Feedback in Disguise
Feedback is the fuel that drives learning and improvement. There are thousands of articles on how to give quality feedback to our students, employees, and players. In fact our friend Daniel Coyle posted an excellent one just the other day: The Secret of Effective Feedback
Something that not many people talk about is how we as leaders can seek out feedback to help ourselves continue to learn and grow. This type of feedback can come from a number of places; mentors, colleagues, administrators, customers, etc…
However, one of the best sources of this feedback is often the most overlooked (because as leaders we absolutely hate it): shit going wrong.
We see it all the time…
Teachers get frustrated with unengaged students.
Coaches yell at players who make mistakes or forget the plays.
Bosses discipline employees when something is missed.
When these things happen it’s our nature to get angry, place the blame on whoever messed up, and try to fix the problem with some sort of punishment. The problem with this strategy is that these problems and mistakes are often valuable sources of feedback in disguise.
Blaming and punishing the person who made the mistake makes us feel like we’ve fixed something, but in reality all we’ve done is put a temporary patch over the issue while robbing ourselves of a great opportunity to learn.
Holding back the anger and frustration, looking deeper, and asking why? will often reveal feedback in disguise. This feedback will often (not always) point the finger of blame inwards.
The students are unengaged because my lessons are boring.
The player forgot that play because I didn’t teach it well enough.
The employee missed the bug because he/she wasn’t trained properly.
A few years ago Toyota implemented an exercise called “The 5 Whys” to help discover the root cause of problems. When something goes wrong, rather than blaming or punishing someone, they stop and ask why – 5 times:
Problem: The vehicle will not start
- Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
- Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
- Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
- Why? – The alternator belt too old and not replaced. (fourth why)
- Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule (root cause)
*Rather than simply changing the battery, they went deep enough to get real feedback and discover the cause of the problem.
Placing blame and punishing your employees, students, and players puts a bandaid on the problem. However, the next play, next day and next project you will see the same issues. Only when we stop, recognize the mistake as feedback, and actually learn from it will we find ways to fix the problem, not just treat the symptoms.
So the next time something goes wrong, remember “The 5 Whys.” Look deeper into the problem and use it as an opportunity for learning and growth, and not a reason to be angry with someone.
I hope everyone enjoys their holiday season. Thanks again for following along – I really appreciate all the support!