Olympic ambition - the feedback loop
I don’t know about everyone else but my productivity has taken a significant hit in the past fortnight with the arrival of the Olympic Games. I am lucky to be in the right timezone and so I am able to watch a lot of the different competitions live, although this has meant not much else getting done. I am completely in awe of these athletes competing at the top of their game in whichever sport it is. It feels great to have this celebration of achievement and sportsmanship after the past 18 months.
There are many articles, blogs and podcasts that come out around now on what we can learn from the athletes in driving for high performance. I would highly recommend “The High Performance Podcast” if you haven’t yet found it to hear tips from people far better qualified than me to talk about this topic.
The theme I want to pick up on is linked to the questions I answered in the recent livestream I did with Tigerhall. This is on the topic of feedback.
At the Olympics you see athletes get immediate feedback as they progress. Whether that is the divers who are able to review their previous dive as soon as they get out of the water or coaches who give advice to teams or individuals in breaks between rounds and matches to consider tactics and corrections. The key is that this feedback is timely. It is given to them whilst the action is still fresh in their mind and also at a time when they can make an adjustment to their performance to improve. Additionally it is very specific on what they should change and how and encouragement on what they should continue.
For most of us our performance is less immediately impacted by a missed pass here or lost second there, however the concept remains relevant. In the same way that a sports coach won’t wait until the next game to point out what could be improved and what’s working well, performance conversations shouldn’t be annual or bi-annual events.
Most managers know that feedback is important and part of their role to provide to their team to help improve performance. However, it is a skill to know when and how to provide useful feedback. Feedback needs to be timely and specific to be helpful.
In sport it is usually quite simple to be specific in providing feedback. “You did X, the consequence was Y.” The coach may then make suggestions, “If you try Z you could get a different outcome”. In leadership it is often not quite so clear and based on a more nuanced set of judgments. The more fact based you can make your feedback the more likely the recipient will be open to reflecting on and able to act on it.
It also should be given to the recipient at a time when they are open to the feedback. Athletes are actively seeking this and similarly there will be some in your team who are hungry for feedback to improve. This doesn’t mean you cannot provide feedback to someone who hasn’t actively sought it. It just needs to be handled in a different way and positioned to ensure they are prepared to absorb and reflect on what is being said.
There are many ideas on how to provide feedback from “Even Better If” to “feedback sandwich”. You may find these are useful concepts to you. I believe the most important consideration before providing the feedback should be "how am I helping this person?" It should be for their benefit not yours. If there was an incident that you thought warranted sharing feedback but you didn’t get around to providing it at the time, coming back to it months later is unlikely to have a positive impact on the person.
Also, feedback shouldn’t be limited to a downwards direction, the best leaders are likely to seek out feedback from peers and teams to understand their impact and how they can improve.
I write this as someone who always wants to improve and seeks out feedback, but at the same time often finds it uncomfortable to receive so takes time to absorb and reflect on it. Let me know any experiences you have had where you have found feedback particularly helpful or alternatively painful.