What is a feedback mechanism?

If you’re interested in delivering better feedback, there’s an interesting contradiction that might give you pause to think: Why is it that video games can deliver real-time feedback, but staff performance decreases if a manager provides face-to-face feedback fortnightly instead of monthly?

Delivering better feedback

It doesn’t seem to make sense that in one environment we thrive with constant feedback, but in the other we tend to experience feedback overload at even a fortnightly frequency.

The answer lies in something called a “feedback mechanism”, which automates and depersonalises feedback. In this piece I’m going to explore what feedback mechanisms are, and how they can work in an office environment.

1. What is a feedback mechanism?

If you’ve ever played a video game, you’ve experienced a feedback mechanism. When you’re playing the game, you have a score that provides constant feedback on your progress and strategy.

Depending on the game it may be a score, badges or a strength meter. Regardless of the specifics, you’ve got some sort of visible indicator that’s telling you whether you’re succeeding. That’s a feedback mechanism.

At a basic level, a feedback mechanism provides a means for you to track your personal performance. Importantly, because the feedback is depersonalised (in this case, automated) and not up for debate, there’s no potential for feedback overload.

2. A feedback mechanism is forward focused

The purpose of a feedback mechanism is not to provide a review of your past behaviour. Feedback mechanisms are naturally forward focused because they connect your current actions to your future results.

A good feedback mechanism should either affirm or alter your course of action. A good example is the score in any individual sport, i.e. golf or tennis. The score gives immediate feedback, which allows the player to change their behaviour (a more accurate service game, stronger returns, longer drives, sharper puts etc) to achieve their desired result – an uptick in performance.

3. Does a feedback mechanism give real-time feedback?

A feedback mechanism doesn’t have to be real time, but many common examples do provide quick feedback – if you think of a sporting score or a video game.

In a business environment, a good example is a Net Promoter Score. For someone working in a call centre, the feedback isn’t exactly real time – but it is fast, highly objective and not up for debate. The number is a fact, and the individual can quickly understand whether they need to take action to improve the numbers.

4. What does a feedback mechanism looks like in the business environment?

Another clear example of a feedback mechanism in business is a sales quota. If you’re a sales person, you will be given a sales goal every year. There’s no debate at the end of the year as to whether you succeeded or not. The P&L provides a natural feedback mechanism to measure that goal. You don’t need someone to tell you whether you’re meeting expectations or not.

A good feedback mechanism allows you to post those results live on a big board. Feedback mechanisms can also build to a team goal where you combine everyone’s quotas together. That sort of ‘big picture’ or aggregated approach can work really well as a feedback mechanism that motivates group performance.

In conclusion: Where have you seen feedback mechanisms at work?

Feedback mechanisms provide one of the most effective ways to change behaviour. As the business environment accelerates, we’re hearing more and more calls for ‘real time feedback’. It’s never been more important for managers to understand what feedback mechanisms are, and how they can be used for great results.

I’d love to hear about where you’ve used feedback mechanisms in your organisation. What feedback mechanisms do you use to improve performance? How effective have they been? What have you learnt?


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Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.