WE'VE GOT WORK TO DO
IF YOU ASK MEMBERS of any group of people—multinational corporations, sports teams, "mom and pop" businesses, rock bands, nonprofit boards, knitting clubs, you name it—they're likely to admit that their organization pretty much sucks at feedback. Sure, I've met a few individuals who feel like they navigate the hazardous waters of feedback well, but at an organizational level we're all pretty much adrift.
The depth of our collective angst over feedback has become obvious to me through my work in performance management during the past several years. In 2016, my first book, How Performance Management Is Killing Performance and What to Do about It, was published. Applying the concepts from the book, my PeopleFirm team and I work with dozens of organizations ranging from global corporations to private companies to NGOs to reboot their performance management approaches and processes, bringing the outmoded and deeply unpopular traditional approach to performance management into the modern world. While no two solutions we implement are identical, elements of the best designs tend to reoccur.
The most common element centers on enhancing feedback within and across the enterprise. Our best solutions focus on building organizational strength for growth-oriented feedback, not in a traditional manager-to-subordinate framework, but on a human-to-human and team-to-team basis, without regard for rank and title.
Leaders place their organizations' readiness for more of this kind of frequent, open, honest, and helpful feedback at the top of their list of goals. Yet, as soon as we begin to move toward a solution that's dependent on making feedback flow frequently and transparently, we hear the same things: "We're not good at feedback. We're not ready. We lack the skills. We lack the confidence. Our managers are unprepared. Our culture won't support it. People will weaponize it. We don't have the discipline. We just can't do it."
You get the idea.
It's this sadly predictable response that has convinced me that we need to take a collective approach to solving the problem of feedback once and for all. To create organizational cultures that encourage people and teams to thrive, grow, and do their best work in an environment that feels safe, we need to tame this beast. And if it's getting in the way for nearly all of us, then we absolutely must tackle it together. We can build skills and mentally prepare for this transformation, but first we need to understand what's standing in our way and how to get past it. We can do this by aligning to a new definition of feedback and a common set of principles, while adopting easy-to-use models and tools and practicing them every day. Let's put fear in the rearview mirror and head for a place where feedback helps and doesn't hurt—where we all can agree on a new and better concept of what feedback is, then develop a sustainable and workable cure for what's ailing it.
I AM NOT A RELATIONSHIP EXPERT
Spending so much of my time immersed in the world of performance management motivated me to devote my second book to the all-important subject of feedback. After weeks of outlining and brainstorming I worked with my writing partner, Laura Grealish, to put together a spiffy book proposal to send to our publisher. Every book proposal needs to identify the audience you intend to reach and suggest how you expect the book to be marketed. The original pitch to our publisher, Berrett-Koehler, claimed that this book would be for everyone: it could be used by businesses, schools, families, you name it. It seemed like the right idea; after all, feedback is a ubiquitous topic and a universal pain in the butt.