What is Feedback? And The Benefits of Feedback for Your Team / Company You Never Knew?

It is the end of the quarter. And it is feedback season again!

Feedback is a word many people dread and it makes them uncomfortable, while for others it is a tool to reflect on and improve performance. Having been on both ends of the feedback spectrum over my career, I want to share today what I think feedback is, and how it can benefit people as well as organisations.

What is feedback?

Do you think feedback is an operational necessity which your organisation requires you to do? Do you think feedback is something “extra” you have to do in addition to your work? In the early days of my career I saw feedback as a distraction which keeps me away from “real” work. I wanted to get done with the feedback cycles as soon as possible as it would make me anxious and nervous. After all, nobody ever told me the purpose of feedback, how to do it well and how to make it a tool in my development.

It was only through my own mistakes receiving and giving feedback (and a few trainings) that I realised that feedback is work itself and not something external to it. Feedback is as much a part of my (and everyone else’s) work duties as any other task I consider essential. Over time I came to see feedback as a tool to improve not just my own performance, but also of the people around me, and of my team/organisation as a whole.

Feedback can happen in a ‘day to day’ manner like any other task. It can be a simple comment on some work which was just completed, like :-

  • You handled that really well. Thank you for thinking about that specific case.
  • I loved how you presented your ideas in the meeting we just had.

OR, Feedback can be a structured conversation with your manager or employee. For example :-

  • I see you doing really well in … , …
  • I would like to see you develop skills like … , etc

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
– Ken Blanchard

The Benefits of Feedback You Never Knew

The most important and obvious benefit of feedback is that it shines a light on and reveal our blind spots. We all need feedback to reflect, learn and grow. It helps us become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and identify any actions required to address them and improve performance. Timely feedback is essential to creating a loop where we are constantly reflecting upon what we did in the past and how can we do better in the future.

But apart from assisting in our own personal development, I believe feedback can be an important tool which can help our team / company in other ways. Some of these are :-

1. Better Relationships

A regular cycle of feedback, not just with our managers but also with our peers, helps us build better relationships at work. It helps us get comfortable with each other and develop friendships with our colleagues. Having strong relationships at work not just impacts business results, but also results in more smiles and satisfaction from what we do. Giving and receiving feedback builds trust and help create a safe environment where people can be themselves without any pretensions.

2. Clear Expectations

Having regular feedback conversations with people help clear expectations about what we expect from each other. It brings out our implicit expectations in the open and iron out any disagreements. Doing this right avoids any future misunderstanding and conflicts, and even if they arise, are much easier to handle and resolve.

3. Positive Reinforcement

Giving appreciation of a task well done serves as a wonderful positive reinforcement for the kind of behaviours you want to nurture in your team and your organisation. Giving people a pat on their back or an informal “whoop” or “cheers” can do wonders to their confidence, and sets an example for everyone else.

4. Culture of Feedback

If people are comfortable giving and receiving feedback in a company, and if it becomes a part of people / teams working together, then you have what is called a “culture of feedback”. This can be a tremendous asset for any organisation. This culture lets your employees know that you care about them as people, and not just the business results they produce. The culture of feedback creates an environment which enables every team to take ownership and pride in going after and achieving their business goals, while also taking care of their personal well-being and growth.

To sum it up, the benefits of continuous feedback far outweigh the cost of having a culture of feedback and the little awkwardness everyone feels while giving and sharing feedback, which can be easily mitigated with proper training and guidance. Having a culture of open communication and regular feedback empowers people to come to work and make a difference – to their own growth as well as to the company’s purpose.

The Distinction Between Meaningless Activity and Meaningful Actions, And Why It Can Make All The Difference

In today’s age of always connected devices and nonstop notifications, we all have more to do each day than the hours can fit. Crossing items off the to-do list always feels good and gives one a feeling of accomplishment, but have we ever stopped and asked ourselves – accomplishment towards what?

The ‘Busy’ Trap

Whenever I have stopped to ask myself that question, I have realised that I have fallen into the trap of being busy rather than being productive. Being busy often relieves us from the fear of sitting still and the pain of conscious thinking, while the really important tasks often gets neglected.

We are often sucked into doing meaningless activities, either through algorithms running on our “smart” devices, or through habits we have formed by emulating our peers rather than consciously choosing them. In other words, we waste most of our time doing meaningless activities that we have no time left for what really matters.

Meaningless Activity vs Meaningful Actions

Meaningless vs Meaningful

Everything that we do can be divided into either meaningless activity or meaningful actions. What I mean by meaningless activity is anything we do to only keep ourselves busy. Example – checking email and social media, hanging out with friends, or anything we do without a specific intention in mind.

In contrast with the above, any activity which adds meaning to your life, or takes you in the direction of a conscious intention (or a goal), is what I would term meaningful. It could be a business trip for one, or spending time with their family for another.

What is meaningless and meaningful is different for everyone. Only you can define that. No-one else can make that distinction for you.

We are often focussed on what is urgent or what seems important today that we end up ignoring what is really important for us in the long run. Only by being aware of our decisions we can be deliberate about them to move our life in the direction we want to go.

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” – Hunter S Thompson

Focus and Prioritise

Research has shown that not having the courage to live a life true to ourselves, not expressing our feelings when we should have, and working too hard are the top three regrets people have at the end of their lives.

Doing things that we find meaningful is essential to our well being. But how many of us spend time wondering about what gives our life meaning, and what is really important to us?

Three Questions

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What need can you serve?

I believe the intersection of answers to the above three questions will be the most meaningful work for you. Once you have these answers, it will give you the clarity to prioritise tasks and the courage to say “No” to anything that doesn’t align with what you discover.

Having the clarity about the “why” before the “what” and “how” of any action will ensure you create focused output that moves you forward, rather than effort that just takes you around in circles. So the next time you think you have no time to follow your dreams, you know you have fallen into the trap of being busy with meaningless activities.

Have You Discovered Your Leadership Lighthouse? Why Should You?

A Global World

Today, we live in globalised world which is more connected than ever before, and movement of people and goods has never been easier. It is driven by economics and money, and it is possible to sit in your couch and order what you want from the opposite corner of the world, and have it delivered to you in a few days.

Open markets, lower trade tariffs and an ever increasing movement of people, goods and information to any part of the world has resulted in great prosperity for everyone involved. Major world problems like poverty, hunger and disease have decreased considerably over the last 50 years. The health and well-being of people all over the world has never been better.

However, living in a consumerist society driven by economics has also resulted in greed, corruption and a pursuit of economic success at any cost. It is no surprise then that we saw scandals like Enron in 2001, the financial crisis in 2008, and the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015-16. These scandals resulted from cutting corners in the pursuit of success by leaders in these companies.

Have you discovered your leadership lighthouse?

The Leadership Lighthouse

Just like ships need a compass and a lighthouse to navigate in the vast oceans, our companies and their leaders too need a leadership lighthouse to find direction in the vast ocean of global competition. The speed (of a ship or a business) is not the only thing matters. Our leaders need to realise that the direction they choose to go and take their companies along is more important than the speed.

The Leadership Lighthouse is a set of values (to guide us), standards (to measure us), and boundaries (to keep us in check); which will act as a moral compass as leaders take decisions and navigate their companies in the race for success in the global economy. These standards and values guide us in finding the right direction in challenging and exciting times.

Find Your Own Way

The whole essence of leadership is to bring our own unique values, talents and skills into the world, and to express ourselves in alignment with those. When we accept the standards and values others’ have set for us, we surrender our own will and judgement. By figuring out our own leadership lighthouse, we allow our unique light to shine upon the world.

If we only follow what everyone else is doing and not take the time and effort required to find our own leadership lighthouse, which is unique for everyone, we will soon find ourselves lost and confused. But once you have put in the effort and identified your unique set of values, motivations, desires and talents; you can nurture them and let them guide you.

If we stop and look back at the history of the world, be it in the business world or outside of it, you will find that every human achievement is an achievement of the individual who went against the norm and followed their own leadership lighthouse.

Questions to Discover Your Leadership Lighthouse

How Can You Find Your Leadership Lighthouse

As mentioned above, our leadership lighthouse is the set of standards and values that define and inspires you. It will guide you during challenging moments by serving as a moral compass, and give you a solid ground to stand upon when you face turbulent times.

To find leadership lighthouse, try answering the below questions :-

  1. What do you want to achieve in the long term?
  2. What really matters (is important) to you?
  3. What makes you happy, angry or sad?
  4. What are your duties and obligations with regard to different aspects of your life?
  5. What have you learned from the biggest failures of your life?

Answering these questions will require some sincere and dedicated effort on your side, but once you do that, you will have more clarity on how you define your own leadership lighthouse. I would also like to add that it is a continuous rather than a one-time process. You should revisit the above questions every now and then as a “health-check”.

Knowing your leadership lighthouse will give you the confidence and assurance to follow your own path instead of the path others have decided for you. Once you nurture and develop your strengths and act consistent with your standards and values, you will allow your own unique light to shine upon the people and the world around you.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in Our Professional and Personal Lives

When I started working at the age of 21, my manager was only a few years older than me. Both of us being very young and passionate about work, we developed a good friendship. As I completed my first year at work, I sat down with this friend (manager) to discuss my performance. I wasn’t ready for what came next.

In the meeting he was very formal and distant in his approach which I found unfair. Due to our friendship, I expected an informal conversation. Instead, what I got was “feedback” and “improvement points”. When he was done with the performance cycle, it left me in a very bad mood and it affected our friendship. While he was only performing his job as a manager, I was too naive and felt betrayed as a friend. It took us more than a year to mend our friendship, and I am good friends with him to this day.

This incident was very tough for me, and it was not until many years later that I recognised why it was so. At first I blamed my manager friend for being more of a “manager” than a “friend“. Later (after we mend ways) I blamed myself for being too emotional and developing friendships at work. I came to the (wrong) conclusion that emotions and rationality are mutually exclusive, and I shut myself down emotionally.

It was much later that I realised that emotions were not the culprit. Instead it was my inability to handle my emotions which led me to react impulsively. With experience I have come to believe that emotions are absolutely necessary for doing any meaningful work. They only seem tough when we don’t know how to handle them.

I have already written about how to handle our emotions in the workplace. In this article I want to stress on the importance of emotions as the driving force behind decisions.

We Experience The World Through Our Emotions

We walk around the world and make sense of it through our emotions. When we experience an event, different emotions get triggered based on our values and beliefs. Emotions make our experiences good or bad, valuable or not, and pleasurable or painful. If we introspect we will found that every decision we end up taking is derived from an emotion that touched and moved us.

These emotions can overwhelm us occasionally, but without them we would have no connection with people or events around us. While emotions can sometimes bring pain and tears, it is only through them that we feel joy, happiness and peace in life. It is very important to realise that emotions are our strength, and not our weakness.

It is our emotions that make us human. The little moments of joy when we play with our kids, the smile on our faces when we help someone, the tears in our eyes when we see something cruel and terrible (even if it is on TV) – it is these emotions that connect us all as human beings.

Seeing a tweet by a billionaire CEO and to be able to feel empathy for him/her makes us bridge the economic, physical and social divides and come closer. On the other hand, if we are privileged in any way, being able to empathise with the less privileged and act for them brings us closer. Emotions help keep our egos in check, and prevent us from being indifferent towards the less or more privileged in our society.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in our Lives

Emotions and Reason are Not Mutually Exclusive

Most of us believe that emotions and reason are opposites of each other, and it is often presented as a fact that you can’t act rationally if you are emotional. In many workplaces, emotions are frowned upon and an excessive display of emotions (joy, tears, anger) are seen as a liability.

On the contrary, what I have learned over the years is that emotions can be our biggest asset. They can give us important information that can shape our lives if we listen to what they are trying to tell us. The key is to learn how to express our emotions without repression or explosion.

Emotions can help us clear the fog of rational choices and reveal our moral lighthouses. They help us choose wisely when presented with two equally good or equally bad choices. Emotions clarify our thinking and help us see rational choices in a new light while pure rationality often makes us run wild with ideas, even at the expense of others. Rationality without emotions can look enticing in the short term, but it can be a menace in the long term.

It Is Impossible to Be Rational Without Emotions

While it is true that emotions can overwhelm rationality at times, it is impossible to be rational without being emotional. Today there is scientific evidence to prove that we, as human beings, are incapable of making decisions if we can’t feel our emotions. You can read about the works of neurobiologist Antonio Damasio to see that without emotions, there is no decision making possible. [1][2]

He worked on a patient with a severed connection between the frontal lobe (where rationality originates) and cerebral amygdala (where emotions originate) in the brain. After the surgery, the patient could think, but he could not feel anything. He noticed that while he was able to engage in rational thought all the time, he was not able to make a choice over the other.

When Emotions Overwhelm Us?

We all have been in situations where we don’t want to do what we know is the right thing to do. When emotions overwhelm us, we can get sucked into the temptation of the respective emotion and (re)act in a way which provides us emotional relief. For example – When you couldn’t control your frustration and vented it out on your manager because it felt good to spurt it out.

Emotions are very good messengers, but poor masters. We should always listen to them and let them play a big role in our rationality, but subjugating reason to emotional whims can cause us short and long term harm. In the end we should always use reason to choose the best option available for us, and use emotions as a lighthouse to guide us on the right path. This will help us in making the right choices (which might not be the easy ones) in life with conviction.

Emotions Intelligence is a Skill. Train Yourself

Now that we have seen that there is no action possible without emotions, we can conclude that emotions are not bad or good in themselves. It is our ability to handle them that make us interpret them as so. It is a skill that, just like other skills, can be developed.

Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions builds confidence and opens up new pathways which were earlier closed to you. Emotional people are often regarded as weak in certain societies, but I believe that the ability to handle one’s own emotions is one of the most useful skills a human being can acquire.

Increased emotional awareness can be a great asset we all can make use of not only to make the right decisions for ourselves, but also to create a better world around us. A world which is not mine or yours – but ours.

Focus on Interests, Not on Positions – The One Tip Which Can Make Every Conversation More Productive

There was once only one orange left in a kitchen and two chefs were fighting over it.

“I need that orange!”

“Yes, but I need that orange as well !”

Time was running out and they both needed an orange to finish their particular recipes for the dinner. They decided on a compromise: they grabbed one of the large kitchen knives that was lying around, split the orange in half, and each went to his corner to finish preparing his meal.

One chef squeezed the juice from the orange and poured it into the special sauce he was making. It wasn’t quite enough, but it would have to do. The other grated the peel and stirred the scrapings into the batter for his famous cake. He too didn’t have as much as he would have liked, but given the situation, what else could he have done ?

We all love to form, hold and defend our positions. Whether it is at home with our spouse, or at work with our colleagues, once we form a position on a certain topic, it is going to take some convincing to loosen our hold on our “coveted” position. Isn’t that true?

As human beings, we function and operate in this world by forming positions on different subjects we face in our day to day interactions. However, when we encounter opposition or resistance to our point of view, or when we oppose others’ point of view, it is very common for us to defend our positions and it takes some convincing for us to yield from our position.

What I have discovered with my experience of dealing with people over the last many years is that if we focus on people’s interests instead of their positions, it can become much easier to negotiate and converse with them. To clarify my point, and to understand the difference between positions and interests, consider the three points (and corollaries) below.

1. Positions are WHAT You Want. Interests are WHY You Want It.

In the story above both chefs wanted the orange, and that was their position. What you WANT, the specifics and details of it, is your POSITION. One chef wanted the orange for its juice to prepare a sauce while the other for its peel to prepare a cake. This was their INTEREST behind wanting the orange.

Corollary 1

Focusing on positions puts us against one another, which is not a good start to any conversation. On the other hand, distinguishing between the positions and interests helps us discover people’s common desires – like fairness, accomplishment, happiness and prosperity. These desires might not be same for both parties, but they often are compatible, which makes for easier negotiation.

conflicts

2. Look Behind Superficial Positions To Discover People’s Hidden Interests.

The positions we form can be, and often are, superficial in nature. Considering the above story again, it is obvious now that it would have been better for the chefs to peel the orange and take the part they needed for their respective recipes. However, they choose to focus on each other’s positions (the what) and hence ignored their interests (the why).

Corollary 2

When we focus on positions, our EGO gets involved which makes it difficult to move ahead. Looking to discover each other’s interests helps us to understand each other better. It presents an opportunity to collaborate and work together to produce not just better results, but also better relationships.

3. To Uncover Interests, ask “WHY?”

In the above story, what the two chefs got was an undesirable compromise, and I am sure their relationship didn’t get any better because of this.

It is very easy to form positions as human beings, but it is always helpful to ask ourselves why we want what we want. Asking this question can help us discover our hidden interests, which can then lead to many flexible alternatives instead of just one fixed position.

Corollary 3

Focusing on positions alone can lead to unpleasant arguments and/or undesirable compromises. Understanding each other’s motivations behind the positions can lead to win-win situations. It can make 2+2=5 happen.

Conclusion

It is very common to confuse positions and interests. When we act in a “my way or the highway” manner without considering the views of the other side as legitimate, it becomes very difficult to make progress in conversations. Negotiating in this way can do more harm than good, as people tend to dig-in with their opinions and justifications, and their positions tend to move further apart.

However, looking to work together by asking the “Why?” question, and taking efforts to understand each other’s concerns can create a pathway where there was none before. It can result in a partial solution in a not-so-ideal case, and it can allow for magic (any solution better than what both sides wanted initially) to happen in the best case.