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[Radio] The Feedback Loop

It's no secret, the best way to keep your employees performing at their optimum best is by making them happy. Over the past couple of years, studies have shown that happy employees mean better performance, increased engagement, and ultimately better business performance. At times you'll find yourself wanting to shower your staff with compliments and perks such as free food, nice office settings, a gym membership, team trips, and so on. While this can be a good way to keep your team happy, evidence has shown that there is, in fact, a better way to keep your staff engaged— the feedback loop.

The Feedback Loop

A feedback loop is a system in which portions of a system's output are used for future input. In simple terms, the feedback loop means using an employee's past deeds to impact the employee's future output. Unknown to many, the feedback loop is one of the most sought after engagement strategies that have been proven to have better results than any other management strategy.

While feedback loops might sound a little bit similar to employee appreciation perks, they don't necessarily focus on tangible goods; rather, they focus on communication. Regular communication creates a healthy and energizing workspace that is the cornerstone to positive employee engagement. With employee-manager interactions being considered the main driver of employee satisfaction, employers increasingly try to cultivate this relationship in trying to boost employee productivity.

How The Feedback Loops Works

To get a better understanding of the feedback loop, think about where you normally get advice from. Is the person you get your advice from a person who agrees with you or someone who never agrees with you and is constantly challenging your ideas? Commonly, people tend to seek advice from people who are more likely to offer positive feedback. While you might favor the person offering you positive feedback, you need to think about whose advice you take more seriously. Research has proven that people tend to focus on the positive aspects of their behavior, character, and objectives while discounting the negative ones. To get the most out of your employees, you need to start developing relationships with people who embrace tough feedback.

So how do you go about this?

That's where the feedback loop comes into play. Since people shy away from people who give tough feedback, the way to go about this is by first giving positive feedback. Start by reminding an employee about a past achievement that made a positive contribution to team goals. By doing so, you'll find that in the next task, the employee will go beyond his means to come up with even better results than the last time around.

How To give feedback

Avoid the Negative

You already know that people tend to avoid negative feedback, so as a leader, you must understand how you approach your team members is as important as the message itself. It's not always about elevating a person's performance, but it's about building that continued relationship. According to recent research, employees who receive negative feedback were 44% more likely to stop engaging with the giver of the negative feedback. Since an employee can't drop a relationship with you as a leader, what happens is that the employee gets disengaged, builds distrust, and eventually undermines you.

Focus on the positive

In a recent Gallup study on employee engagement, 37% of employees said they wanted to be recognized by their bosses. In fact, recognition received even more responses than freedom, higher pay, and promotion. This proves that if leaders put in extra effort in recognizing an employee's contribution, we would be in for more vibrant workplaces. Employee recognition can be as simple as positive statements like, 'you are really good at this' or 'I think you did a good job in xyz' or 'I believe you can take that to the next level because you are among the best I've ever seen.'

It's Okay to Challenge and Correct

There comes a time when a manager is forced to challenge an idea or correct a mistake. While this is inevitable, it doesn't mean that every correction needs to be negative. Instead of correcting mistakes, concentrate on offering wise criticism. Wise criticism is where a leader first acknowledges a mistake has been committed and then offers direction most positively. Instead of telling your employee that he is wrong, put it this way 'I believe that this is also a way of doing this, but this approach will lead to this and this happening. What I believe we should do is take a slightly different approach and do this and this instead'.

Model Of The Feedback Loop

To help you better understand how feedback is given, we will talk about the feedback loop model. Feedback loops can either be positive or negative. Negative feedback loops are self-regulating and often useful in maintaining stable states with specific boundaries. An old-fashioned thermostat is a classic example of negative feedback. When the temperature drops to a low predetermined point, the thermostat automatically switches the furnace on. When the temperature reaches a predetermined high, the thermostat again switches the furnace off. While the thermostat has a reputation for being stable, the downside is that it's never accurate because a temperature change can result from a couple of different things.

On the other hand, positive feedback acts so that a leader simply repeats inputs that have been effective in the past. A positive feedback loop intends to amplify the desired variable and naturally move the system away from its starting state to the desired state.

Here's how the feedback loop model works

Each feedback loop comprises four stages: the input, the process, the output, and the feedback.

The Input

When it comes to input, you need to identify your employee's strengths, achievements, and positive traits. Although most leaders often throw complement to random employees, the input stage must be based on actual facts and figures. Explore your facts, come up with figures, and finally prepare to give out positive feedback.

The Process

Once you've gathered up concrete information about your employee, it's time to jump into the next step, giving feedback. Communicating with your employee is the most crucial process of the entire feedback loop model. This is because you are actually trying to give positive feedback in the best way possible. The thing that matters here is not what you know but how you present what you know. Tell your employee the positive traits about their work and how they can use those positive traits to better their work.

The Output

After communicating with your employee, the next step is to wait and see what kind of output you'll receive after the initial input. More often than not, you'll find that the results gotten are usually better after positive communication with your employee. Since you've tapped into your employee's mindset in confirming that they are indeed the best, employees are known to repay that trust with better performances.


The final step in the feedback loop is the actual feedback. In this step, you again need to go back to the employee and talk about the just concluded task. While there might be occasions where you'll notice not much improvement, the good news is that this process can be repeated an infinite number of times. Tell your team member how the task was a success and how their input has led to a goal being achieved in one way or another.

Research on Feedback

In a paper by famous psychologist David Scott Yeager and colleagues, a study was undertaken where 44 seventh grade students were tasked with writing an essay. After the papers we submitted, the papers were randomly divided into two piles where each group got either one of two feedback. The first group got generic feedback that said, 'I'm giving you these comments so that you'll have feedback on your paper.' The second group got what the researchers called wise feedback where they wrote, 'I'm giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.' After the papers were returned, the kids could revise and resubmit their papers with the probability of earning a better grade. Amazingly 40% of the students who got the generic feedback chose to revise their papers. However, a staggering 80% of the students with the wise feedback chose to revise and resubmit their papers. Another amazing finding from the research was that the second group of students made twice as many corrections on their papers as the students with generic feedback.

The research concluded that feedback acts as a tool with which leaders can use to lead their team members towards excellence. Besides, although giving feedback is highly recommended, giving generic feedback is a thing leaders should desist from doing. As a leader, you should understand that every employee is unique, and this uniqueness needs to be acknowledged by giving custom feedback highlighting an employee's different strengths.

Giving Good Feedback and Receiving Good Feedback

Back in the day, a strange and unpleasant noise emanating from faulty equipment was used to describe feedback. Leaders used to liken feedback to any faulty equipment that needs repair. While this might be an unconventional way to look at it, this does provide a clue to the traditional definition of feedback in any given team setting.

In present-day HR strategies, effective feedback should be treated as more of a diagnosis instead of the traditional report card. Feedback needs to assess what is working and what is not working for an employee in a set of well-defined and desired outcomes so that positive measures can be taken for more substantial progress.

Giving feedback should be approached as a skill where the leader highlights where the strange noise in the workplace is coming from, indicating the need for improvement to drive action rather than triggering anxiety or despair.

It would be best to remember that a person's brain views negative feedback as a threat to survival. So what the brain does is it tries to make us feel right even when we're in the wrong. When approaching an employee to offer feedback, the employee's first reaction is to switch to defense mode.

Before giving feedback, it's crucial to understand that people's brains are structured so that negative feedback makes a bigger impact than a positive impact. This means that an employee is more likely to remember the one time you criticize them than they are the time you praised them.

How To Give Good Feedback

Now that we understand how delicate the feedback space can be, let's look at how to give good feedback.

Reflect on Purpose

When it comes to feedback, most leaders often disregard the most important part of feedback, purpose. Feedback has to come from the right place with the right intentions. When giving difficult feedback, most people approach this with the mentality that the other person is wrong and know the best way to fix them. As mentioned earlier, the first instinct people have during feedback giving is that of fear. Since the employee is already in defense mode, the best course of action is first to release the tension by showing that you care that you're not judgemental. By proving that you care about a person's feelings, you can create a space where you can have pleasant moments of inquiry where the employee is happy to chip into the discussion.

Focus on Behaviour Not The Person

Once you start the discussion with the best intention, the next step is to separate behaviors or actions from the person being addressed. The way to do this is by focusing your attention on the actions rather than the individual. This creates a situation where you separate the problematic situation from a person's identity. By so doing, the focus shifts from the employee to the problem, making the employee want to help in solving the matter.

Lead With Questions

Before you start a conversation with someone, you need to understand the situation from their perspective. This is accomplished by asking relevant questions in the nicest way possible. Questions are a proven strategy where people feel a joint need to address issues together.

How To Receive Good Feedback

Feedback is often a two-way street, and once you give feedback, you need to be ready to receive your own feedback.

Ask For Feedback More Often

The know it all attitude is the worst trait a leader can have. This not only makes employees uncomfortable but also prevents your team from giving you feedback. Make sure you invite feedback often, especially from those you trust. You'll be better able to see any challenges ahead of time, and you'll gain experience in responding positively to feedback.


When a person offers feedback, it's always tempting to try and explain your actions or the situation there and then. The thing with this approach is that if you respond negatively, the person in question won't have the guts to give more feedback. Rather than cut people short, try to keep your cool and wait for the other person to finish. If you feel like you need more time to deliberate on their suggestions, then do so. But always give the person talking time to finish what they're saying, and in doing so, you boost the communication channels needed to build healthy manager-employee relationships.

Take Credit For Your Mistakes.

It's human when a person takes credit when they are winning but shy away from mistakes when they arise. Nobody wants to take the blame, but as a leader, you need to cultivate a mindset where you accept when you're wrong and accept positive criticism. Risks are part of every business, and your employees won't dare risk anything if they know you won't have their back if things go wrong. So, learn to accept that things can go wrong, and at some point, they will go wrong.

The Feedback Sandwich

The feedback sandwich is a popular concept based on a famous 90's movie called The Office Space. The movie is about employees who have to deal with a very mean boss while managing the stresses of life. The movie was synonymous with what was happening because people were feeling overwhelmed, and leaders had to develop strategies to deal with that. Since leaders realized that they needed feedback, they concluded that constructive feedback was better than negative feedback. However, constructive feedback was just negative feedback sugar-coated with a few positive highlights.

The feedback sandwich was invented for the sole purpose of giving someone constructive criticism without making them feel bad. You basically start by giving out a compliment, then the criticism comes next, and finally end the conversation by giving another compliment.

For example, Bob is among the smartest programmers you have in your team, but lately, Bob has not logged in daily error reports. So you go to Bob trying to fix the issue, and this is what you say.

Compliment: Bob, you are the most talented programmer I have, and I'm thrilled to have you as part of my team. Also, Bob, I really loved the job you did on the new program launch.

Criticism: However, Bob, you haven't been logging in the error reports, and I really need them done since we are no longer able to track the errors.

Complement: Again, Bob, I know how smart you are; I just want people to appreciate how talented you are.

This might look like a very unique and efficient way to give feedback, but the truth is, the sandwich doesn't taste as good as it looks.

Why You Need To Stop Using The Feedback Sandwich

Problem 1: The criticism falls on deaf ears. When people hear compliments during a feedback discussion, they immediately wait for the other shoe to drop. Since you start with a compliment, the criticism often seems insincere. You didn't really mean it; you were just trying to soften the blow.

Problem 2: If you avoid that risk and manage to be genuine about the praise, they can drown out the negatives. Research shows that primacy and recency effects are powerful since people often remember the first and last things during a conversation. When you start and end with positive feedback, it's all too easy for the criticism to get buried or discounted.

Giving a compliment sandwich might make the giver feel good, but it doesn't help the receiver.

Asking For Feedback Vs. Giving Feedback

Imagine yourself as a leader and someone in your team has done something wrong or has failed to do what's expected of them. You want to offer feedback, but you're unsure about how to do it.

If you find yourself struggling to give feedback, then there is something wrong with your company culture. But then again, is asking for feedback as important as receiving feedback?

Firstly, feedback is fundamental to establishing a learning culture. Learning has very little to do with entering a classroom, virtual or otherwise. In real life, we work, we witness changes, and we adapt. The problem is that there comes a time when people become unaware that they are actually making mistakes. Although these blind spots are inevitable, they only emerge when we reach the limits of our self-awareness. As a consequence, we cease to develop. The only way to fix this is to have people around us that we can trust to give us feedback. Or is it?

According to a Gallup study on giving feedback, people accept feedback better when asking for it than when they get it without asking. If you want to give great feedback, the most important thing you can do is listen. More time spent listening has a strong payoff. The more you listen to employee views before giving feedback, the better the employee experiences and understands the feedback. But you won't listen if you don't know what you want to hear. Before you even listen to feedback, ask the question, and you'll be surprised at how much information you can get by simply asking.

Benefits of Asking For Feedback

How Can I Help

It's common knowledge that every team member has a role to play, one way or another. But some people tend to feel shy about making their voice heard. When you ask your team to give you feedback on a pressing issue, you're going to learn what they know about the issue and how they intend to help.

Make Your Employees Feel Important and Involved

By asking your employees to provide feedback, you're communicating that you value their opinion and care about what they have to say. Your employees feel a sense of importance since you prove that their input matters and that they are involved in making crucial decisions for the company.

Diffusing office conflicts before they happen

The final benefit of asking for feedback is that it gives employees the tools to address issues before they escalate. When people don't feel able to share feedback even on the smaller things, they can transform into larger issues over time. On the other hand, when people regularly share feedback, they become more comfortable with having these difficult conversations. This means they won't feel anxious the next time you ask for feedback since getting into the habit of sharing feedback means they are better equipped to address any situation rather than bottling it up. To listen to the Live Radio Show. Episode 8 of the Overwhelm To Owning It show. Check it out here


Ally Nitschke is a Leadership Strategist, Courageous Conversations specialist and speaker. She has been working as a leader and with leaders for over 15 years.

She is on a mission to change the way we communicate at work, to lean into those uncomfortable conversations and lead with courage. Ally delivers Courageous Leadership Programs, Courageous Conversations workshops, Coaching, Mentoring and Keynotes. To inquire about working with you or your organisation please contact us here.


If you are interested in having Ally speak at an upcoming event or would like more information about Ally's Programs please book a call.

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