Should Employee Feedback Be Banned?Should Employee Feedback Be Banned? https://jasonlauritsen.com/wp-content/themes/corpus/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg 150 150 Jason Lauritsen https://jasonlauritsen.com/wp-content/themes/corpus/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg
For most of my adult life, I have bought into the conventional wisdom that feedback is critical to performance and growth.
As individuals, we are taught to embrace feedback and treat it as a learning experience. As managers, we are told that giving feedback is part of our job.
Those of us who work on the design of work have been trying to figure out how to make feedback more frequent and effective within the organization.
I’ve talked more about feedback in the past year than nearly any other topic. And one of my most popular posts of the year had to do with, you guessed it, feedback.
But what if everything we’ve come to believe about the necessity of feedback is a lie?
To be clear, I’m talking about the kind of feedback we all dread. It’s the critique and criticism offered by others about our past performance—the many ways we could have, should have, or might have done something differently in a way that other people think would have produced a better result.
I recognize that feedback can be positive, but we typically use a different name for that. We call it recognition, appreciation, or acknowledgment. I’m not including that in my use of the term here.
I’ve been wondering—is feedback really necessary?
What would happen if we outlawed feedback in our organizations?
If conventional wisdom is correct, everything will come crashing to the ground. I don’t buy it.
In fact, I suspect that if the threat of feedback was removed, we might all be happier, less stressed, and more creative. I think our performance would probably improve. What if the very thing that we’ve come to believe is a prerequisite to performance is actually hurting it.
I know, I know. This probably sounds a little crazy. But hang with me for a minute. Let’s imagine together what an organization without feedback might look like.
The Zero Feedback Environment
To reiterate, we are outlawing the communication of criticism or critique on another’s past performance in any way. That’s what we are calling “feedback.” This does not mean we can’t communicate about performance; it just means we have to do it differently.
What would be the major implications of creating an organization like this? Here are a few I can of.
- We’d have a lot more conversations about goals and expectations.
In my experience, a lot of feedback is provided when someone (i.e., a direct report) fails to live up to another person’s (i.e., a manager) uncommunicated expectations. This is what makes performance feedback often suck so much. It feels pretty unfair to be given feedback about something you weren’t even aware was an expectation.
When feedback is outlawed, the manager would need to spend more time getting clear about expectations and goals. This clarity should allow the individual to more clearly understand when they are or are not meeting expectations without needing criticism from managers. If it doesn’t, then the expectations are probably not as clear as they should be.
- We’d have to trust people more.
So much of what we’ve been sold about feedback is that it’s necessary to motivate performance improvement. The thinking goes that until you are told what you did wrong, you won’t be motivated to get better. In a zero feedback environment, we’d had to trust that people are motivated to meet and exceed their expectations without criticism. We’d have to assume that people are doing their best, and when they fall short of expectations, they probably just need a little support. They don’t need criticism; they need help.
- We would need a new mindset.
In a feedback culture, our default is to look at our environment and the people in it through a critical lens. What could or should they be doing differently? This leads to a lot of judgment based on our own beliefs and perspectives.
When we remove feedback, looking for what’s wrong isn’t useful. That becomes replaced by looking for what’s possible. Instead of seeing people for what they didn’t do, we’d need to see them for what they are capable of.
- Suggestions would replace criticism.
When we can’t criticize past performance, but we still want to help improve performance, what can we do? We could start by offering suggestions and ideas that might help. That’s what the best sports coaches do. They don’t waste time criticizing what you just did wrong; instead, they offer up some tips for how to get a better result on the next try. Some have come to call this approach feedforward.
My guess is that in a zero feedback environment, people would become more open to receiving and even asking for suggestions. When you don’t have to worry about being criticized or made to feel like you failed, your mind becomes far more open to hearing ideas from others for how you might become better.
Where’s the Downside?
The more I’ve thought about this, the more convinced I become that feedback may not be necessary. Using feedback is a choice we make that might be having a lot of unintended negative consequences.
What if we could eliminate all the angst and defensiveness that feedback creates? What if a zero feedback culture could amplify performance and make the work environment feel more energizing and positive?
It seems like it might be worth a try.
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