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The Science Of Fast Effective Feedback

It’s long been understood that a diet of no feedback is likely to starve your organisation and employees of productivity and innovation. But the timing of feedback is also a critical piece of the puzzle in the quest for peak performance.

Think about Ash Barty, the legendary Australian tennis player. Every time she serves a ball she gets feedback - was it millimetre perfect or did it go wide? And with each piece of immediate feedback she receives, she can make immediate corrections. 

Similarly, the medical industry; radiologists, for example, rarely get feedback on the job they’re doing. They'll interpret the results, report their findings and move on to the next patient. 

“Did I get it right? Did I get it wrong?”. No feedback.

Compare this to a cardiac surgeon. Their feedback is often immediate. If they get it right the patient lives - get it wrong the patient dies. 

This is an extreme but powerful example of immediate feedback. And it helps to explain why most such surgeons improve their craft over their career compared to a regular GP who doesn’t have these same stimuli and immediate feedback loops. 

And as we discussed with Positive Psychology Coach Ross Hastings in our podcast episode What Motivates People To Perform At Their Peak, we all want to get better as mastery is a powerful internal motivator. And feedback is, or can be, a fast track to mastery.

But feedback needs to be immediate.

Imagine if Ash Barty didn’t get feedback about her serve until 3 months after the tournament… Or if a cardiac surgeon relies on a monthly appraisal for feedback about the last 40+ procedures they have completed. 

Hardly an environment for optimising results, peak performance and achieving mastery!

So why then do we see this all the time in a business environment?

Monthly project reviews, quarterly reports and annual staff appraisals. Sound familiar?

Almost regardless of the profession or industry, where there's a big gap between stimulus and feedback, performance massively declines over time. 

And some businesses know this and they’ve leveraged the power of immediate feedback. 

Google’s Gmail is a great example. 

Today there are over 1.5 billion people using Gmail and it’s crammed full of great features. But when they launched it they deliberately included just four core features that they thought it would need.

They then rolled it out to their customers who played with it for a month and gave feedback. Based on that feedback the coders knew what to add or delete next and rolled out version 2.0 for another month. Immediate feedback provides the opportunity to make corrections in almost real time.

And ‘a lot of littles makes a lot’. Jeff Bezos says that the success of Amazon depends on how many experiments they run per day, per week, per month… Rapid experimentation gives them immediate feedback which means they can better steer the ship towards their goal making micro corrections as they go.

So how do you put effective feedback processes in place?

Five important starting points include:

  1. Choose the metrics you want feedback about (goal oriented)
  2. Leave your ego at home (open ears, thick skin)
  3. Decide who you want feedback from (reliably objective)
  4. Decide how you want to receive the feedback (style, medium)
  5. Decide when you want to receive the feedback (timing, frequency)

Let’s think about an example. It could be that you’re planning to compete in your first ever triathlon and you decide that you need to improve your swimming. As luck would have it there is a former Olympic gold medalist swimmer who lives locally and offers coaching - you sign up.

Using the five starting points above, let's go through this example…

  1. The goal - in your triathlon you know that you’ll have to complete a 1.9km swim and be able to get out of the water and onto your bike. Therefore you decide that you need feedback about your stroke (to be as efficient as possible) and stamina (endurance)
  2. Leave your ego at home. Hierarchy has its uses for organisation but is no litmus test for the quality of feedback
  3. You’ve deliberately chosen an Olympian to coach you as you trust that they are expert in their field and will be objective with their feedback
  4. How do you want to receive the feedback? Are you the type who likes it said bluntly or do you respond better to a sh*t sandwich (this was great, here’s a thing you could do better, but that thing was great too)?
  5. When do you want the feedback? It would hardly make sense that you stockpile the feedback from your 60 minute swim lesson until the end. You need it in the moment so that you can make micro corrections as you go

And if you apply these same philosophies in a work environment you can accelerate your own mastery and achieve far better results, more quickly.

Maybe you hire a coach (choose wisely). If you can’t afford a coach then maybe you enlist a feedback buddy - you can give each other feedback. It should be frequent and fast. Agree the ground rules; what, when, how. Agree a ‘cap’ on timing i.e. regular minimalistic, micro feedback sessions avoid overwhelm and help maintain momentum.

So whatever your rank, skill set or aspiration; immediate feedback works for elite athletes as it does business moguls and it can work for you. It can be as little as 5-10 minutes per day. And if you think you don’t have time for that, you can imagine what my feedback would be...

If you want to learn how you can optimise your performance at work and in life then you may be an ideal candidate for our 12-month leadership peak performance program, Unleashing Potential.

You can become part of an incredible, hyper-engaged community with an ‘all-star’ coaching team comprising Special Forces veterans (like Commando Steve), elite athletes, and subject matter experts across subjects like positive psychology, flow state, sleep, stress management, nutrition, and much more.

It’s not for everyone and that’s why we take our application process seriously. That said, it's a heap of fun, incredibly immersive, and sets participants on a path of health, fulfilment, and success, at work and in life.

If you’d like to know more we’d suggest completing our ‘Impact Scorecard’ (Get Your Score) which will get you an instant score, an emailed report, a (physical) copy of the Lead By Example book, and the opportunity to jump onto a 1:1 coaching call with our co-founder Mat Lock.

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