Bombarding employees with feedback will never help them grow, says head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute.
American corporate culture has lately become obsessed with feedback. Fueled by the arrival of Millennials—a generation we're told desperately craves feedback—many companies are embracing the concept of "radical transparency," where real-time 360-degree performance reviews provide a steady stream of unvarnished opinions about their work.
Marcus Buckingham, head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute, has some feedback for these companies: Please stop it.
"We want attention," he said. "We don't want feedback."
The reality is that feedback doesn't help improve performance, he said—a fact supported by years of research. "We don't learn by me taking what's in my head and injecting it into yours," he said. "We grow by somebody paying attention to us, particularly by paying attention to what worked for them."
While the rise of social networks helped give the impression that Millennials thrive on feedback, Buckingham noted how they can also be used to dispel the myth. Consider the case of Facebook emojis. In 2016, Facebook introduced five new reaction emojis so users could give feedback beyond the "like" button. "But they found no one really used them," said Buckingham. Meanwhile, Millennials were migrating to Snapchat, a network on which "you can find a lot of attention, but you can't find any feedback."
Focusing less on feedback and more on positive reinforcement will help produce happier, more productive employees, said Buckingham, author of the upcoming book Nine Lies About Work. "We shouldn't be teaching team leaders how to give and receive feedback," he said. "We should be teaching team leaders to say, 'What worked about what just happened here?' And then help you refine or refocus those patterns in you that already work."
"The raw material of your future greatness is your current goodness," he said.
Driving the "feedback fallacy," a term Buckingham coins in a cover story for the March-April 2019 Harvard Business Review, is the myth that well-rounded employees are preferable to those with highly concentrated skill sets. And the way to get well-rounded employees is to focus on those areas where they are weakest.
"Most human capital systems measure you against a list of desired attributes, design 360 tools and performance tools to rate you against those attributes, and hook up learning management systems to give you content to plug your gaps, because the well-rounded employee is better," he said.
In reality, effective leaders are more likely to be idiosyncratic than well-rounded, he said, offering people like Warren Buffet and Richard Branson as examples. "When we look at the real world," he said. "the greatest contributions always come from somebody who's found something in them that's spiky, something that's strengthy, and then they channel that into contribution. That's the antithesis of well-roundedness."
Buckingham, who made his remarks at the 2019 SXSW® Conference in Austin, TX, advised team leaders to nurture the idiosyncrasies of individuals, and strive for well-rounded teams made up of workers with complementary skills.
"Teams should be well-rounded, because individuals aren't," he said.