From “Know-it-alls” to “Learn-it-alls”: How to Revamp the Feedback Loop, Part 2

When managers convey areas of weakness, employees often became defensive. Defensiveness not only creates awkwardness in the workplace, it also keeps employees from fully absorbing the lessons. Managers need to be able to share useful information in a way that doesn’t cause employees to get defensive.

New research highlights the neuro processes that take place during the feedback experience and point to a need for a system that doesn’t trigger the fight or flight response.

Some employee-driven programs to that end have seen big successes. They intentionally shift the culture—get people to move away from the idea of giving/receiving feedback and instead embrace the notion of gathering perspectives. These programs don’t abandon objectivity or metrics, of course. But they do focus on optimizing different things. They work by stimulating a learning culture, encouraging behavioral changes, and getting buy-in to the process from employees.

This method can be used for in-person conversations, calls over Skype, email, or any form of conversation. Managers can also use online tools to collect and analyze feedback more systematically. The questions tend to be qualitative, not quantitative, with prompts for real examples and ideas for improvement. There are no simple check boxes, no pre-determined attributes to measure, and there is space for users to share their own observations. This process eliminates many traditional mechanisms for company improvement—so one might suspect that it would have lukewarm effects, if that. But in practice, it tends to work powerfully. Why?

Participants reflect that the process helps them have more open, vulnerable conversations. They don’t fear being “graded,” so they can focus more on the greater good of the company and their teammates. Most people want to learn and grow, it turns out, and this gentler way of getting them to engage brings out their innovative spirit.

The keys appear to be twofold:

  1. Encourage employees to ask for feedback, rather than waiting to receive it;
  2. Train everyone involved to view those both giving and receiving information with good faith.

Stimulating what Carol Dweck would call a growth mindset in your people sounds great in theory. But there’s both an art and a science to this work. Experts in neuroscience, behavior and leadership need to collaborate to refine this process and embed better practices in organizations.

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