Feedback is a critical component of living systems. Our senses naturally receive feedback as inputs to all of our actions. Our brains integrate feedback into our lives as part of our learning activities. Further, let's define performance as the attitude, actions, and tasks that result in a particular outcome. In the context of the workplace, we refer to feedback as information and data about performance that allows an employee to change for the better.
Even the most dysfunctional workplaces are full of information and data. And it's easy for people to confuse information and data with feedback. However, if information relayed to someone does not indicate how behavior is to be altered then it does not constitute valid feedback. A data point by itself does not carry a significance towards change; it must be in the context of a message that serves two functions: 1) communicating where an employee stands relative to a given performance goal and 2) what changes to make to move closer to that goal.
Very few companies foster sufficient, valid performance feedback in their organizations. Much of what is assumed to be feedback is just un-actionable information and data. Compounding the problem, different job roles require different forms of feedback. Managers that aren't specifically trained in the art of crafting feedback are unable to provide it effectively. Employees also need coaching and assistance if they are expected to provide actionable feedback to their peers.
Feedback is by itself an insufficient condition for employees to reliably improve their performance. Long-standing research has shown that feedback must be combined with reinforcement if a change is to take place. The psychologists Ilgen, Fisher and Taylor found that the effectiveness of feedback depends upon the extent to which it functions to lead the individual to anticipate a reward. They cast doubts on the effectiveness of just feedback in provoking change. Their study suggests that feedback and reinforcement are very different concepts and that motivation for positive change are attributable to reinforcement rather than just feedback.
Part of what we're attempting to do with RightBonus is to create reliable mechanisms for coupling reinforcement in the form of tangible rewards. Our minimum viable product focuses on cash bonuses, but our roadmap (forthcoming) will feature other types of rewards as well.
This post is the first in a planned series of articles discussing attributes of effective feedback, reinforcement (positive & negative), goals and extrinsic vs. intrisic rewards in the workplace.