Have you ever found yourself doing something, only to learn later that it was not beneficial (or even harmful) to you? I am sure at some point in your life you have made a remark like “why didn’t someone tell me” or “who knew”. In times like these, we become reminded of the value of feedback.
Feedback is an essential part of life. It is a vital tool for learning growth and development. But our relationship with feedback is tenuous. Emotions and context play a significant role in feedback exchange. This can make the reaction to feedback somewhat unpredictable. Feedback can create fear in some people. In fact, research shows that people who lack confidence, regularly avoid feedback.
But, feedback is also known to be a main instrument in building confidence. And building confidence destroys fear.
Feedback is invaluable in helping us gauge our strengths. It also helps us to identify areas for growth, and understand the results of our behavior. Feedback helps us gain a sense of worth and helps us understand what we can do to further improve. It can empower people toward a path of success.
Psychology experts have provided guidelines to help us provide feedback without creating a defensive reaction. Some of those guidelines include:
· Focus on people’s behaviors or efforts (not their character)
· Provide specific and evidence-based feedback. This will allow recipients to better understand how they can target improvement
· Concentrate on observable behavior. Observable behavior is harder to refute than opinions or generalizations
· Provide ongoing feedback. Formal event-based, like an annual performance review, can increase intimidation
Feedback can without a doubt give people confidence when using these guidelines. It can also fuel engagement and performance. This is important information for L&D professionals.
L&D professionals are in the people development business. So, they should aspire to provide as much feedback as possible to the populations they serve. Providing learning, without feedback on the achievement of expected outcomes, is insufficient. Failing to provide our learners with feedback on their results, shows we have a lack of trust in our learner’s ability to use feedback for growth.
Feedback drives behavior change
Ultimately, L&D professionals aspire to create behavior change. Employees come to us to gain new job skills. We should reveal blind spots and highlight areas of improvement. This constructive feedback can provide the drive needed to start a change in behavior. Feedback can be a powerful force in aiding personal and professional development.
Taking a course without gaining verification of results requires learners to “go it alone”. Particularly, when it comes to verification of outcomes and building confidence. Knowing that you attended a class does not give you the same confidence as knowing you mastered the skills provided in the class. When we do not provide learners with feedback on their results, we cheat them out of the thrill of achievement. We fear they will not respond well to improvement areas. But, by doing this, we deny them the ability to gain confidence from their progress.
Feedback from learning measurement
I work with companies to blend measurement into their learning practice. This affords me a different perspective on feedback.
My entry into the field of learning analytics came about by my desire to show the real impact of learning. I have a strong desire to highlight the importance of learning in business success. I know the benefits of measuring learning. They are immense for learning professionals and for the organizations they serve. In my experience, implementing a learning analytics program always elevates two things. It elevates, both the practice and the reputation of the learning department.
However, there was one benefit to learning measurement that I underestimated. I had not contemplated the impact it has on employees. In our world, employees get reports that show them the skills they will target in the learning program. Employees get transparency on the skills needed for their job. They receive reports on the skills they already have, the ones they gain, and the ones they still need to gain. They receive insight on their progression of accomplishment as they learn and then apply skills. Employees become active participants in their own professional development. This benefit is realized only through providing feedback.
When a learning department creates learning that’s targeted to business outcomes, measures the achievement of those outcomes, and delivers feedback to the owner of those outcomes (the students) a powerful relationship is built between the learning professionals and the employees they serve.
Learning feedback becomes a day to day thing that goes unnoticed. Compared to a formal feedback event like an annual review, it happens in real-time. It focuses on something specific and often results in an immediate shift in behavior. Feedback is most useful when it’s given as soon as possible after an event. As people get more comfortable with and find value in the feedback they receive, their feedback orientation grows stronger.
L&D is in a unique position to measure outcomes and build a culture of acceptance of feedback. Employees’ learning and development are stunted when feedback is absent. I have seen the power of feedback. Now, I challenge all learning professionals to be more than just a deliverer of content.
I challenge all learning professionals to design programs to do three things. Target job skills, measure the accomplishment of those targets, and respect our learners enough to include them in the process!