Feedback – answer the questions

GilbertA younger friend of mine has recently made the elite professional level of his sport; there is no higher level besides international representation in his game.  Very impressive as he had the courage to leave his hometown and try to reach something in which there was a genuine chance of failure (when was the last time you did something with that condition?).

I asked how is he finding things at the top level, and his answer was about feedback.  He said that any mistake gets punished on the field by the other team, so there is heaps of pressure, and along with it heaps of feedback.

I’ve mentioned before that there are certain things at which all managers must be competent and one of them was feedback.  Remember, leadership is the act of getting people moving in the same direction toward a goal.  This means that people need to know the answers to certain questions for this to happen.  That is, they need feedback.

I doubt many would disagree with me, whether manager or employee.  So why does it seem to be something that is often associated with elite level sport, and not with every day organisational life?

It’s about clarity.  At the elite level, the expectations are clear.   Preparation requirements (fitness and gameplan), training requirements (effort and skill), game requirements (decision-making and courage), then back to preparation.  Doubt as to the outcomes required do not exist, and the coaching staff will make a point of extensive review to show the player any gaps between the expectations and what actually happened.

What does this mean in organisational life, and for your people?  It’s the same.  Both athletes and your people alike simply want to know:

  • What are we about here as a club or organisation?
  • What role do you want me to play, what does both adequate and outstanding look like, and what help is available?
  • How am I doing, including your judgement as to whether I am being effective?
  • What does my future look like?

(These are also the questions put forward in the research of Elliott Jaques as being crucial to each employee.)

A key difference between elite sport and normal (that is, not high-performing) organisations is that elite sport takes seriously its accountability to each of its people to regularly answer these questions.

How serious are you?


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