On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to Amy from ADP about the emotional toll of feedback.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 21 minutes
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Amy Leschke-Kahle is the VP of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP Company. Amy combines her practitioner experience with research to collaborate with clients across the globe. Her unique approach has resulted in sustainable, proven techniques for measuring and accelerating engagement and performance in the real world of work.Follow
Music: 00:00 This is Recruiting Daily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host William Tincup.
William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to Recruiting Daily podcast. Today, we have Amy on from ADP and we’re going to unpack a fantastic topic. It’s the emotional toll of feedback. That’s our topic today. Can’t wait to get into it. Amy, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and ADP?
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 00:54 Absolutely. So I’m Amy Leschke-Kahle, I’m the vice president of performance acceleration for the Marcus Buckingham company, an ADP company. I think everybody knows who ADP is, and you probably know who the Marcus Buckingham company is. But we’re part of ADP, and we’re the part of ADP that helps organizations help employees do more of their own unique best work.
William Tincup: 01:14 And thrive. That’s awesome. So the emotional toll of feedback, a common myth or misconception is that feedback is a good thing, people want it all the time. I built out a small model, kind of a dumb model, quite frankly, 20 years ago, of a two-by-two kind of the BCG kind of model of feedback. On one axis, it was positive and negative. On the other axis, it was solicited and unsolicited. And in that little simple framework, I found myself only really actually caring about solicited feedback that was negative. Meaning if someone told me something positive, I didn’t really care. It’s going to sound odd to hear. When the audience hears that they’re going, what do you mean you don’t care? Yeah. If I did something well, I kind of know I did it well. I don’t need affirmation, I don’t need validation, I don’t need any of that stuff. I don’t thrive in that place. And other people do and that’s cool.
And unsolicited versus solicited, if I don’t, if I don’t respect you, I don’t really care about your opinion. So your feedback, it’s null and void on arrival if I didn’t ask you for it. So I’m one of these, and again, that kind of a false construct of it can only be this way or this way, but I would tell people that. And I remember telling people that, and I still do at conferences when I speak. When we talk about feedback, I talk to them about this model and I’m like, yeah. And then what’s funny is people are reluctant to come up and talk to me after the speech. I’m like-
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 03:00 Oh no, William’s going to, I don’t know what he’s going to do, but he doesn’t want my feedback.
William Tincup: 03:11 He doesn’t want my feedback. So when you’re looking at feedback, what are you looking at right now in saying to yourself, “Yeah, we need to kind of like tear this down and build this back up.”?
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 03:19 Yeah. And unfortunately, language and the words that we’ve used, are so tainted that I think we kind of need to reinvent the notion of how we provide each other, I’m going to say, reactions to what we experience in terms of how I experience you, or how I experience one of my direct reports, or my team leader, the person who I report to, or someone I work with from a project basis. And we kind of need to totally rethink that. And the word feedback in and of itself is so problematic. As a practitioner, as a talent practitioner, as an L and D practitioner, I used to teach people how to tell other people what they’re doing wrong. When we think of feedback, that’s what we think of. Even in the example that you just gave, for the most part we think of feedback. And we think leaders are supposed to give feedback, that’s what they’re supposed to do.
And if you think about the human component of that, William, most of us, and maybe you’re not most of us, but most of us… That might be an understatement, right? But most of us, I would rather do pretty much anything else than to either, A, tell somebody what they’re doing wrong. I’m from the Midwest. So I’m a little bit Midwest nice.
William Tincup: 04:38 It’s a good point, yes.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 04:40 Or, B, go ask somebody to have them tell me what I’m doing wrong. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to know that. I don’t want to hear that. Do I need to hear it sometimes? Okay, sure. But those times are actually pretty darn rare. Most of us have a pretty reasonable sense of where we’re doing great work and where we’re not doing great work, for example. So that whole notion of feedback, that number one, we’re supposed to want it and like, “Oh. Please give me feedback.”
And number two, that for some reason we’re supposed to want to give it. And you add on to that it’s supposed to help people. And, in general, none of those are true. It’s emotionally painful.
William Tincup: 05:20 I was talking to somebody earlier today and she’s pregnant, and she’s due at the end of May. And I told her, I said, “Kim, here’s the deal.” It’s her first child, her and her husband’s first child. I said, “You’re going to receive a lot of unsolicited parenting advice from pretty much everywhere. Like you’re going to be in line at the grocery store, someone’s going to see your baby and they’re going to feel compelled to give you parenting advice. You’re going to be at church, a soccer game, anywhere. Doesn’t matter. It’s going to come from friends, family, in every direction, and you just got to have to learn to shake your head and go, ‘Yeah, yeah. Totally get it. Yeah, absolutely,’ and then disregard it immediately.” And she started laughing. She goes, “It’s already started to happen.” I’m like, yeah.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 06:06 Of course. And the same thing’s true at work. Right? The same things [inaudible 00:06:10] in the context of work. And because each of us are unique human beings, how I perceive something that you might do might be totally different than how someone that you talked to yesterday, for example. And who’s to say who’s right or wrong, or whose reaction or experience with you is correct or not correct? They’re just different. So we’ve kind of created this false narrative around feedback, us getting it, us giving it, that it helps. And this is not a new thing, by the way. There’s a study, some research from these two people, Kluger and DeNisi, who did this meta-analysis back in 1996. It was a long time ago. And I quote this frequently because it’s so powerful.
They found that the modal impact of feedback on performance is none. Now this is academic, I mean it’s a meta-analysis of academic research, so you could say, well, that doesn’t really reflect the real world of work. But just think about most of us listening to this, our own personal experiences, and what happens when someone gives us feedback, the kind of conventional feedback, is I go, “Well, no. Somebody told you wrong or it’s hearsay.” Or, “You must have been having a bad day, it wasn’t me who did that.” Or I get angry or I blame it… And the research shows this, I’m not making this up. Even our own personal experiences reflect this, or I say, it’s your fault, not my fault. You aren’t defining the competency correctly, or whatever it might happen to be.
So when we think about feedback at work, we are working off of a fundamentally flawed premise that A, people want feedback; B, people are capable of giving somehow good/constructive feedback; and that, C, it actually makes a difference, a positive difference. In fact, again, the research would show it’s absolutely the opposite. It has a negative impact. And if we’re lucky it will have a null impact, it’ll at least be neutral, but that’s usually not the case.
William Tincup: 08:14 It’s interesting because it’s so different than recognition. Like recognition, saying thank you, and being intentional about being thankful about someone doing something really well and being specific about how they’re doing something well. I think everyone likes that. I think everyone likes to kind of hear those things in ways that… Especially when it’s really specific, it’s highly personalized, and it comes from a really good place. I don’t know if feedback comes from a good place.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 08:50 No. I don’t think it does at all. Which can be-
William Tincup: 08:55 There’s a darkness to feedback.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 08:58 Well, and whether we’ve intended it to be, we say constructive feedback or even positive feedback, it doesn’t matter. I think we just need to stop that myth feedback, in virtually all contexts, is not a helpful, constructive, forward-looking thing. Again, not to say that sometimes it isn’t necessary. Absolutely.
William Tincup: 09:19 Oh, 100%. No, there’s-
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 09:22 Please let’s not make it the norm.
William Tincup: 09:24 Well, and again, it’s as you said, situational. It’s by the person it’s by the what they need at that particular moment.
And this is what’s interesting. I think I was 36 when I finally realized this. You can’t change people fundamentally. You can want them to change, but you can’t change people. So if someone’s got an addiction problem, or an eating problem, or whatever the problem is, you can be supportive, you can whatever, but until they’re ready to change you can’t do anything other than talk, and you’re really kind of wasting your time. Not to say that you shouldn’t, but you’re really wasting your time until they’re ready.
At the moment that they’re ready, and again with any of those things, when they’re ready feedback plays through this. When they’re ready to get better, that’s the moment. That’s the moment you should do all the things you could do to help them get better, in whatever context.
So at work, when someone is just kind of… They’ve hit a wall, whatever it is, whatever the bit is, they’ve hit a wall and they’re like, “Ah, God, I’ve hit a wall.” Like, “Hey, can you help me out with-?” Yes, yes I can.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 10:37 It’s such a beautiful doorway for us as coworkers, as leaders, as even team members. It’s such a beautiful doorway for curiosity to go, “What’s happening here?” Because, again, we make assumptions of what’s happening. We make like, “Oh, this person doesn’t like me.” Or, “This person doesn’t have the skills,” or who knows what it is? But we make up those stories rather than asking whoever it might be, “Hey, what’s happening in your world? Is there anything I can do to help?”
And Marcus, in his book, The Nine Lies About Work, one of the most brilliant things that I’ve taken away and used every single day… Marcus Buckingham, founder of the Marcus Buckingham Company and head of the ADP research Institute. But he said it’s about reaction. Rather than feedback, it’s about using the language as, “Oh, I listened to this podcast that you did, Amy, and my reaction to that was X, Y, Z.” Because you’re taking ownership as an individual of how you react and you’re not projecting it on a person. You’re not saying somebody did it wrong. And your reaction is unique to you. It’s such a powerful-
William Tincup: 11:46 It changes the power dynamic and again, I love the way that you brought this to bear. It’s like, I’m not projecting. And, intentions aside, so much of feedback is what you’re going through, not necessarily what they need. And so I like the way that you’ve kind of wrapped this up and said, no. My reaction to this is my… You started with the pronoun. Here’s what I see. You know what I felt, what I thought, what I’m going through. Now, what are you going through?
Now you’re both in a vulnerable place where, again, if the person is open, then you both have windows into helping each other. But unless there’s an openness and vulnerability, the feedback’s just noise. It probably even is worse than noise, it’s actually probably deteriorating. And I think that’s the part that you and I love about the emotional toll is you think you’re doing the right thing, audience, when you’re giving people feedback. And you’re actually rendering that person and hurting that person. Not intentionally, of course, but you’re setting that person back. Because now it’s in their head about your feedback. Right or wrong, it’s in their head. And again, there’s appropriate times, and we’re not talking about that stuff. We’re just talking about this feeling and myth that we have to do constant feedback.
Let’s give them hourly feedback. Let’s give them daily feedback. After every call, let’s do a feedback loop. Or, let’s not.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 13:29 One of the things I hear often when I’m talking with practitioners is like, “Oh, we do an annual performance review. And since that’s not working very well, we’re going to do four reviews a year, four conversations a year.” I’m like, “Now you’re just telling me I’m going to do the thing that I know doesn’t work.” And the data’s a whole separate conversation, about bad data, and that’s a whole different thing. But even just from the conversation perspective, I’m going to do this one thing that I absolutely hate, and that I know you hate, now you’re going to make me do it four times a year? Yeah. But it’s not a performance review conversation, it’s a development conversation. No. Uh-uh.
William Tincup: 14:06 No. Not to the person that’s receiving it. Not to them.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 14:11 No. You’re right. And so I think one of the questions on the table, or hopefully one of the questions on the table, so what the heck do we do? Because we’ve created these systems, and approaches, and learning programs, and everything from a HR talent perspective has been so wrapped around this notion of feedback. Which is why I think if we circle back to the beginning, and talking about the word in and of itself, we shouldn’t mention it. We need to use a different word. And if we assume, however, you want to define it on paper, that feedback is this thing where I’m telling you what you’re doing wrong, we need to stop using the word feedback and we need to banish it from our lexicon in the world of work. Because even if we define it differently on paper, it’s stuck. It’s there.
William Tincup: 14:59 Well, and everyone needs something different out of it. For whatever reason, I’ve fallen in love with the word intentionality. I’ll have to kind of figure that out and why I’ve fallen in love with that word. But I like the idea of actually being purposeful in thinking about the other person and what they need. And not what I need to tell them, but what they need. So being intentional with that particular person, finding out, listening, asking probative questions, finding out what they need, and then reacting to that in a way that’s intentional, and purposeful, and thoughtful, quite frankly. And, in my opinion, I don’t think that feedback is either of those things.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 15:42 No, it’s not. You said something else, William, that I think is important to note and call out that we probably haven’t paid enough attention to, particularly in the world of talent in HR, is you talked about the power dynamic. And that notion of feedback, again, of telling someone they’re doing something wrong, not let alone asking somebody what you’re doing wrong. I mean, come on. But it creates this power dynamic that is quite frankly, inappropriate in the world of humans. It’s demeaning, it’s inappropriate, it’s counterproductive. And, you’re right. When you have a conversation with somebody, that’s a whole different thing. It’s collaborative, it’s not one person hierarchically above another. Again, org charts are probably a great topic for another conversation, but it’s a collaborative conversation between each other and going, “Hey, how can I help?”
I mean, in our world we teach team leaders. We call team leaders anyone who provides support, guidance, and direction to someone else inside of an organization, whether they show up on an org chart or not. We teach team leaders how to ask three super simple questions. Frequency is key, by the way. It’s not quarterly, it’s not annually it’s like once a week, super light touch. It’s, “What are your priorities this week? How are you feeling about work?” And, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
William Tincup: 17:03 Yeah. “Got any barriers that I can help you overcome?” I love that framework. It’s interesting because I’m starting to kind of think about feedback as the way it’s been marketed as a buildup. And what feedback really is a Trojan horse of tear down. So I’ve marketed it through years, we’ve marketed it to the audience as, “Oh, this is a way to build people up. We’re going to make you better because we’re going to give you feedback.” But really what it’s doing is it’s tearing people down. Death by a thousand cuts, right? So it’s just tearing and eating at people, and none of it’s necessary. And oh, by the way, to your point very early on, it doesn’t move the needle. So why are you doing it?
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 17:50 It’s a really good question. And why are we investing in programs, and courses, and documentation, and pamphlets, and books around the topic? And helping people think that somehow telling others what they’re doing wrong, that doing that most of the time is helpful. And we need to flip that upside down. We totally need to flip that upside down. And you those of you who know Marcus and his work know that we take a very strengths-based approach. And not strengths from a… I’m an HR person but I’m also an engineer, so I’m very non fluffy. But not woo woo, but your own unique, best contribution in the organization. How do you do that? So taking that feedback thing, turning it upside down and going, “William, I see you for your best of you. First and foremost, I see you for the best of you. Yes, I see all the other things too. I see you for all of you.”
But I’m going to start from the perspective of you have unique gifts and talents – we would call them strengths – to give to the organization, to your coworkers, to your colleagues, to your community. Let’s start there first and let’s amplify that. And then if we have that feedback thing over on the side, sometimes that, of course it has to happen. But what we find, this is real people doing real work in the real world, by the way. But what we find is when you start from that place of, oh my gosh, look at all the cool stuff that you can do. And, by the way, you’re actually a grown up. How about that? At work, are you kidding me?
You’re actually a grownup, so when we treat each other and see each other as super-smart grownups… And it doesn’t matter where you sit in your organizational hierarchy. We’re talking about in the context of work, but I’m sure we could translate that into pretty much every context of our lives. But when I see you first and foremost, and I go, “Oh my gosh, that’s so interesting. Tell me more about that. I want to know how did you…?”
We were just talking about this before we started recording. Like, “Oh my gosh, how did that happen? And you’ve been in this world for such a long time and how can you still be curious?” And I want to have that conversation with your coworkers, with your direct reports, with your boss, and you will be completely amazed and transformed around what they have to bring to the table, how they can contribute to the organization. And as the recipient of that kind of a conversation, that kind of an interaction, oh my gosh, like it’s, “What? You think I’m special? You see this little piece of me that no one else has bothered to even ask about? And you see me for that, and you recognize me for that?”
And, by the way, even if it’s not recognition, that specific thing, to know that I’m simply appreciated is-
William Tincup: 20:38 Yes. That’s why feedback and appreciation, or praise, or recognition, however we want to call that, is so vastly different. I love how you attacked performance management on an annual, quarterly… Let’s take a failed bit and then do it more frequently. When people talk to me about that, I’m like, “Okay. Well, that’s cool. I’ve been married for 28 years. So let’s just take that into your personal life for just a moment. Let’s just do that bit. Talk to your spouse quarterly.”
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 21:09 Yeah. No. Or your children, or your best friend or your…
William Tincup: 21:16 Exactly. Does that work in any other facet of your life? No, it doesn’t. Okay. So it won’t work at work, either. So it’s a failed bit, what I call a failed bit, but let’s do a failed bit more frequently. Amy, I got to go. You got to go. I appreciate your time and wisdom and we’ll schedule the next podcast.
Amy Leschke-Kah…: 21:37 I can’t wait for that. We need to do this more often. It was super fun as always, William. Thank you so much for having me.
William Tincup: 21:42 Absolutely. And thanks everyone for listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Until next time.
Music: 21:48 You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live podcast by Recruiting Daily. Check out the latest industry podcasts, webinars, articles, and news at Recruit…
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.