It’s feedback time!

I linked to http://asana.com/2011/06/peer-feedback-at-asana/ on le tweets today, and there was a bit of conversation. Which is great, I like conversation, but my responses are now too big to fit down the twube, so this here is one of those.

What is the ideal outcome of a corporate feedback session? Obviously, it’s for people to do more of the good stuff that they do, and to be able to improve on their weaker points. Some corporate processes might depend on it for compensation purposes, but that falls outside my idealized purview; and I, honestly, can’t think of anything important beyond those two obvious points.

We want people to improve, so we tell them about their bad points. This, this is fair enough. The problem is that there is no way of delivering this feedback that doesn’t risk making the recipient feel like some unspeakable trodden-on mess. I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s not just me that feels like that. And the worst thing is that in a great many cases, the things that make me feel that way are things I already knew. Now there’s something I know I need to change, and, I feel like garbage. But the thing I know, I already knew. The only new bit is that I feel worse than I did before.

Awesome. Feedback is such a great part of contemporary corporate culture, isn’t it?

How often do you change aspects of yourself? What makes that easier or harder? When are you your best self? For me, I change very slowly. It is easier when I know that I am making mistakes, but I feel that it’s okay and I’m being forgiven. And I am my best self when I am generally cheerful and feel myself to be loved.

That is why the asana post spoke to me so. It describes a beautiful world, where the focus is squarely on the truly important and useful aspects of feedback.

Rachel suggested that the whole feedback process could be replaced by each person presenting their self-improvement plan to the group. And I, being a creature of unspeakable hubris, responded by looking into my crystal ball. In it, I saw myself tearing my hair out as I attempted to produce a reasonable plan. This torture proceeds for some time, only to be followed by periods of guilt and self-recrimination throughout the year about the ineffectiveness of my plan, and the ineffectiveness of my self. Is this a straw man? I don’t know. All I can say is that I find the process much easier to imagine as harmful than helpful.

I haven’t spoken at all about the challenge of informing people about their problems. But I, being young, being foolish, say: lets worry about that after we’ve got workplace environments where people actually have a real chance at improvement; where they know that they will make mistakes, and yet be still beloved; where it is easy to be your best self. Where the backdrop to ‘you smell a bit today’ will be one of knowing that you’re awesome, and the person who told you is awesome, and that greater heights of awesomeness are within your reach.

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