The debate about feedback at work isn’t new. Since at least the middle of the last century, the question of how to get employees to improve has generated a good deal of opinion and research. But recently the discussion has taken on new intensity. The ongoing experiment in “radical transparency” at Bridgewater Associates and the culture at Netflix, which the Wall Street Journal recently described as “encouraging harsh feedback” and subjecting workers to “intense and awkward” real-time 360s, are but two examples of the overriding belief that the way to increase performance in companies is through rigorous, frequent, candid, pervasive, and often critical feedback.
How should we give and receive feedback? we wonder. How much, and how often, and using which new app? And, given the hoopla over the approaches of Bridgewater and Netflix, how hard-edged and fearlessly candid should we be? Behind those questions, however, is another question that we’re missing, and it’s a crucial one. The search for ways to give and receive better feedback assumes that feedback is always useful. But the only reason we’re pursuing it is to help people do better. And when we examine that—asking, How can we help each person thrive and excel?—we find that the answers take us in a different direction.
To be clear, instruction—telling people what steps to follow or what factual knowledge they’re lacking—can be truly useful: That’s why we have checklists in airplane cockpits and, more recently, in operating rooms. There is indeed a right way for a nurse to give an injection safely, and if you as a novice nurse miss one of the steps, or if you’re unaware of critical facts about a patient’s condition, then someone should tell you. But the occasions when the actions or knowledge necessary to minimally perform a job can be objectively defined in advance are rare and becoming rarer. What we mean by “feedback” is very different. Feedback is about telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better—whether they’re giving an effective presentation, leading a team, or creating a strategy. And on that, 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.
Underpinning the current conviction that feedback is an unalloyed good are three theories that we in the business world commonly accept as truths. The first is that other people are more aware than you are of your weaknesses, and that the best way to help you, therefore, is for them to show you what you cannot see for yourself. We can call this our theory of the source of truth. You do not realize that your suit is shabby, that your presentation is boring, or that your voice is grating, so it is up to your colleagues to tell you as plainly as possible “where you stand.” If they didn’t, you would never know, and this would be bad.
The second belief is that the process of learning is like filling up an empty vessel: You lack certain abilities you need to acquire, so your colleagues should teach them to you. We can call this our theory of learning. If you’re in sales, how can you possibly close deals if you don’t learn the competency of “mirroring and matching” the prospect? If you’re a teacher, how can you improve if you don’t learn and practice the steps in the latest team-teaching technique or “flipped classroom” format? The thought is that you can’t—and that you need feedback to develop the skills you’re missing.
And the third belief is that great performance is universal, analyzable, and describable, and that once defined, it can be transferred from one person to another, regardless of who each individual is. Hence you can, with feedback about what excellence looks like, understand where you fall short of this ideal and then strive to remedy your shortcomings. We can call this our theory of excellence. If you’re a manager, your boss might show you the company’s supervisor-behaviors model, hold you up against it, and tell you what you need to do to more closely hew to it. If you aspire to lead, your firm might use a 360-degree feedback tool to measure you against its predefined leadership competencies and then suggest various courses or experiences that will enable you to acquire the competencies that your results indicate you lack.
6:30 - Arrive, mix & mingle
7:00 - Discussion begins
7:30 - More mixing & mingling
8:30 - You don't have to go home but you can't stay here!
Do I have to have read the entire article?
No! Just come ready to discuss how management, leadership, and business impact your work life. The blurb on this page is a great and quick overview too!
Is there a formal discussion?
We like to keep it casual so there isn't a "formal" talk given at the event, it's more of a discussion. We will discuss the article and how you see it reflected in your working reality. We love having a robust conversation with participants but you can also just listen if that is more your jam.
Can I invite friends/colleagues?
YES! The more the merrier - until we run out of space of course.
Is there a cap on attendance?
This event will be intentionally intimate in size but we hope that you will reach out to a few folks in your network who might enjoy this type of conversation and ask them to join the fun!