To Give And To Take

Primarily, feedback and feedforward are growth interventions. And in the context of performance enhancement and the larger canvas of life, feedback and feedforward are sine qua non to unleash human potential. A huge knowledge base has been created in the public domain, and a simple click on Google leads us to an arena of massive information on feedback and feedforward.

 

In order to survive and prosper in the contemporary volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, it is cardinal to make feedback and feedforward available across all levels viz. individual, team, and unit within the organisation. Feedback and feedforward are essentially about three processes, viz. learning, developing, and changing for better & growth.

 

One of the major grey areas is that the managers are not habituated to and trained sufficiently to provide performance assessments. That managers are afraid could be one part of the reason, and the other part could be that the managers never thought about the possibility of achieving this smoothly. Organisations invest quality time arguing over the systematic metrics to assess manager performance without paying adequate attention to process implementation.

 

The need for introspection


Managers need to introspect and question themselves on the relation and equation between the amount of effort involved from their end, and the actual work output. The correlation between effort and result is complex and ambiguous. Two-by-two matrices, balanced score cards, and accurate metrics often leave the managers clueless over their next steps. Therefore, it is an irrefutable fact that managers need continuous feedback and feedforward. What happens as a part of the performance management system in the context of Indian organisations is highly obvious. Lack of positive spirit, sufficient knowledge base, inadequate emphasis on training in the area of feedback and feedforward are some of the root causes.

 

The Giver and the Taker

 

The Feedback and feedforward loop is a dynamic attending and listening process between two individuals (Giver and Taker). The Giver must always be gentle and demonstrate unconditional positive regard. Whereas, the Taker should demonstrate a growth mindset and suspend his sensitivities. Human beings on this planet, irrespective of their credentials, have huge king sized egos! Feedback and feedforward should not be an egodystonic (ego alien) process, implying that it should not generate distress and dissonance in the Taker. Instead, feedback must create hope and optimism. Therefore, it is essential to realise that feedback and feedforward meetings are critical and crucial conversations, rather than mechanical. Adequate time must therefore be invested for feedback and feedforward than conducting the same in a hurried and haphazard manner. Feedback and feedforward is a performance improvement and enhancement mechanism, and as has been aptly stated by Bill Gates, "We all need people who will give us feedback, that's how we improve."


Doing away with the noise


Feedback from toxic managers generates noise in the human system, and such feedback will damage the Taker, which ultimately results in him not learning anything. Hence, the best way forward for all; HR Professionals, other employees, and organisations as a whole, is greater emphasis on learning programmes in the area of feedback and feedforward.

 

Applied Psychologists carry out performance interventions wherein they train managers to focus on the tone and relationship skills. Further, exploring performance issues and concerns in a subtle way is also key to effective feedback. When feedback (focus on the past) is done diligently, feedforward (focus on the future) is intertwined in the process. While feedback is about the activity and performance done, feedforward is about what an individual could possibly do about the goals set, and what could be the possible obstacles that s/he can foresee. Past, present, and future should not be viewed as discrete activities, since they are continuous. The synergy between feedback and feedforward results in a positive connect between the lessons learnt in the past to the future performance and potential. When feedback is done properly, the Takers are likely to view it as a gift rather than a slap in the face.


Several managers and leaders manage feedback very poorly, and focus on what has gone wrong, which results in employees developing an aversion towards feedback. And the reality is that many managers dislike providing feedback, and view it as the harsh reality of their work life. When feedback is only a part of performance analysis, it results in a psychological paralysis with abnormal reactions. Hence, criticism, which is often viewed as a feedback mechanism, needs to be carried out in a very delicate and gentle way so that it does not devastate an individual's well-being. Managers must themselves be equipped over the distinction between criticism and feedback.


Therefore, there is a compelling case to learn and master the art and science of feedback and feedforward for all employees, since it is a very important area. The following pointers are noteworthy:

 

Feedback and feedforward are integral aspects of behavioural science and one needs to con-sciously develop an understanding.


Conceptual basics, theoretical underpinnings, applications, and the practice of feedback and feedforward for managers and leaders must be given importance in organisations.


Feedback and feedforward have psychological connotations and one has to be extremely careful in drawing inferences and conclusions about employees.


Positive regard, open mind, curiosity instinct, and warmth are the basic characteristics of the Givers of feedback and feedforward. Spiritual outlook, inspirational orientation, dialogue with optimism need to be demonstrated genuinely by both the Givers and the Takers of feedback and feedforward. The Takers must understand the frame of mind of the Giver, and display sensitivity towards the Giver instead of labelling him. Feedback and feedforward is not about bosses passing or failing their subordinates. It is rather about empowering followers.

 
Feedback and feedforward should be a continuous process rather than a single event, and it should be viewed as maturation and growth rather than passing or failing.


Sound knowledge and training must be imparted to the employees so that they remain suitably equipped in the field.  

 

Dr. K N Vishwanatham is Senior Faculty, State Bank Institute of Leadership, Kolkata. He comes with an experience of twenty years in teaching, training, consulting, and research. Dr. Viswanatham has a Master's degree in Psychology from Andhra University, and, an M. Phil & Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from NIMHANS. He can be reached at [email protected]

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