Imagine yourself lost in the wilderness. Nobody around. No signs of where you need to get to. You are roaming, choosing one direction, then another, then back to the initial one. Night falls. Will you find a place you need to get to? Maybe.
Now, imagine you are still there, still lost, but this time, you have a map on your smartphone that shows you where you are and gives you directions. Will you find a place you need to get to? Most certainly.
When it comes to a career, people find themselves similarly lost. Sometimes they have a clear idea about where they want to get to. Sometimes it’s vague. Sometimes it’s non-existent. How can they know whether or not they are on course?
Well, they can’t, unless they get feedback.
A feedback loop
A feedback loop is a key psychological system for self-correction. Basically, it helps to adjust the difference between an actual output and a desired one.
Imaging yourself doing an action, any action. Say, moving a chair. You put certain effort and the chair moves. It’s a feedback loop that shows that this amount of effort put into moving a chair moves it on this exact distance and at this exact speed.
Feedback loops could be found anywhere. Say, when you hit the switch and the light turns on. Or when you see your location on a smartphone map and understand how far it’s left to go to your destination.
Getting feedback is the only way to course correct.
It applies to the career. That’s how you can be reassured that you’re doing the right thing before the doubts about it dilute your focus.
Metaphorically, without feedback, people don’t have a map while lost in the wilderness. They don’t know where they are, where is the place they want to get to and how to get there.
A wicked practice
The corporate tradition of sharing feedback once every three months or once a year is only making the problem worse. It’s archaic. That’s not how we actually work. A person could have already made a decision that set them on a wrong path, but they wouldn’t get feedback in several months? Or the person is doing really well and instead of reassuring them that everything is fine on a weekly or daily basis, they get a thumbs-up in a year?
Imagine you want to refurbish your home. You need to move a sofa exactly a meter to the right. So you put in some effort hoping you moved it at exactly one meter and then you wait 3 months to see if you got it right. And if you were a couple of centimeters short, you’d need to wait another three months to make sure you corrected it this time. That’s fucking stupid!
And yet, that’s how most organizations operate.
The need to change
Not getting enough feedback is critical. 49% of people are actively looking for a feedback on their performance, but don’t get it.
Considering that there is a direct correlation between the lack of feedback and disengagement (98% of people who don’t get enough feedback end up disengaged, 2.5 times more than people who get it regularly) and disengagement is the most important problem for any team to tackle, the status quo has to change.
One thing to do
Feedback is crucial. Both people managers and individual contributors are responsible for providing and asking for more of it.
There are no shortcuts in building better teams. It’s a lot of tiny things that ensure you’re moving in the right direction. But perhaps the simplest and most influential of those tiny hacks is sharing continuous feedback. That’s how exceptional organizations are built.