Tag Archives: feedback

The one with the well intentioned gut punch

“Feedback is the key to giving employees a sense of where they’re going, but many organizations are remarkably bad at giving it.” That quote is from Hay Group’s ‘Engage Employees and Boost Performance’ and from my perspective it’s one of the elements of Employee Engagement that gets most overlooked.

Let’s face it giving positive feedback is easy. It’s more recognition than performance management and taking the time to tell someone they’ve done something well is usually rewarding for both parties.

Giving constructive feedback is much harder and I can recall times in my career that my nervousness around giving the feedback has lead to me delivering only half the message and in such a way that the other person wouldn’t have been clear as to what I was really saying. Basically, I was trying to avoid any form of emotional reaction and therefore couched the message so successfully that there was likely no message at all.

A few years ago I attended a facilitation skills workshop and one of the models introduced to me was Heron’s model for intervention. One of the interventions it describes is the ‘Confronting’ intervention and one of the course leaders described it as something that will impact the person in the gut and not the brain.

Now the problem with impacting someone in the proverbial gut is their reaction is far less likely to be rational and reasoned and is far more likely to be driven by their emotions. The downside of this is managing the impact, the potential upside is really helping someone understand performance issues that the standard, repeated constructive conversations have failed to do.

Having experimented with this on several occasions it has worked well and not so well. In reflecting I realise that the ones that have gone well usually include a lot of thought prior to the conversation including understanding potential reactions, a clear contracting part of the conversation (helps if they know what’s coming) and being very mindful of the language I used. The other thing I’ve learnt is that sometimes a reaction is inevitable given the nature of the conversation but to be comfortable to let it happen and follow it up has often had the best results (but not always!)

The challenge in discussing something like this is any example would involve divulging someone’s private information or sharing a superficial example that really didn’t illustrate it. This was bouncing around my head on the tube the other day when I realised there’s a great example (which ends with a profanity – be warned):


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The one where I am truly humbled

I am by nature fairly difficult to impress. I don’t know why but my default reaction to most things is “that’s great but…”. I don’t know where this came from.

This afternoon I witnessed something humbling. I witnessed several thousand people running the London Marathon and although I have watched it many times  on TV and even in person once before it wasn’t until today that I was truly in awe of the achievement of the people running past me.

Just a few of the 40,000 runners

There was nothing to characterise those running – they were male & female (and if you took the costumes at face value several animals), every age, every hairstyle, every brand of headphones and some rather fascinating tattoos but in their pursuit you had no idea of their occupation, net worth, property value, car brand etc etc

The diversity of the charities was also incredible. Obviously the big hitters were out in force but some were clearly very personal whilst others were far more timely (a Japanese team out in force)

From a psychological perspective, the thing that struck me was their resilience. They were attempting this literally marathon task and with the exception of power drinks, iPods and the support of an enthusiastic crowd they weren’t stopping (I didn’t see Paula Radcliffe though). One definition of this phenomenon is:

“Resilience” the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease) (Masten 2009).

If anything I have seen typifies this then it was those I witnessed punishing themselves today.

The second thing I noted was that with the exception of the elite runners (who were done before I got there), there was no sense of win/lose, no sense of competition – everyone was there to support, help, cheer or at worst avoid crashing into, someone else. The crowd were not hoping one went faster than any other, no one cared how much these people were paid and there was definitely no chorus of “you’re not singing any more”.

The third thing that struck me was the celebration. At the end every runner who completed the course was given a medal and bag of stuff (chocolate, t-shirt etc) and the look  of pride on the faces walking past me said how they felt about wearing that medal. I think organizations are incredibley poor at celebrating success, they may do it privately, behind closed doors and then there is always a hint of embarrassment and a collective look of either a) we should have done more/better or b) this celebration is not allowed we should be working. The look on those faces should tell CEOs everywhere why celebrating success is an excellent use of time.

Finally, and this kind of links to the lack of celebration, organizations love to take any completion and immediately turn it into a case study, hold a “lessons learned” meeting or a review on “what should we do better next time” robbing anyone involved of that little moment of validation that says “i’m good at this”. Don’t get me wrong I am all for achieving goals but maybe, especially in current financial conditions, organizational leaders need to give their teams a chance to understand what they’ve done well and take a well earned pat on the back for it.

Amongst the biggest advocates of goal setting theory are Gary Latham and Edwin Locke and they make it very clear in numerous publications (a few are referenced below) that without clear feedback attempts at goal setting will be far less effective so what follows is my feedback :

To the c40,000 people who ran today I hope you achieved what you set out to, have an experience you’ll never forget and full truly proud of yourself this evening

To Virgin and all the others sponspors, well done for continuing to support this event. I hope it doesn’t become a budget cut and that you achieved what you needed from it

To all those involved in organising it including TFL staff, the Police and the volunteers who held ropes and lifted bales – well done!

And finally to my friend Mel Buckenham, despite my crass humour at the finish I feel humbled by what you’ve achieved and hope you too feel incredibly proud of what you achieved and the money you raised.

That’s great….no but!

My friend Mel with her medal

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A. (2002) “Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation – a 35 Year Odyssey” American Psychologist, Vol. 57 No. 9

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A. (2009), “Science and Ethics: What Should Count as Evidence Againat the Use of Goal Sharing?”, Academy of Management, August

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A.(1990) “Work Motivation and Satisfaction: Light at the End of the Tunnel”, Psychological Science, Vol. 1 No.4

Masten, A. S. (2009). Ordinary Magic: Lessons from research on resilience in human development. Education Canada, 49(3): 28-32.

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