The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, July 04, 2021 1:00 am

Feedback needed but carries risk

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Management trainer Jason Lauritsen likes to talk about one “f-word” he says “won't get you in trouble at work.”

The word, however, typically stirs conflicted emotions and does have significant impact.

“There's very, very few things that elicit a worse response in people than walking up and saying, 'Hey, can I give you some feedback,' right? I think we'd almost prefer the other f-word in that case,” said Lauritsen, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultant.

Though the delivery is often flawed, feedback is necessary, Lauritsen said during a June webinar. His online presentation was titled “The f-word of Performance Management: How to repair feedback” and sponsored by Cornerstone, a global company that incorporates software systems into employee development strategies.

Lauritsen is a blogger and author of  “Unlocking High Performance.” Growth is “not possible without feedback,” he said. Feedback helps people understand how and where they are improving – and when they are not. It can help people learn their blind spots.

But feedback can be categorized as a social threat – being negatively compared to others or the perception that social standing may suffer, particularly with someone viewed as important, Lauritsen said.

And the human brain doesn't respond well to social threat any better than it responds to physical threat. That's partly due to how well individuals generally view themselves: One study suggested 70% of individuals already believe they are in the top 10% of their peer group.

Managers should spend less time worrying about feedback and more time focusing on relationship, Lauritsen said. Relationship can diffuse some of the potential negatives associated with feedback.

But Lauritsen concedes he's not suggesting discarding discussions about performance or ignoring it. He's simply advocating that assessments be objective, based on looking at outcomes after clear expectations were set and any necessary measurement systems in place.

Lauritsen is also touting another “f-word” – feedforward. That approach focuses on suggestions, advice and support rather than criticism.

Feedback has traditionally looked at past performance with a critical eye. But that means criticizing things you have no control over and can't change. Feedforward involves asking probing questions, such as what individuals could do differently next time to have a better result, a bigger impact or achieve personal objectives and goals.

“This is a very subtle technique, but it's an incredibly powerful technique if you want to transform the impact you're having when you're trying to offer feedback, information or data to people to support their growth and to support their learning,” Lauritsen said.

Jodi Bartsch, senior customer excellence manager at Cornerstone, agreed that relationship is key. She finds it easier to accept feedback from someone she trusts, from someone she knows has her back.

Building relationship, Lauritsen said, can be done by showing appreciation, acceptance, communication and support.

Feedforward engagement can benefit employees by helping them remain focused and learning what's going well and where they can have greater impact. It's an opportunity for them to talk about career growth and when the successes employees have are celebrated, they tend to feel valued.

Just as some employees cringe at the thought of feedback – often formalized through annual, written performance reviews – so, too, can managers.

But if managers seem lackadaisical about the process, Lauritsen suggested discussions with them to determine what is not working and why.

“Managers should be motivated around performance reviews because that process should help them get their people to perform better. It should help elevate performance, which should make their life easier,” Lauritsen said. “If they're not motivated, it could be because your process sucks. And so if that's the case, go fix the process ... . Chances are (managers) just feel a lot of angst and they don't see value coming from the process.”

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at lisagreen@jg.net. Lead On also appears online as a blog at www.journalgazette.net/blog/lead-on/

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