Feedback – What’s the point?

Its Feedback Time!

We are all subject to feedback from people or from systems from the cradle to the grave. Our parents guiding us, the bank telling us we have no more funds, the physician telling us we need to lose or put on weight, its all feedback and its all useful and as people we have had a long time to get used to the concept.



However we have all had the annual appraisal where feedback has been given by a less than tactful or experienced manager so we know how it feels to be on the receiving end of criticism. Today we see it from the often belligerent judging panels of TV’s, singing, dancing and skating competitions. We all feel the same as when a teacher first berated us at school or when an angry parent scolded us.

But as a manager or a team leader what is the best way to go about this, does feedback actually work? What can it really achieve?

Positive & Negative Feedback – Both Necessary

We tend to give negative feedback when someone under performs against a certain expectation.

We give zero feedback at all when someone does what we expect.

We give positive feedback only when someone starts to excel or perform above the expectation.

The interesting thing is that when people get negative feedback most try harder to meet the expectation and when people get positive feedback most tend to relax a little.

So the end result, like any feedback system in engineering is to ‘servo’ towards the expectation set. So if we want compliance to anything, rules laws, performance objectives then feedback both positive and negative is necessary.

Without feedback people would run ‘open loop’ there would be no guidelines so we would end up with some wide deviations from the expectation some perhaps good in terms of creative output but some certainly bad. Imagine a game without rules, a road without speed limits, a country without laws and people without morals. Scary isn’t it?

So the bottom line is that both types of feedback, positive and negative are good and a world, a child, an adult or a game without feedback is chaotic but all  that feedback achieves is ‘servoing’ to a level of performance or expectation.

Setting the Level of Expectation

As a manager you are responsible for setting the task, setting the bar, and guiding your employees or team members. After all this is why you employed them, to get them to do something for your business.

Now here’s a thing, you can increase the bar whenever you want and whenever you see that a new stretch target will be beneficial to all concerned. Think about a high jump athlete, if the bar was never raised where would be the challenge and the reward? However a word of caution, never raise it so high that the perceived probability of meeting it drops to less than 50%. Raise it incrementally and see how far you can improve. Baby steps.


I hear a lot of discussions where people want to shy away from giving negative feedback because its uncomfortable.  They prefer to ‘feedforward’.

Feedforward is simply telling the individual what the ‘Expectation’ level is. On its own feedforward does not give control, merely a target. In control theory feedforward is used in conjunction with feedback in systems to minimise disturbances and psychologists have borrowed the term without taking the context that feedforward on its own does not work.

You can tell someone daily that they will become a millionaire and they can tell themselves the same but it won’t get them there. There is only one choice, measure or monitor performance and give feedback relative to the level of expectation set.

Remember, if you want to improve something first you must measure it.

Don’t forget the Reasons for Feedback

Never feedback just because it’s that time of year and your process says you should.

Don’t forget you are feeding something back for a reason, ‘no feedback’ = ‘no control’. If you want to make someone perform at the level you expect they need to understand if they are are falling short.

Typically inside they will already know but unless you tell them they won’t change because they will assume that the shortcoming is ok. Look at how kids try their parents patience, its in human nature to see what we can get away with.

Negative feedback is absolutely necessary and it is perfectly possible to deliver it with tact and humanity in the same way as it is possible to teach a child right from wrong without striking them.

If you are running a business you pay your people 100% of their salary. If they are only performing at 70% of the requirement they need to know this is has an impact on every single person in your business including them.

Positive feedback is the thing most managers find uncomfortable however it is equally important. You need to tap into your people’s discretionary contribution and the only way to do that is to be straight with them with positive or negative feedback and if they don’t respond set them free.

Many people associate negative feedback with destructive feedback and nobody in their right mind would ever advocate that, after all your people are your assets whether you are a business owner, a manager or a team leader you want to invest in them, do the best for them and get the best from them.

You would never say to someone in your team, come into the office, I want to give you some negative feedback do you? It’s all in the way you tell them. As a human being this should not be difficult for you either as a manager or leader and since your team member is a fellow human being you owe it to them don’t you?


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