What is a Feedback?
Before going any further, let’s start by understanding what a “Feedback” is. Feedback can be defined as a loop where each Actor (or element of a system in a broader sense) feeds the other with information and generates new information or actions which will, in turn, feed the system and its elements, and so on.
Imagine that you are driving from your office to the headquarters of one of your clients in a city you know nothing about. Ideally, you should go in a straight line, which is the shortest trajectory between two points. In reality however, you are faced with constraints and obstacles (lack of knowledge about your client’s city and its roads, non-linear road network, traffic, stop signs, other drivers’ trajectory, etc.) making you actually twist and turn around your ideal trajectory to finally arrive at your client’s safely and timely. What might make this possible? It is the constant feedback loop created between you as a driver in a car and your car GPS system. By keeping communication lines open, you provide information about your position and movement for example in terms of destination, direction, and speed, and the GPS guides you around obstacles by suggesting solutions as to adjust your direction or minimize your travel time, solutions that have to be validated by you depending on what you see as suitable or not and so on.
If it is generally accepted (wrongly as we shall see) that Feedback is used to address the drifts which affect (or are likely to affect) your critical path and hinder the proper functioning of your mission, few managers spontaneously think about using Feedback to emphasize effort and good performance.
If you have been working with a manager who only intervenes to talk about malfunctions and drifts, then you have probably already felt how this can undermine the morale of the teams and cultivate an unpleasant atmosphere.
Often put aside, Feedback used to reinforce a good performance has nevertheless a very great power! An appropriate Feedback has positive effects on contributors and impacts their motivation and commitment. Pleasant emotions, such as Joy or Pleasant Surprise, push receivers to action and make them willing to go the extra mile if needed. Additionally, receivers whose efforts are recognized and whose virtuous behavior is rewarded are more likely to accept a Feedback to reorient their behavior in the event of drift and to act to address their behavior or performance.
Highlighting the actions needed to protect the Stakes allows you to reinforce your legitimacy when you need to reframe the actions jeopardizing these same Stakes.
And this is not all! Be it reinforcing or reorienting, a Feedback can be focused either on the State of ‘Acting‘ of an actor or to its State of ‘Being‘:
A Driver can thus capitalize on three types of Feedback (Reinforcing Feedback on Acting and on Being, Reorienting Feedback on Acting).
Yes, but in practice?
In practice, the combination of Reinforcing Feedback and Reorienting Feedback is essential, using the following mechanism:
- Leading with a reinforcing Feedback to the Contributor, building the necessary legitimacy for what comes next, and allowing the Driver to be demanding;
- Providing a reorienting Feedback related to what the Driver considers was not carried out in a proper way by the Contributor;
- Closing with a reinforcing Feedback acknowledging the activities carried out in an appropriate way by the Contributor.
Finally, remember that, despite common beliefs, recognition of good work does not have to be material (bonus, raise, promotion, etc.). Sometimes, a simple “thank you”, “congratulations”, or even a smile can be enough to lift spirits, instill a pleasant atmosphere, and encourage more effort.
Mouna & Alessandro
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