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Whirling Chief
Nº 79

Importance of Feedback

Many organizations have either just finalized their yearly objective review or are just going into it. You know what that means: Feedback and managerial conversations are just around the corner. Boy, do many of us dread this time of the year?

I can’t tell you how many of my managers and employees in HR asked me through the years, “Seriously, can’t we just ignore the whole thing?” The answer is a big fat NO! ☺  We’d like to tell you why…

No matter what sort of organizational and individual performance management processes your organization has in place, feedback is critical. Academic and corporate research tells us (I/O psychologists, that is, but also to the world of management and work) we all need feedback to flourish in our private and professional lives.

For one, we humans perform better under a healthy tension. Yes, you heard it right. We are complex beings and quite adaptive. For us to perform at a desired level, we need a fair dose of comfort, safety, and security vs. a fair dose of fear, anxiety, and excitement.

Per Richard Barrett of the Barrett Values Centre, “Humans have developed six ways of making decisions—instincts, subconscious beliefs, conscious beliefs, values, intuition, and inspiration.“

The difference between the first three and the second three is vast. The shift to value-based decision making marks the shift from belief-based decision-making to value-based decision, which requires individuation.

“Prior to individuation we make meaning of our world through our beliefs and most of these beliefs have to do with our personal and cultural upbringing,” he says. Or, in other words, our past. Individuation involves examining these beliefs and letting go of the ones that don’t serve us—something that becomes more and more important with the fast pace of changes we experience in our world. As we let go of these beliefs, we could develop a new guidance system based on our deeply held values that allows us to create a future that resonates deeply with who we are, the world we want to live in, and value we can offer.

What triggers this sort of shift? Feedback, of course. ☺

Secondly, individual motivation is mostly affected by positive reinforcement.

Professor Dan Ariely of Duke University has great research on this. In several of his books and articles, Dr. Ariely explains what motivates us at work and how it is not all about monetary rewarding.

Social factors such as gratitude play a substantial role in happiness and motivation at work. In a 2011 review of 50 studies on workplace motivation, for instance, Dr. Ariely and others found that people tend to work harder when they felt like their work was being appreciated.

“We find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace social norms such as fairness,” said Bernd Irlenbusch of the London School of Economics Department of Management.

This is not to say that fair pay isn’t important, of course. It is. The point is that money is not the only, or even the best, motivator for employees. For more information on motivational factors at work, you can watch Dr. Ariely’s TEDx Talk here.

Third, feedback unlocks creativity, change and innovation. As Ken Blanchard once said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” By applying 80/20 rules of evolving, individuals and organizations that seek feedback end up producing longer lasting, more impactful results. The majority of people do not want to hear we have room to evolve. Realistically, though, if someone didn’t tell you what you do well and/or what you can improve, how would you move forward?

Finally, feedback can facilitate self-management and learning. When humans sense someone ‘cares’ enough to share with them their idea of a better self, they are often touched. This is about personal fulfilment and satisfaction as much as it is about our desire to be recognized. Just-in-time feedback at healthy doses makes us “be better,” psychologically speaking.

As pointed out in an academic study1, the key here is that organizations need to strike a balance between encouraging learning and encouraging performance through feedback. In other words, the ‘how’ of providing feedback matters a lot. There is something called “detrimental” feedback, which would have the opposite impact on performance rate.

So, professionals and, certainly, people managers must be taught how to share productive feedback. And many organizations from GE to Deloitte to Target to Adobe have already started to leave behind traditional ways of managing performance, focusing more on feedback and coaching, which is great to see!

Ready to embrace feedback then? In their book High-Performing Self-Managed Work Teams: A Comparison of Theory to Practice, Dale Yeatts and Clyde Hayten point out specific factors that make feedback stick. We have summarized the reading for you in a tool format, which you can find here.

If you have more questions, please subscribe to our YouTube channel for short tip videos we share with people managers.

1 Dr Frederik Anseel, Department of Personnel Management and Work and Organizational Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium


  • 16 January 2017

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