that all employees want feedback and recognition.   However, in practise it is an area that can be fraught with difficulty.  Recently, companies such as Netflix have been in the news due to their ‘radical candour’ approach.  Workplace feedback and 360 processes are often talked about in the HR/L&D space, suggesting that there is a generally accepted view that feedback is useful. But is that true? Or is it just another way we are all conforming to a business rule and muddling through?
We blogged last year about former Google Exec Kim Scott’s book “Radical Candour”, the technique that gives completely honest and frank feedback to your work colleagues, which Scott described as kindness.   Really?  In a world where most of us are seeking the approval of our peers to feel good enough, is this the best approach?

HBR article The Feedback Fallacy, has a great view about radical candour;
‘The arguments for radical candour and unvarnished and pervasive transparency have a swagger to them, almost as if to imply that only the finest and bravest of us can face these truths with nerveless self-assurance, that those of us who recoil at the thought of working in a climate of continual judgement are condemned to mediocrity, and that as leaders our ability to look our colleagues squarely in the eye and lay out their faults without blinking is a measure of our integrity.’’
The article, and other recent research is revealing that workplace feedback (excluding those instances in hospitals for example, where adhering to a prescribed routine or procedure is necessary), can be unhelpful or simply not work, “..the research is clear: 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.’’
We give feedback to others through us and our own eyes, and according to research humans are unreliable raters of other humans, what is termed ‘the idiosyncratic rater effect’, “more than half of your rating of someone else reflects your characteristics, not theirs…research shows that feedback is more distortion than truth.’’
In addition, as humans, we all want to fit in, be liked and succeed.  This means that we often act on feedback, changing and adapting ourselves in ways that take us away from who we are at heart, making us feel self-conscious and therefore not able to perform at our best. Often managers (who are human too!) are not given guidance or support on how to give constructive feedback. Many of us fear confrontation and having what are often termed ‘difficult’, or ‘courageous’ conversations.  All of us can get defensive when we hear negative feedback, and on top of this, for many businesses, feedback and appraisal processes can carry with them a whole load of negative baggage.

So, how to be helpful to ourselves and others to enable us to thrive and excel?

People who focus on their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.  Gallup.
Employees whose managers consistently acknowledge them for good work are 5x more likely to stay at the company.  Qualtrics 2017 US Employee Pulse survey
The HBR article ‘Why Asking for Advice Is More Effective Than Asking for Feedback’ researchers found just that, with their view being that giving feedback is inextricably linked to evaluation and giving judgement on a person’s performance whereas giving advice is linked to future opportunities and how things could be improved for the future.

Here are our tips on helping others thrive with information, advice and feedback.

  • Make it a normal part of your company or team culture, start by self-appraising and talk about this positively.
  • Focus on your strengths and those of others.
  • Notice when a team member or colleague does something well and highlight it there and then.
  • Ask for, and give advice, rather than feedback.
  • Make it two way ‘Workers who say their employer acts on their feedback are 4x MORE LIKELY to stay with the company than employees who don’t think their feedback changes anything.’ Qualtrics
  • When giving feedback, accept that it is based on your view and how you feel, and phrase it as such.
  • Use questions when giving feedback.  E.g. how do you feel it went?  What would you change?  What could make it more powerful?
  • Feedback is about clarity.  There’s nothing wrong with sharing what you’d encourage someone to do even better – how else can we learn from each other? Be ready for others to have an opinion too.