Posts Tagged ‘Feedback’

Feedback Leads to Happiness – Happiness Leads to Performance

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

For a long time I’ve been preaching about how important it is to give people confirming feedback, and that what you reward someone for will be repeated.

But there’s even more to positive or confirming feedback that helps improve performance. Study after study has proven that happy people perform better. And one way to help someone be happy is to have them replay successes. So, by telling someone what they did right, they will replay this and are more likely to feel positive and happy… and therefore perform even better.

Confirming feedback, therefore, has a double whammy effect:

  1. A person is more likely to repeat what he or she has been rewarded for.
  2. By hearing about the successful behavior again, the person will feel more happy (any time a person replays a past success they tend to feel happier), and happy people perform better.

Read The Happiness Advantage or watch the TED Talk by Shawn Achor. It’s an excellent book about the positive impact of happiness (well, duh), and I love the TED Talk.

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Feedback Cuts Down on Choking

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

In the past, I’ve talked a lot about feedback, and how important it is in helping bring out the best performance in others. And here I go again. Why? Because it is one of, if not the most important factor in managing, coaching, parenting or just about any other area where you can help another person perform well.

Have you ever choked? I’m not talking about the type of choking where you get something stuck in your throat. No, I’m talking about the Greg Norman at the Masters golf tournament type of choking. The choking that happens when someone stands in front of a group of people and cannot speak. You know – when you’re quite capable of doing something, but for some reason you under-performed.

Most people think they choke because of the pressure, and there is some truth to that. But, from a what’s-going-on-in-your-brain perspective, that’s not the complete story. The pressure you’re under may be a factor, but it’s not the cause.

When an experienced and capable performer over-thinks, that’s when they choke. It’s when a person has a skill or technique down to the level where she no longer has to think about what she’s doing… but she does. It’s when she consciously thinks about the details of the activity, rather than just letting it happen subconsciously. In other words, rather than relying on the automatic response of the subconscious, she starts thinking through each and every minute detail of the activity, resulting in a slow and inefficient performance.

Performers often over-think and over-analyze when they don’t know how they’re doing. They actually try to give themselves feedback. Instead, if you give the feedback, the performer can stay in the automatic or implicit mode, rather than an over-thinking or explicit mode.

So, not only will providing feedback to employees, teammates, children, or whoever help them identify and then repeat good performance, it will guard against the possibility of the person choking. By giving feedback, the performer does not have to think about giving themselves the feedback.

Recall that there are two types of feedback: confirming and corrective. Confirming is the feedback you give when a person has done things well, and you want to reinforce what they did, which increases the chances that they’ll do a good job again. After all, you will tend to repeat what you’re praised or rewarded for, and simple confirming feedback will do that.

Corrective feedback is what it sounds like: correcting the performance. If someone does something wrong, then telling the person what needs to be done the next time is corrective feedback. Note that focusing the feedback, whether confirming or corrective, on the behavior, the act, the performance, and not the person, is critical. If the feedback is aimed personally, it often backfires. So, instead of telling the person that they are great, tell them what they did that was great.

As a general rule, provide the people you want to perform better at least four times as much confirming feedback as you do corrective feedback. For some reason, most people find it is easier to tell people what they’re doing wrong – providing corrective feedback – than it is to give confirming feedback. What’s odd is that most people do not have that same problem when training a dog – they have no problem rewarding the dog for good behavior – and yet they have a tough time doing the same for another human.

Think about the type of feedback you give others, and whether you could help someone who is under pressure to lessen the chances of them choking, and ultimately increase the chances that they’ll perform even better.

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Performance in the Workplace: 6 Performance Rules

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

“I was amazed at how productive it was to take a few minutes once a week to reflect on the performance of my employees, my company, and myself.” That was the most common observation made by participants of my 6-week survey that I conducted during October and November of last year. The overall objective of the Performance in the Workplace study was to discover what factors most influenced performance (both positively and negatively), for managers, employees, and organizations.

The full report is available for downloading at I hope that by providing these study results, more managers, employees, and organizations will work to enhance their performance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m passionate about helping people, teams, groups and companies perform better, and I know that sharing the findings of this study will help me do that.

Ultimately, there proved to be six key factors that affected performance, in order of how often they were reported and the apparent impact:

  1. Awareness – Taking a few minutes on a regular schedule to stop and think about performance – what impacts it, what’s working, and what’s not working.
  2. Feedback – Either a lack of feedback (negative) or the existence of it (positive) was evident in the performance ratings.
  3. Expectations – When participants and their employees had clear direction and knew what was expected of them, they performed better.
  4. Focus – Being focused on key issues, challenges and problems, and not getting distracted led to improved performance.
  5. Communication – When there was good communication, performance improved; when communication was restricted (for reasons ranging from being absent to having distractions get in the way), performance suffered.
  6. Organized – When participants took the time to get more organized and schedule projects, they performed better; when they didn’t, performance worsened.

Because taking a few minutes once a week to stop and reflect on one’s performance had such a powerful impact on people, I intend to tweet a message every now and then to remind followers and friends to do exactly that. Feel free to follow me on Twitter ( to get a reminder (I plan to tweet about all sorts of performance issues and topics). The awareness that comes from taking time to reflect leads to subtle but definite improvements in performance over time.

One of the exciting findings of the study was that many managers and organizations are doing things right. They’re focusing on performance and the critical things, they’re providing feedback and expectations, they’re communicating, they’re organized. And because of that, they’re getting good results. That means this can be done! Unfortunately, not all were getting the desired results.

I’ve been shouting about managers who don’t provide enough feedback and clear expectations for a long time now, and it was interesting to see these factors identified as impacting performance.

My experience has been that many managers claim to provide clear expectations to their employees, and yet the employees will tell you their expectations aren’t clear. Same with feedback – employees are almost always asking for more feedback. Most only get it when they’ve made a mistake – they only get corrective feedback. And yet people managers should provide at least four times as much confirming feedback as they do corrective feedback.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and reflect on your performance – at work, at home, in your hobby, sport, or whatever. Not just how you’re doing, but why. Then think about those around you, and whether you can use the six “Performance Rules” above to improve your performance, and that of the people around you.

There you go… Six Performance Rules that can lead to better performance in the workplace.

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Feedback Sucks!

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Get your attention? Then listen up. Your employees are begging for feedback. They’re craving it. They’re practically screaming for it.

Give it to them.

Just take a look at the numbers in Mark Murphy’s blog, Employees Are Desperate For Feedback. According to a study by Leadership IQ, “Fifty-one percent of employees do not know whether their performance is where it should be.”

That’s half of the employees surveyed in the study (3,611 employees) admitting to not knowing where they stand. Only 21 percent said they knew where they stood, with the balance being in the middle.

Why? Why are managers so determined to not provide feedback? Is it that they think that’s too “touchy-feely”? Too personal? Is it that they think employees should just get on with the job and forget about what others think? Do they think employees can read their mind?

Here’s what I think is a big part of the reason: It’s a generational thing.

If you’re a Baby Boomer, you’re more likely to come from the world of “just get on with,” and “I hate all that personal stuff.” It’s certainly how our parents worked, and the trickle down effect of their parenting lead to many of us being the same. Our parents got little feedback, so they gave us little feedback. You need to be tough, you know.

digital game based learningBut, if you’re a Gen-Xer or Gen-Yer, or as Marc Prensky coined, a “Digital Native” (someone who grew up with computers and playing computer-based games) in his book Digital Game-Based Learning, you’re used to feedback. A lot of it. Immediate. Now. More of it. Feedback. That’s what computer games do. That’s what they’re based on. You do something, and you get immediate feedback. Confirming feedback (that worked, so do more of that), or corrective feedback (that didn’t work, so do something different).

My guess is that there are many Baby Boomers managing Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers. And half the Gen-X/Yers are crying out for feedback. In fact, according to the study, two out of every three employees say they have too little interaction with their computer game… I mean, with their boss. See, they are used to having immediate interaction with their games, with their computer. But with their bosses… well, they don’t get enough interaction, enough feedback.

I once had a boss that I wouldn’t even see for over a week at a time. And when I did see him, I would not get any feedback. No, feedback was reserved for that one meeting each year – the annual performance review. That lasted no more than 20 minutes, and consisted of him telling me, “Keep up the good work.” I didn’t even know what it was that was “good,” so I didn’t know what I should keep doing. So, I just did what I thought was the right thing to do and hoped that was it. Hope. A pretty good strategy, right?

My bet is this: If you talked to the bosses of the employees that said they didn’t get enough interaction and asked them if they interacted enough with their employees, most would say yes. Their perception is they interact enough. Their employees say they don’t. Makes you wonder what your employees think.

If there are any Gen-Xers or Gen-Yers reporting to you, I suggest you think more like a computer game and give plenty of feedback, immediately. That is if you care about how they perform. Because, for some reason, when most people do not get the feedback they want, they assume the worst.

Oh, by the way… I wouldn’t mind some feedback, too. I’ve been thinking about stopping this blog since I get so little feedback. I mean, what’s the point? Based on the lack of feedback, the only conclusion I can come to is that I’m doing a terrible job or no one cares whether I continue or not.

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How Important Is Management?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Within a one a week period of time I spoke to two different people who had worked as a store manager for Starbucks. Interestingly, one said it was one of the best jobs he had ever had, and the other said it was the worst. What do you think was the difference?

Many of the people who work for Starbucks love it. One wrote a book about it: How Starbucks Saved My Life. Wow, that’s an endorsement for a great place to work, isn’t it?! In his book, Michael Gates Gill talks about how it was the perfect job for where he was in his life. But there was something else that made his time as a barista so rewarding. His manager.

The person I spoke to lately who loved his time at Starbucks talked about how he interacted with his regional manager at least twice a week, with a weekly in-person visit to talk through the details of the business, and a monthly visit from the regional manager’s boss.

And while the regular interaction was important, what really made this a great place for this person was the feedback he got. He knew what he was doing right, and what he needed to better. It wasn’t a case of “No news is good news” – the NNIGN problem. In so many organizations, the only feedback a person gets is when he or she does something wrong; if they don’t hear anything from their manager they can assume things are okay.

Of course, the problem with the NNIGN management approach is that humans often assume the worst. If they don’t hear anything, they begin to think something is wrong, or they are doing things wrong. So, unless they go out of their way to ask for some feedback, they stumble around, hoping they’re doing a good job. That’s not the ideal state for a person to perform well in.

Actually, what often happens is this: “Dianne” does a great job on a project, but gets no feedback from her manager. Her boss has the attitude that she should do her job, and if something needs fixing, he’ll let her know. Since Dianne doesn’t know whether she did a good job or not, the next time she is faced with a similar project, she tries something different. After all, the first approach didn’t get a response, so she might was well try something different. Dianne approaches the project differently, and if she gets lucky, she hears nothing; if she does it wrong, she’ll hear about it, and likely become frustrated by not knowing how to do things right.

In their book, How Did That Happen?, Roger Connors and Tom Smith writes about a job satisfaction survey conducted by the U.S. military, where jet fighter pilots were at the bottom of the list and cooks at the top. Why? Apparently, the fighter pilots rarely received any positive reinforcement; it was only when they got a chance to do what they were trained to do that they received any. Cooks, on the other hand, received immediate positive feedback three times a day. People are more engaged in their work – and more satisfied – when they fully understand what they’re doing right, and receive positive reinforcement.

The person who said that Starbucks was one of the worst working experiences he’d ever had complained about this very situation – a manager that would only communicate with him when he had done something the manager felt was wrong. The only feedback he got was to point out all the things he’d done wrong.

One company, two completely different experiences. The only difference was the manager, and specifically the amount of positive reinforcement or confirming feedback the person got. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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Feedback on Feedback

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Generally, feedback is considered a good thing, and in most cases it is – depending on how, when and where it’s given, and by whom. Contrary to popular belief, there are two kinds of feedback, and they are not positive and negative.

The two types of feedback are confirming and corrective.

As the term suggests, confirming feedback tells the person receiving the feedback that what they’ve been doing is good, and to keep it up. Ideally, it’s much more specific than just that – much more than just a slap on the back and an “Atta boy!” In fact, what makes confirming feedback effective is its specificity – the more specific and the more focused it is on the exact action or behavior, the more effective it is. A simple “Atta boy!” does not tell a person much about his or her actions or behavior.

If you want someone to do more of what they’ve been doing – to perform well – then give them positive reinforcement of it. Give them confirming feedback. And make it specific and focused on the action or behavior. Do not focus it on the person. Telling someone, “You’re smart,” for example does little towards ensuring the person will do the same action or behavior again. But telling the person, “You must have thought long and hard about that. To analyze all that information and come to the conclusion you did took great insight and thinking,” will lead to the person doing more of what you want in the future. Notice the difference between the two pieces of feedback: the first was focused on the person, and the second on his or her actions and behaviors.

Corrective feedback is just what it sounds like: feedback with the intentions of correcting some action or behavior. And once again, keeping it specific and focused on the action or behavior, and not the person, is important. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that calling someone a “dummy” is not productive feedback!

Not long ago I was talking with a senior level executive about feedback. We were discussing how so many managers provide their direct reports with so little confirming feedback, and yet so much corrective feedback. We agreed that is seems to be easier to point out what someone is doing wrong, since it stands out from what we expect and want.

This executive then commented that in training dogs, it’s all about providing confirming feedback. If a dog does something right, we give them a treat. Eventually, our “Pavlov’s dog” does the desired action or behavior without the treat, and we’ve train it. And yet, when it comes to people, we seem to provide much less confirming feedback. But we’re quick to “scold the dog” when someone does something wrong!

I’ve always felt that managers should provide at least three to four times as much confirming feedback as corrective feedback, but the timing of it needs to be just right, too. The old “sandwich” rule, whereby you sandwich one piece of corrective feedback with two pieces of confirming feedback can backfire. Often, the person does not hear what you really want them to hear when using this method. If you need to give corrective feedback, do so in isolation so the person hears it; the same can be applied to confirming feedback.

Always give corrective feedback in private, unless there is an opportunity for others to learn from it. But even then, be very careful not to embarrass the person you’re giving it to. This can be a very delicate thing. It’s okay to give confirming feedback in both private and public settings.

Finally, ask yourself this: What percentage of a person’s job does he or she do well? If it’s over 90 percent, perhaps less than 10 percent of the feedback you give should be corrective. At least, if a goal of yours is to see these people perform better.

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