Exceptional Agile performance is a blend of process, practice and people. The way people use the practices and concepts around Agile determines what happens. This means that to create an environment where exceptional performance thrives we need to be growing the ‘exceptional’ in our people and that requires feedback.

 The problem is that we don’t do feedback particularly well. It often comes into the Agile Leadership and Flow workshop that I run simply because people are scared of giving feedback and nobody enjoys the experience. When I am coaching people who are preparing to give or create feedback environments, I find myself asking them the question, why ? What is your intended outcome?

The answer tends to be to quite scary – for the most part we bring in feedback when we want to correct someone and stop a behavior. Which doesn’t land very well and doesn’t create the intended change.

This article in the Harvard Business Review talks about that and more.

Do we do we give feedback to correct people so that they do what we think is right or are we doing it to create stronger people with higher performance? Your answer will determine how you give feedback and the outcome that you create because it turns out that telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel.

Telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders learning.

There are three assumptions that we use that determine how we think about feedback and change .

  • The source of truth – that we are unable to know what we are bad at and this is what collegues need to tell us, so we can improve. If they don’t we will never know
  • Our theory of learning – that we lack certain abilities that we require and that our collegues are obliged to teach these to us
  • Our theory of excellence – all great performance is universal and can be codified and so transferred to everyone. So with feedback about what excellence looks like you are able to understand how you are falling short and strive to remedy your shortcomings

The bad news is that it doesn’t work and the article explains why. I enjoyed the re-framing of learning and excellence as it spoke to me personally and is how I engage with the world.

Learning looks a lot like building, little by little, on the unique patterns already there.

Which in turn means learning has to start by finding and understanding those patterns—your patterns, not someone else’s

Excellence is impossible to define, and yet getting there, for each of us, is relatively easy.

Excellence is idiosyncratic.

Excellence seems to be inextricably and wonderfully intertwined with whoever demonstrates it. Each person’s version of it is uniquely shaped and is an expression of that person’s individuality. Which means that, for each of us, excellence is easy, in that it is a natural, fluid, and intelligent expression of our best extremes. It can be cultivated, but it’s unforced.

Excellence is also not the opposite of failure. But in virtually all aspects of human endeavor, people assume that it is and that if they study what leads to pathological functioning and do the reverse—or replace what they found missing—they can create optimal functioning.

What connected for you?

How are you using feedback to create exceptional agile performance ?