flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘feedback

Narratives are better than goals

I was talking today with @dominiccampbell and he helped me resolve another question that has been hanging around my head.  Why are narratives so much better than goals and targets for guiding action?

Goals do raise performance

We psychologists know that goals raise performance.  Put a target on the wall and people will try to meet it. Performance can leap by huge multiples of 100, 200, 300%.

Add feedback, that is add the circles around the bull’s eye, and performance goes up further, even by 20% for top performers.

We like making targets.  Just watch a dog at a sheep trial. We love it!

Narratives are better

But, now we are in election season in the UK, the poverty of goals becomes so clear.

Parties are tossing around specific promises for everything from deficits to bus timetables.  It’s most odd.  For a start, most of these target are the job of mid-level civil servants to set and manage.  Not sure what we employ them for if politicians do this.

The targets are also spurious.  Can anyone really set these targets for a year ahead at any time and can they do so now when the world is in such disarray and a double dip recession might happen within weeks?

Most of all, goals are wrong because they are artificially simple.  I pointed @dominiccampell to a Gen Y blogger who paints a depressing picture of the life being led by fresh graduates in the UK.   This is the life they lead and they can “see” themselves leading.

Politicians need to paint the picture of what they see happening in the UK and how it is unfolding.  Stories of the one-legged man they met on the way to the forum, or arbitrary numbers just don’t cut it.   (Can’t remember what they other fella said.)

We need a visual picture of UK – a synopsis of the movie we are living out.

This, dear psychologists, is why we should use narratives.  We need a moment of ‘aesthetic arrest’ where the relevant factors are brought together within a frame, in a story which shows how the main factors come together, counteracting and influencing each other, and it must be “true”.   We need a sense of “yes, I see it now”.  Aha!

Goals and anecdotes don’t deliver ‘aesthetic arrest”.  They are one dimensional or 2 dimensional cutouts.  They cannot deliver a picture of the world in all its complexities.  And that is what we need to hear.

The dreaded western customer service job

Yesterday, I had to sit around offices a bit and I watched two people work in jobs that aren’t very high powered.

The noobe

In the first, the relatively more senior job, was a young fellow, baby faced but with determined lower body movements. He was racing the clock as he tried to execute what, for him, is still a complicated sequence of moves.  He took great pleasure in deftly picking up the paper, entering stuff in a computer, standing up, sitting down, and barking out commands to customers.

He needs the time and space to practice but should he really have been released into the wild?

The old hand

The second was a very much more junior job but a more experienced guy was handling two customer points simultaneously.  He was relishing the challenge and got ahead by anticipating what people wanted and priming his work station.  He was still racing the clock, but out of boredom rather than inexperience.

The old hand vs the noobe

The big difference between the two came when the experienced guy had forgotten something I asked for it.  Then I got a big smile and “I am onto it Miss”.  The younger guy would have snapped.  And this is why.

Feedback cycles

Noobe vs old hand

The goal for the the ‘noobe’ was his own performance.  The  goal for the second man was my convenience and satisfaction.  Multi-tasking was just the way he stopped dropping from boredom but he would drop multi-tasking in an instant if customer satisfaction was threatened.

Understanding the psychology of ‘noobishness’

This sounds as it the ‘noobe’ is being morally wrong in some way.  A psychological analysis helps us out of that evaluative trap.

We see what goal is driving someone’s performance by watching what feedback they look for and respond to.

A rank ‘noobe’ attends to their own performance.  They have to.  Indeed, if we want to design a really bad job, we interfere with their do-check cycle.  They cannot get good at a task until they have repeated the task often to their own satisfaction.

Customer service is not the place for ‘noobes’

The trouble is that customer service is one level higher.  It is the same level as supervision.  They have to judge a situation as well as execute work.

In a front line where a lot of customer situations are utterly predictable and require no attention whatsoever from the attendant, then it is OK to put a ‘noobe’ there.  But a supervisor should be close to hand.  The supervisor mustn’t micro manage, because that muddles up do-check feedback system. They must be there to step-in when the situation has changed from a ‘practice turn’ to a ‘choose the bundle of tasks that will lead to customer satisfaction’.

Training supervision

This distinction between situation and execution is the key to training a supervisor.  Are they able to say clearly to their charge: the situation began like this – it has changed to this – now do this – or I’ll finish this and I’ll show you after ward what I did?

So how do ‘noobes’ get experience?

I’m a teacher and I also consult.  All my life, I’ve tried to take on work that creates practice slots for juniors.  But there have to be some rules.

  • Confidentiality:  I teach them to forget everything they see and hear in the office.  Write it down. Put it in a file.  Wipe your mental slate. Then when someone tries to find out things from you, you can honestly say they’ve forgotten.  Everything is recorded and forgotten.  (This may be less essential in other businesses but we deal with personal data.)  The sweet line “Tell me again what you do” is anyway a great conversational opener.
  • Rhythm: I teach them to look at me and make sure I have given them permission to speak before they open their mouths in front of a client.  The reason is this. I might be following a conversational line that they don’t follow. If they interrupt, the client loses their train of thought.
  • Alerts: If they believe there is something that I should know about, they can catch my eye.  That look is very different from the look of “I would like to practice a little now.”  I’ll immediately take them outside and ask what has concerned them.

With these three rules, ‘noobes’ can observe interactions with customer and gradually ease into bigger roles.

They earn their keep with carefully calibrated back room tasks following two principles: (A) Never give to a ‘noobe’ what cannot be redone and (B) Show them and make them practice over-and-over again until they can do it “with no hands”, so to speak.

Then they are able to handle the rapidly changing requirements of customer service.  But they aren’t handling the customer on their own until they can do all the technical stuff with “no hands”.  Their minds must be free to attend to the people they are speaking to.

I must get an iPad!

Gen i

Lots of buzz today about a 30 month old little girl, still in nappies, who picked up a iPad and used it immediately.   What will she be like when she gets to school?

It’s not that she will know a lot.  She will simply expect that she is allowed to act on the world and that the world will respond immediately with useful intelligible feedback.

If people think Gen Y is spoiled, what will they think of Gen i?

So much IT is sooo painful

As for me, I wish the software I’ve been using today was responsive.  One program took over my screen, crashed a live podcast, demanded I reboot my computer, crashed my print jobs, and didn’t work any way.  I queued that reinstall for last thing tonight.

Now I am using a web 2.0 drawing program.  It’s super.  But I can’t find the right order to use the controls.  It stops working mysteriously.   As if design isn’t hard enough.   Well at least we didn’t pay for this one.

Complex is good; complicated is awful

And to remind budding psychologists who stop by here.  The little girl likes iPad because it is “complex”.  The iPad gives her choice and control.  At 2.5 she was playing spelling games.

My software is frustrating because it is complicated.  I don’t have control.  The feedback doesn’t help me find the controls.  And if I have any choice, I have not the time to enjoy it.  I am messing around with controls.

I’ll be interested to see if older people respond as easily to the iPad.  I hope so.  Old computers are terrifying to too many people.

Complex is good.  It is interesting and engaging.  Complicated is bad.  It is obtuse and exhausting.

Chain-of-command

Imagine 6 000 students gathering in a hall and becoming a little rowdy.  The police arrive. The local Chief Constable arrives.   So does the head of the riot police.  Who is in charge?  Who decides what will happen?

Well, the riot police often think they are in charge because they are bigger and more powerful. The local Chief Constable is likely to assert him or herself, though, and say, “I am in charge in this place.  Everyone will take their instructions for me.”

Chain-of-command in business

We might think that this reasoning only begins in the uniformed services. But it is relevant in business as well.

At any moment, it is someone’s job to make a decision.  We should not get in their way. Even when we are bigger and more powerful, we may not have all the information we need to make a good decision.  Nor can we follow through.  We simply have no business making decisions that we will not see through to the very end.

Work & organizational psychologists and the chain-of-command

Work & organizational psychologists, or occupational psychologists as they are known in UK, or IO psychologists as they are known in the US, are well trained to identify who is making the decision and what information they need to make it.

We often have massive status but we should not get in the way of the people who are doing the work. We wouldn’t get in the way of a surgeon and we should not get in the way of anyone else either.

Work & organizational psychologists respect the skill of decision making in each and every job

The information that people use to make decisions is also not immediately obvious to us.  Skilled workers have mental models for organizing their work.  They have goals, they recognize information as signals, and they pick up information as feedback which tells them whether they are approaching their goals.  We don’t have their expertise and when we move things around, we can utterly muddle the way they organize information.  Taking a single piece of paper off someone’s desk can be akin to knocking out a a supporting wall of a house -whereupon, it all falls down.

When we are working in someone elses workplace, we are trying to read what they are noticing, what they are responding to, and what they are trying to achieve.  None of this may be obvious particularly if they’ve been doing the job for a long time.

Work & organizational psychologists do not set up goals or targets for other people

Setting up goals or targets for skilled people is utterly absurd. When we do so, we imply that they have no mental models or expertise to organize and to bring into being a smoothly operating system.

Setting up targets shows incompetence on our part.

Goals & targets are set up in basic professional training

The time to set goals and targets is during professional training.  At that point people are learning what information is available and how it comes together into a working system.

Everything we do thereafter needs to recognize that organization or requires a hefty reinvestment.  We will always look first to see if we can wrap a system around skill models before we take that route.

So how do we work out how people make decisions?

  • We watch what they do.
  • We watch how they respond to different situations.
  • We notice what irritates them because that tells us their efficient operations have been disrupted.
  • When it is safe to do so, we interrupt and listen to their inner talk as they try to remember where they are in a complicated process!

And above all, we are patient.

The people we are working with may have inefficient habits.  But, it is much more likely that they have deep professional considerations for what they are doing.

Our job is to broker boundaries and space for people to do their work

Our first obligation as psychologists is to broker the space in the organization for people to follow the logic of their trade or profession.

Are we doing that?  Are we adequately setting the boundaries and making the space and time for people to be effective?

Complicated vs Complex

I am so chuffed to see my post on Complicatedness and Complexity take off – even if belatedly.

The difference between the complicated and complexity is important.  We love the complex sound of music and are quickly tired of the repetitive noise of a jackhammer.

And complicatedness wears us out in seconds.  Meetings which are run around the manager’s whim leave the rest of us to hang about like spare parts. Not knowing when our delayed flight will resume and not being able to call ahead to rearrange our transport and meetings renders us astonishingly irritable.  Internet banking cluttered with advertising and instructions below the fold don’t allow flow.

The opposite of complicated is flow and we do know how to make flow.

#1 The task must allow us to act autonomously

All the information must be in front of us. We shouldn’t have to open dozens of files, folders and notebooks to find it.  Nor should we have to ask anyone.  Eveything we need should be in front of us and obvious.

#2 The task must give us feedback

As soon as we try the task, it should be clear whether we are doing the right thing.

#3 The task must allow learning.

A toddler persists in putting a square into a round hole until they achieve the insight, quite accidentily, that the shapes and holes match.  We like to learn.  We don’t mind at all.

But we must have time to learn.  Don’t shout at us or time us our while we figure things out.

#4 We must be allowed to finish.

Once we get going, we want to get everything done.  Please don’t interrupt.  Wait!

We also know how to test flow

It’s easy!  We take the group who is likely to do the task and we let them do it.  We watch.  We learn where we have misunderstood their skills, needs and working conditions, and we redesign!

Complicated – how I hate it!

But then I’ve always been a flow junkie!

We love goals that simplify what we have to do

We are a hopeless species! Give us a goal and we cannot help ourselves. We chase it.  But if the end is not in sight, we feel tired and we stop.

Hence the three rules of goal-setting.

  • Make the goal definite and visible.
  • Show our progress to the goal in real-time
  • Make sure it is doable before we get tired.

Blog migration

My predicament

I have been writing this blog in WordPress.com for two years. Now that is is established, I want to move it to a self-hosted site using software from WordPress.org.

I am going to move to a magazine layout which means that the last post from each category will be visible on the front page. And the reader is able to click to a category’s index to see everything I’ve written in chronological order.

The big task

My difficulty is that I have dozens of categories. I eventually settled on a format that uses 5 categories and I have chosen the categories.

Now I need to reclassify 500 or so posts into the 5 categories.   At a handful a day, this could take me a year to do!

Clever goal setting is motivating & doable

I’ve finally found a way to do the transfer that is motivating.

  • I look down my categories list, pick one with few entries, and resort the posts. Eventually the number becomes 0.
  • Then I delete the category from the list and the categories list grows shorter!

It will still take me months but eventually

  • I will have a blog with all the posts categorized under 5 topics
  • I will have reread everything I have written in two years and done some light editing
  • I’m bound to have write some more summary posts
  • It will be easier for me review my own posts and find the questions that I have answered well and should answer soon!

The trick has been to arrange the work so

  • I can see where I am going
  • I have a constant sense of progress
  • I can organize the work into chunks that I can finish before I get tired.

Great goal setting!

Classical ideal feedback model. The feedback i...
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I’ve just been reading a post from an ambulance driver (woops, they don’t like that title).

It is a privilege, because I might not otherwise have the chance to observe the nuances of their job, and even if I did, to learn the same might take hours of interviews and hours of rewriting.

So we are lucky to have this blog.  It also teaches lessons for the general practice of job design – which it did today.

Briefly, feedback is a key idea in job design. Yet, it gets forgotten for procedures and targets.

This is what is critical.  For every task anyone does, they must get feedback on how well they have done before they begin that task again.

Experts often get feedback as they move from one part of a large task to another.  That’s what makes them expert.  The ability to detect feedback that will mean nothing to anyone else.

But at some point a task is handed over to someone else. When and how do they get feedback on how well their work fitted into the next process down the line?

If they don’t get feedback, what sense are the supposed to make of their work?   What sense will they make of their work?  And what of evidence-based practice, if the people doing the work do not get ‘knowledge of results’ before they start the same task again?

This is the story

The ambulance man and his colleague raced a severely dehydrated child to hospital rather than attempt to re-hydrate the child themselves. They drop off the child, but hear nothing more about what happened next.

There appears to be no mechanism to tell them if their decision was correct and whether equally trained people would have made the same decision.

The blog post talks about the decision points in the job.  It is worth reading in the original for the pattern of thinking that is typical in skilled people.  We are constantly on the look out for this thinking to inform our understanding of the information that experts use and need.   And indeed, who is an expert and who is not.

You will also see the confusion and overload that’s caused by not getting feedback quickly.

So what can the organization do to provide adequate feedback?

I don’t know what the NHS does. I’ve never worked with the NHS in a professional capacity and I don’t know any work psychologist who has.

What I would expect to be happening is a regular psychological audit of each and every job to look out for situations like this.

We want to know that in each and every situation, a skilled and experienced worker is able to set a goal, lay out a plan, and obtain feedback before they begin that task again.

Why might that feedback not be available?

1.  The task is handed over, and for some reason, the feedback loop is not in place.  It might have gone AWOL (in which case alert the line managers and check that they put it back).   It might never have existed (in which case which psychologist slipped up).  The job might have drifted (in which case re-analyse it and adjust the feedback system).

2.  There is one other scenario that is more tricky.  Managers have been known to hijack feedback because making people wait for information makes them feel powerful (and sometimes allows them to distort what is said).   An organization has to come down on such practices like the proverbial ‘ton of bricks.’   Withholding information causes stress and overload, delays learning, and potentially causes accidents, which in an organization, like the NHS, may lead to loss of life.   If managers are intercepting feedback, that has to be reversed.   In a hierarchical organization, usually we have one meeting with the manager concerned, and if that does not produce immediate redress, we have an urgent meeting with his or her manager.

Who guards the guards, so to speak?

The system does not stop with psychologists keeping jobs properly balanced.    The file on the job (not the person – the job) should have the internal auditor’s signature on it confirming they have checked that the psychological audits are taking place and are being conducted properly.

And there should be another file with copies of the report that the internal auditors routinely send to the Chief Psychologist to report on the quality of the psychological audits.

A lot of work?

Organizations are a lot of work.  That’s why we have to consider whether we want one at all.  But once we have one, we have to run them properly and ‘prevent rather than cure’.  Good systems reduce crises, problems and accidents.

I don’t know what the NHS does exactly but as the largest employer in the world, I imagine they have sophisticated management systems in place.  Feedback failures are one of the many things that ‘staff managers’ count, monitor and resolve.

Does anyone know how the NHS, or other large British employers, manage their feedback systems?

For further reading on the 3 tier system of

  • Doing
  • Directing
  • Reviewing

.

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Cheese on a market in Basel, Switzerland
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I’m not moving until I can see the cheese

And Google is not coming without lots of keywords. This post is about MOTIVATION and all the misunderstandings and controversies that seem to swirl about us endlessly.

1  Motivation is distance to your goal

The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese!

Motivation is not constant.  We aren’t motivated by cheese.  We are motivated by distance to the cheese.

Motivation gets stronger when we can see what we want and our goal comes tantalizing closer as we move toward it.

2  Motivation blinds us

When the mouse sees the cheese, it moves towards it . . . and the mouse trap.

That’s why business people and politicians like greedy people! So easy to dazzle.  So easy to trap.

3  Motivation is never so strong that we ignore a better cheese

So we put the cheese where the mouse can see it, and the mouse takes off . . .  Will it keep going, no matter what?

Yes, . . . unless we put a better cheese next to a dull cheese, or a duller cheese a little closer.  Our mouse is as fickle as the English weather.   It doesn’t matter whose day it spoils, the mouse will go where it is easier or better.

We make rapid calculations about what we will gain and change direction in a flash!

4  Motivation makes us stupid

Yet, when someone moves the cheese, we are temporarily confused. The trouble is that seeing the cheese focused our attention. And we forgot everything else. We forgot that other cheese exists. We forgot there are other routes to the cheese.

Take away the cheese suddenly, and we get cross and disoriented. Though there are plenty of alternatives, for a moment we can’t see them or remember them.

5  Motivation needs to be simple

And if we put two equally attractive cheeses in opposite directions, one to the left and one to the right, we get a confused mouse.

Come on cats, now is your chance.

Worse, if two or more mice are discussing which way to go, we may be there all week.

We need to toss two coins – the first to see if we go together or in different directions, and the second to see which way we go.  Most times we just argue. We don’t think of laying out the problem so tidily.  Two cheeses – we can have one or the other.  Shall we go together or not?  If not, who goes first and in which direction? If we are going together, in which direction?

Action is hard . . .

We can’t move, we won’t get moving, until our choices are simple and the end is in sight. We are easily distracted by alternatives and paralyzed by thought.

.  .  . and action it is also dangerous

We are easily entrapped by our greed – or to be kind to ourselves – easily engaged by the plain fun of scampering towards our cheese and wolfing it down.

Someone has to manage the cheese

We do have to work hard to keep the cheese-system simple and to fend off distractions.  While we are busy managing the cheese, we make ourselves vulnerable because we are just as blinkered in that goal as the cheese-chasers are by the cheese-chase.

So we need people to manage the people who manage the cheese

This is beginning to sound like a nursery-rhyme.

We do need lookouts to watch out for when we are getting blinkered.

We also need our lookouts to challenge us and to ask why we need to chase this cheese at all?  Well, the answer is as always, for the fun of it. We’ll chase something, just for the fun of it.  So, the question is which cheese will we chase?  And who will be sufficiently above the action to referee the debate and not get blinded by the thrill of the chase?

We do need some people to manage the people who manage the people who chase the cheese.  That will be their job, their only job.  Because if they get involved in the action, they will be blinkered too.  We will give them their share of the cheese if they ask us, over and over again, whether we should be chasing the cheese at all.

We must have these people.  Or the cats will have us

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Fast Break

There is nothing I relish more than a “fast break”. I love the way that we can turn a rebound into a few deft passes and race the opposition to a slam dunk.

Carpe diem ! Sieze the day!

Can you take the Fast Break when it comes?

The conditions are right. The rewards are there.

Are we organized to dispatch our fast break specialist, take that rebound and pass it down the court, with ball and fast break specialist arriving together – right foot down, left down, into the air, done! 2 points?

Are we organized?

Well, there are the permanent spectators in life.  There are some who have a go, but don’t really get it.

And there are some who understand the game.  They get ready in advance.  They practice with others.  And when the opportunity breaks, they are running immediately, moving at speed in coordination with their prepared team, and they score. Sweet!

What are you ready for?

1.  What is the equivalent of the ball and the equivalent of the basket in your business?  2. What do you win by putting the ball in the basket?

And when you can tell me that, tell me this.

  • 3.  Who is working with you? 4.  And who must you outpace to pull this off?
  • 5.  What is the signal that sends the fast-break specialist off?  6.  Who is taking the ball off the back-board?  7.  Who is the play-maker (mid-fielder) in the middle?
  • 8.  When do you train together?  9.  When do you celebrate your wins?   10.  How long will you play together?

10 questions . . . oh, but do remember this is a game.   When we are straining too hard, to get this done, it is time for a coffee break to think again.

Feedback, poor much aligned feedback!

Feedback is one of the themes on the internet in the last 10 days and as a psychologist, I almost always weigh in.

The lay meaning of the term tends to be: Can I give you some feedback?

That’s a polite beginning, and as with all politeness, it obscures a depth of tension.  Think of “Won’t you come in?”  “Do come in!”  “Come in.” ” Come!”.   The more polite we are, the more tense we really feel.

So in this sense, “Can I give you feedback?” means, “Can I tell you how irritating you have been been?”

The best response is for us to put on our “active listening” hat, option 3, angry.

An angry person wants their anger to be acknowledged.  Accept their anger and restore their status.  It is not hard.

Then, if there is a practical issue too, deal with it.  But first deal with the social issue.  They feel “dissed”.  Restore their status by accepting their right to feel dissed and to tell you about it.

Professional meaning of feedback

The proper meaning of feedback, though, is “distance to a goal”.  This is the essence of motivation.  The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese.  And because it is the essence of motivation, feedback is the most powerful tool in the psychology of high performance.

Once a university asked me to teach employee engagement to MBA’s in 3 hours.  Not possible.  Teaching the principles of feedback, practicing them till we are fluent, and using them in context, is a language that takes more than three hours to learn.   And it is too important to be tossed off as a topic.

So this is a long post.  But I hope you find it useful and towards the end, when I speculate on how we can improve the “feedback” we collect about training,  and how we can do better HR when we manage the feedback loops in an organization, I hope you jot down some ideas and give me feedback.

Three types of feedback

Feedback

Feedback tells you whether you achieved your goal .  Feedback means it is informaton given after the event.

Feedback has all these elements and characteristics.

  • We have a goal and we need to know what it is.  In an organization, we all need to know what the goal is.
  • We have a way of measuring how far away we are from our goal.  How close are we to our cheese?
  • And we are told the distance to the cheese after we have stopped looking for it!  If the task is repetitive, like target practice, feedback after each trial is useful. Top class medical transcribers raise their performance another 20% if you tell them each day how many words they typed!
  • But if I tell you after a year, the information is worthless.  So why do give it?
  • Sorry to be dismissive, but if your boss is giving your feedback after the event and maybe a year later, he or she is not exactly on top of things.  Think big banks running the 6th richest country in the world onto the rocks of bankruptcy.  Giving feedback at the wrong point of the system is disastrous.  Think seriously about getting a better boss.
  • And in HR, it is our job to monitor how feedback is used and to design it into jobs properly.

So this is feedback.  It is useful when we have a repetitive task but it must be delivered before we begin the next trial.  No wait, let me be more precise, before we start preparing for the next trial.

Feedforward

Feedforward tells us about our goal and, importantly, the context of the goal.  Feedforward is provided before an event.

  • The best example of feedforward comes from the military.
  • SMEAC – Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Communication
  • The boss is required to lay out the team’s operation on one piece of paper giving
    • the goal for the organization level above him or her (situation)
    • his or her goal – the group mission in one sentence (mission)
    • the goals for each member of the team in one sentence each (execution)
    • any non-standard resources (administration)
    • the points at which we must communicate (feedback which becomes feedforward to someone else).
  • So we need information at three levels of the organization.  We need to know who is doing what around us. We need to know how we will coordinate.
  • Sadly, I’ve only seen this done in the best organizations.  When I offered assessment centres to these organizations, we included delegation tasks in our assessment centres because they quickly reveal whether a manager understands the organization.  And organization, not control, is what managers are responsible for.

Feedfoward is provided before work begins.  It is taught carefully in the military and we can learn a lot from them.  In my experience, when something goes wrong, almost always I can track the problem back to information that is missing from the description about the situation.  We didn’t brief people properly about the context.

Continuous Feedback

Continuous feedback, which oddly does not have a specific name, is the third type and is the most important for high performance.  This is feedback that comes from the task itself.  It is fairly immediate.

  • You’ll have noticed that in the SMEAC system, we delegate a goal with one sentence only.  I ask you, if someone is fully trained, why do they need more than that?
  • A trained person will get on with the task and is obtaining information from the work as it progresses.  A chef works on sight, smell, touch.  The feedback is inherent in the task.
  • We experience flow when the feedback is built into a task.  We experience flow when time vanishes because we are so engaged.  We are inside the task.  We enjoy doing skilled work in a skilled way and if we want engaged, happy employees, or motivated, happy students, this is what we have to get right.  They must have tasks where the feedback comes to them from the task itself.
  • Bad jobs remove feedback.  I refer to bosses who “steal feedback”. They intercept information and stop it going back to the person who does the job.  They cause accidents.   “Stealing feedback” is like making someone drive blindfolded and directing operations from the back seat.  It is micro-management.
  • The military are aware of this problem and carefully judge communication loads. Lieutenants command three sections so the co-ordination task is sufficiently demanding and leaves no time to interfere with their sergeants.
  • If information goes to a manager rather than to the person doing the task, don’t be surprised if the task does not get done and the whole team runs into trouble.  The manager is attending to information that should be going elsewhere and they are not attending to their own role which is acting as the coordination point between 5-10 people and between that group and the organization at large.
  • Sort out this feature of task and organizational design, and your productivity leaps forward.  Depending on the your baseline, you may get gains of 10% or 20%.  I’ve seen gains of 100%, 200% and in one remarkable case, 1200% with no capital outlay.  Just HR doing its job.
  • And best of all managers have time to manage – that is coordinate and attend to the environment.

Continuous feedback leads to high performance. And it creates the highly pleasurable sensation of flow.

Feedforward tells us what needs to be be done. It is the critical briefing about the context of a task before we begin it.

And feedback tells us what we did yesterday.

So if feedback is about yesterday, why is it used so extensively in business?

I think it is because people want to express anger and their anger is about status.  A boss is establishing status.

Sadly (IMHO), English-speaking countries have masculine cultures.  We spend a lot of time establishing the pecking order.  Not all cultures do this.  They don’t have to put other people down to feel good.

And because we spend a lot of the time engaged in one upmanship and oneupmanship is really impolite, we have to deny what we are doing and be “polite” on the surface.

Let me spell out what this means in practice.  In Commonwealth countries, officers and “men” don’t eat together.  Or didn’t.  Has this changed?  In European countries, they do.  This I understand (has it changed), makes joint military operations between the UK and our allies very difficult.  In less masculine countries, artificial status differences are unacceptable.   You lead by doing your job.

Interestly, this is the difference between Gen Y and the Baby Boomers.  Boomers who think they are liberated still subscribe to the pecking order culture.  Gen Y don’t.  16 year olds befriend 50 year olds happily on the basis of common interest.  They are less experienced in some respects and more skilled in others and expect to be incorporated on the basis of their contribution not their place in some kind of queue.

So what has this to do with feedback or the distorted way we use feedback?

Everything.  The industrial system, a la Taylor, works on a principle of Gap Management.  Not “Mind the Gap” of the London Underground which is a useful bit of feedforward.  But a gap that is presumed.  This is how it goes.

I am the boss. I define the way the world should be.  And I must make sure you live up to that idea.  First, I assume there is a gap and I look for it.  Second, I assume the gap is a bad thing so I suffer negative feelings.  Third, your performance in so far it differs from what I imagined disappoints me.  Fourth,  I am the boss, so my feelings of disappointment anger me.  See how it goes?  Now is the time someone says, “Can I give you feedback!”

An alternative to gap management, anger, and “feedback” at work?

There is an alternative and even the Americans “get it”!  For quite a while now.  It goes by the rubrics of positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship.

People get distracted by the word “positive” assuming this to be advocating “politeness”.  We all know people who advocate vacuous pleasantness and optimism but who are mean and vicious underneath.  When we come at the world with a masculine, pecking order, mindset, positive seems all wrong.

So lets let’s put pecking orders aside and look at the alternative.

In many situations, if not most situations, defining a goal in advance is unrealistic.  Even it is possible, we will lose out a lot.  In the military, they say no plan survives meeting the enemy.  We always have to improvise on the day.  Under these conditions, you can see that gap management and feedback is counter-productive.

So why do we do plan?  The military say it is not the plan, but the planning.  We prime ourselves with relevant information so that we can process unfolding events as they happen.  But we allow alternative ideas to develop.

That does not mean chaos. It means the opposite.  And it does not mean a boss who has no idea what is happening.

It means a boss who is picking up communications, or feedback, from each of us, reconstructing the overall picture, and holding that up to us so we can see our collective position.

When we have an annual feedback review, this is what should be happening.

The boss, who is responsible for the annual cycle should be saying, “This is where we were a year ago. This is what our challenges have been.  This is where we are now.  This is where we are going.”

In a large organization, again, this is situated at the three levels.

  • Situation – which includes the actions of other departments around us.
  • The aggregate team level – where we came from and where we are going.
  • The members of the team and the team structure – who was with us at the beginning, the role they were playing, how we morphed to who is with us now, and the general role each person is playing now.

How different this is from the rituals of anger and one upmanship that are played out in most of the organizations we know.

21st century management is  about “eating with the men” and feedback is about showing how you have improved the organization.  Your team wants to hear.  Your team wants to applaud.

Feedback in Training

I started writing this post because Jackie Cameron (@jayseetoo) was talking about feedback in training.  This is how I think we depart from our tradition of gap management in training.   Let me know what you think and we can develop these ideas together.

My understanding of the training situation

In a training situation, a person comes into the room with a goal.  But by definition, they do not know all the goals they could have.  If they did, the training would not be useful to them.

They also come into a group situation (unless you see training as 30 separate bodies sitting passively like physical objects).  And they interact with each other to mutual gain and quite often to mutual irritation.

Irritation and anger are part of life.  We need to stop pretending they aren’t.  Though they feel bad, they aren’t bad.  They are simply emotional signals that we feel we aren’t being heard.

With this description of training, what “feedback” do we need?

1  How did our goals change during the training course?

I want to know how our goals changed during the training session.  And that includes the goals of the trainers.  We aren’t doing gap management – one person doesn’t know everything!  Thus I ask, whose goals have changed, and how?

I see training as a timeout where we follow a process which culminates in the comparison of the goals we had when we began with the goals we have as we return to the world and our lives.

And it is possible that we end a training course annoyed and disappointed!  That’s OK.  We may have been deluded at the outset about the possibilities available to us.

My evaluation questions go like this:

  • Did taking this course help you define goals more clearly and help you get more out of life, or alternatively, avoid taking a wrong turn?
  • How much did you gain as a % of the fees we charged you?  Or, how much would you have spent if you had continued in the wrong direction?

2 Are we confident about our new goals?

I want to know that a person can act on their own and so I want each person to actively work on their own plans.

A person might come to the conclusion “bin this subject – it is not for me”.

They also might end the course by deciding to follow up another question.

Both are acceptable outcomes to me.  What I want to know is whether they have moved on in some way.

The end of a course is a time of  “adjourning”  too.   People are moving from group to individual action and they need to visualize and mentally rehearse using the material as an individual and without my support and the support of the group.

So I collect the goals expressed at the end of the course and analyse them in my post-course review and evaluate extent to which they are active and specific.

I also add this evaluation question:

  • How confident are you that you will complete this action?

Self-efficacy is not sufficient for completion but it is necessary for completion.

3 Were we in good company?

I also want my course to be a resource to a person as they go through life and it is here I get the most important feedback on what I could do to improve the course.

I ask these questions, or variations, thereof:

  • Are you proud that you took this course?
  • Do you believe that the people who were on this course with you will do what they say?

Collective efficacy boosts performance and if people are proud to be in the room, they will learn heaps more.

I add practical questions here too.

  • Have you met people, or renewed contact with people, whom you will contact after the course and find helpful in your work?

4  Did I believe I you?

And then I ask the humdinger of the question:

  • Do you think that I believed in you?

The Pygmalion effect has a dramatic impact on people’s self-efficacy.

And I might also ask an open question:

  • How did I express my belief in you?

5 Did I believe in this group?

And lastly, I’ll ask myself this extremely important question.

  • Did I believe in this group?

If they ring me up next week, would I be happy to take their call?

Am I happy to have them follow me on Twitter and would I find their tweets interesting?

Can they follow me on Facebook and do I trust them to respect me?

What did I learn from this group and when I gave the summation and showed who we were when we began and who we were at the end, what did I feel and why?

If my evaluation of my group is not positive, I simply shouldn’t be leading them.

That is the challenge to English-speaking corporates.  Why are the people in-charge allowed to be uninspired by their “followers”?  It is not good enough.

I’ve also learned to ask this question positively:  What happened today and “WHY DID IT GO SO WELL?”

HR and the urge to give feedback

Those of us in HR need to monitor these urges to “give feedback”.  What is the real issue that has flipped this group into a negative spiral?

Once we notice that a group is so annoyed with each other that they are “giving feedback”, we should do something.  This is my thought process.  Yours?

  • Is the job badly designed and is the boss interfering in the level below?  Or rather what are the goals above the boss, at the boss’ level, and the level below?
  • Has the group task been badly designed and are the communication points between team members miss-set?  Maybe we have been over-ambitious?
  • If one team member has tripped up, why?  Was their goal consistent with circumstances and resources?
  • Is it a matter of training and selection – did we trip up?  Did we set up one of our employees and their colleagues for a fall?

If you aren’t able to facilitate a return to an upward spiral by going through these qustions, I will eat my hat.  Try me out.  I far prefer to wear my hat so this is a serious offer.

But remember, you may have to accept a lot of anger at the outset, dressed up as “feedback”.

And if you can’t do that, it’s probably because you don’t believe in this team enough, and maybe you should get another person to take on the job!

21st century management

21st century work is not about one person defining the goal.  It is about all of us working out what is possible.

Managers play an important role in negotiating and facilitating our sense of what is possible and simultaneously defusing strong emotions when these threaten to set us all on a downward spiral.

A manager’s role is to hold up a mirror so we see our collective dream in sharper relief and heighten our confidence in each other.

It is beautiful when we see it happening.

Feedback?

And did this help you at all?  Do you have a reaction which would help me?  Are we in better place than we were before?

I am.  Writing helps organize thoughts.  This is a pretty rambling post incorporating culture, feedback and organization with management, HR, training and selection but it has helped me heaps.  Thanks and sorry about remaining typos and grammatical errors.   There is a lesson in this.  Don’t write long posts.  So thanks.  If you are reading this, you’ve stuck with me for a long while.

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