"Where do you go in life? You go where you get an A". I'm not sure who first said that, but it's absolutely true and it's consistent with how our brain is wired. When our ancestors wanted to punish a tribe member, really punish them, they exiled them from the clan. Back then, we didn't have the protections we have now and so the dangers of the world made being exiled a death penalty.
Our neuro-architecture still causes us angst when we are "exiled" from a group. As a matter of fact, just getting feedback can shut us down in a hurry. Our brain interprets feedback as a form of not fitting in perfectly - a sort of temporary exile. Since feedback is a constant area of interest for both the people giving and getting it, I thought I'd focus on how to adopt the mindset of giving an A to those we work with; as well as to the ones we love and to generally anyone we meet. The world needs more A-makers. We need to keep the best of our "clan" moving forward to higher achievement, and we don't do it by exiling them.
1. Don't make feedback an event - give it continually. One of the organizations I'm working with is actually making this a leadership initiative. They are teaching their leaders about how to give constant information to employees - in the moment, as things happen. As adults, we learn better when we get "caught with our hand in the cookie jar"; and then when we are given feedback about the event we can make an adjustment. Saving up items and issues for improvement for a few times a year statistically fails about 70% of the time to meet the objective of improved behavior*. Memories are faulty, and harkening back to something that occurred four months ago is likely to be met with an argument, whether it be internally thought or spoken out loud. Plus, when feedback becomes the norm, it feels like a quick "curbside" conversation instead of some big scary event. Feedback should be specific, in the moment when the issue occurred (or close to it) and frequent.
2. Try feeding forward. I like this one because it de-emphasizes what went wrong and helps people focus on what to do the next time. From a neuroscience perspective, we become what we consistently repeat. Our default behaviors are a matter of repetition. With that in mind, we really don't learn from our failures; we learn from our successes. Yes, we learn what NOT to do from our failures and there is a benefit in knowing what not to do, but because we become what we repeat, it's unlikely that solely getting information about what not to do will lead to the kind of new behavior we want repeated. You have a different performance issue if you keep repeating your failures. Think in terms of what you would like to see the person do in the future. Be specific about what that behavior looks like. Then encourage it every time you see it.
3. Be the person who helps others get an A. Most of us have a goal to grow to be something else. Admittedly, there are a few people who want to stay right where they are, so this tip might fall on deaf ears for them. But, for those with even a slight bit of ambition, we can leverage the vision of themselves to help them get better. It's striking to me how many leaders I work with that tell me that they don't explicitly know the specific career goals of their employees. How can we ever help them get there, if we don't know where there is? When you know that your employee wants to be a vice president of the company, your feedback (or feedforward!) is couched in terms of helping them to achieve that goal. To get an A. When someone hears that a behavior is required at certain levels of a career, and they want to hit that level, they are a lot more likely to take the information more seriously and do something with it. One company president I heard speak at a conference said they take this so seriously that they have added personal goals of the employees into performance reviews. Managers are required to help employees achieve both their workplace and life goals - even if it means just a little bit of cheerleading, "Hey Scott, how are you doing on your guitar lessons?" It's that simple to create an atmosphere of achievement.
The art of leadership and the gift of being an incredible human being is to adopt the mindset of helping others get an A in life. It might make some of the most jaded among you bristle a bit to be "so nice" when all you want to do is be efficient by barking orders about what to do and how to be. In the long run, that is not efficient at all. We have a tendency to become what we believe we have chosen for ourselves; not what we were commanded to be. Help others get an A in life and watch the achievement energy blossom in your organization.
*Avraham N. Kluger and Angelo DeNisi. "The effects of feedback interventions on performance: a historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory." Psychological bulletin 119, no. 2 (1996): 254.