Feedback at the Speed of "Like"
Recently I joined a live online Q&A with Henry Timms, co-author (with Jeremy Heimans) of New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World – and How to Make It Work for You.
This book is a fascinating study of the evolution of what constitutes “power.” It connects well with the servant leadership notion of turning the organizational pyramid upside down and empowering the most important people - those who are on the front-line.
But what really caught my attention during the Q&A was Henry's discussion around millennials and how they experience the feedback loop in organizational life.
Whether it is the form of blaming millennials for workplace ills or celebrating what they bring to organizations, their generation has become a perpetual topic in the HR and corporate leadership world. What Henry called attention to, though, was an important point about the pace of feedback loops. The speed of the feedback loop (how quickly someone in an organization receives feedback about their behaviors and outcomes) has always been important, but even more so with millennials.
Employees crave feedback.
Not just millennials; all of them.
When I traveled the country as a trainer and coach, I noticed that high performing areas always had managers who consistently provided feedback to all employees. On the contrary, in areas that were struggling, it was common for employees to tell me they hadn’t received anyfeedback from their manager for months. Most said they’d rather their manager tell them they were failing than no feedback at all!
Specifically, for millennials, Henry drew awareness to their expectation of receiving ultra-quick feedback. A major source of this pace comes from social media platforms: Post a picture of your dinner to Facebook and the “likes” will appear in a matter of minutes. Lighting fast feedback loop.
Speed isn't the only aspect of evolving feedback expectations. The type of feedback expected is also shifting. Purposefully polarizing political discussion aside, the feedback is not only quick, but it is almost always positive. Rarely do comments provide constructive feedback.
Have you ever seen this feedback on social media? - "Nice cat video, but I’d like to give you some feedback…I would have put the #ChuckNorris tag when the cat slapped the panda, not when it stole the elephant’s food.” Me neither.
The merits of social media are not being debated here. The work life impact arrives, though, when these feedback expectations are carried into one’s job.
Workplace feedback doesn’t happen in minutes. It often takes days, or even months or years for longer projects. More importantly, if feedback in the workplace is valuable, it must be both positive/affirming and offer opportunity for improvement.
Millennials...no, all of us...must practice awareness that feedback loops are not always instant and positive in organizational life.
I get it: Asking for you to do something better on social media feels like it is asking you to be better. Ouch! But at work, your work product and behavior are not you. An important report or executive summary is not you. Attendance issues are behaviors, not who you are.
I’ve always been an advocate of the more feedback, the better. But you can’t click “send” on an important report and expect a “like” back from your boss within minutes. Meaningful feedback takes time and reflection. It also takes intentionality in how it is delivered.
We also must moderate our expectation that feedback will always be positive. When given authentically and mindfully, feedback that presents us with a challenge to improve our performance, learn something new, or change a behavior often creates a critically important landmark in our personal and professional journeys.
And even when the feedback is positive, affirmations must amount to more than a “like.” Positive feedback is an opportunity to encourage employees to live into their gifts and genius, but that is unlikely to happen when “good job” is your only affirmation.
Feedback is everyone’s job.
No, this Generation X-er is not suggesting it is as simple as millennials slowing down and bracing for negative feedback. All of us have a role in creating intentional feedback loops that are well-timed and meaningful. Leaders and managers, regardless of generation, must do their part.
Unfortunately, timely and meaningful feedback is more often an organizational struggle than a success story. For the most part, not many of us are good at giving consistent feedback.
Henry pointed out we can’t practice a feedback loop that is so long it amounts to an annual review that is stuffed into a filing cabinet. Instantaneous “likes” aren’t reasonable, but neither is waiting an entire year, or even a quarter, to hear “you really handled that well” from a manager.
Leaders need to recognize the importance of shortening the feedback loop whenever possible. A report that you read and filed mindlessly could have a millennial waiting for a simple message that says, "Received, thank you. Will give you feedback next week."
Leaders must also practice the courage and vulnerability required to give feedback that calls people to become better at what they do. Courage is required to confront someone who’s behavior must change for the organization to succeed, and vulnerability to accept that the leader’s behavior may be contributing to the problem.
I believe that’s why so many of us don’t give that tough feedback; deep down we are worried about our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities showing up.
Timely and meaningful feedback is only the beginning. Regardless of generation, each employee is an individual human being. Great managers and leaders get to know their people so well that they understand exactly how the employee prefers to receive feedback. Don’t wonder or guess; just ask them. The message that they matter enough to be asked will be appreciated by any generation and will mean so much more than a "like."