Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Problem with Feedback

I have spent much of this week working with the management team of an organisation with a long and proud history of service to the community. One of the key issues we have been confronting relates to the giving and receiving of feedback to younger people. They have been finding that their traditional ways of doing this need changing.

Feedback is interesting. When I play golf I receive feedback on my stroke immediately after the clubhead hits the ball. Of course I can't change anything at that point and the ball will continue on whatever direction and trajectory I have given it, but I am given information that enables me to make decisions as to whether or not I should make some changes. In the workplace there are some situations like that but, in a vast number of instances, it is necessary for other people to provide me with the feedback that will allow me to decide what if any changes in my behaviour are necessary.

The issue then becomes one of how this feedback is given. And this is the issue my client faces.

In the societal approaches of the past, this wasn't really a problem - which doesn't mean that it was done well - because those more senior to you in an organisation were generally heeded some attention when they spoke. Our society had a world view that said if you were older or in a more senior position then you were to receive respect and your authority was not to be questioned.

This is no longer the case.

In today's world it is increasingly clear that respect has to be earned: it is not automatically given. In today's world it is increasingly clear that authority can quickly be lost if the person giving feedback makes a mistake - and the almost instant availability of information by phone or internet makes it almost certain that any such errors will be quickly discovered - and if the person giving feedback isn't respected or hasn't engaged with the people involved then the probability of someone actively seeking out errors is high.

Which means that if, as a supervisor, manager, leader or whatever you need to learn facilitate engagement of people with both the work that they do and with you as a person. Its not easy.

More information about Doug Long and how I may be able to help you at

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