What is corrective feedback? Why does the Netflix CEO so strongly believe in corrective feedback?
Corrective feedback is a type of ongoing feedback aimed at improving an employee’s performance over time. When done incorrectly, corrective feedback can cause frustration and awkwardness. But, when done properly, it can raise employee performance.
Here are Netflix’s guidelines for implementing corrective feedback in the workplace.
Corrective Feedback Is Difficult But Valuable
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says that in most workplaces and social settings, people typically refrain from giving critical and constructive feedback because they want to avoid conflict. People also aren’t receptive to corrective feedback because it tends to make them feel vulnerable, doubt themselves, or become frustrated.
(Shortform note: Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio says that this feeling of vulnerability and frustration comes from your ego, which he describes as your underlying desire to be capable, to be seen by other people as capable, and to be praised. Your ego leads you to react to negative feedback emotionally, rather than rationally.)
So, what is corrective feedback and why is it beneficial? Even though it may lead to discomfort, Hastings argues that corrective feedback done constructively has a number of benefits, such as preventing misunderstandings, increasing the pace of work progress, and reducing office politics. Ultimately, corrective feedback raises performance levels and provides the opportunity to produce a better outcome because it creates a process of constant learning and improvement.
(Shortform note: One way to minimize the discomfort that comes from corrective feedback and merely enjoy its benefits is to normalize failure. In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull writes that Pixar views failure as a normal part of a highly innovative environment. To remove the stigma of failure, Catmull says you should admit your own errors and explain what you learned from them. He does caution that you should watch out for employees’ consistent failure, because this means that they’re not learning from their mistakes.)
However, even if everyone agrees on the value of candor, well-intended feedback can still be poorly received and create counterproductive tension and resentment. To avoid this and develop a culture of candor, Hastings offers the following guidelines:
1) Let Employees Give the Boss Feedback
Hastings writes that the higher your position in an organization, the less feedback you typically receive because colleagues are less likely to question an executive than a mid-level employee. However, feedback is especially crucial at the management level because the consequences of a manager’s error are typically greater than a junior employee’s mistake—the junior employee may flub a single project, while the manager could steer the company into a bad business deal. Leaders need their staff to let them know when they’re veering in the wrong direction.
(Shortform note: As Hastings says, it’s important for managers to receive feedback. However, employees normally don’t speak up because they’re afraid of offending their bosses or hurting their careers. Manage their fear by providing a psychologically safe environment. You can start by consistently engaging with your team in an authentic way by having honest conversations with them and giving them genuine praise for their accomplishments.)
To show that you’re open to receiving feedback and to make it less intimidating for employees to critique you, Hastings says you should include “feedback” as an agenda item in one-on-one meetings. You should also respond to feedback in an open, appreciative way.
(Shortform note: Even if you give your employees permission to offer feedback, they may feel unsure of actually doing so. Encourage them by asking for specific feedback. Rather than vaguely asking them if they have any feedback, ask them about particular points for improvement, such as how you can become a better manager or what you can do to streamline a process.)
2) Teach Employees How to Give and Receive Feedback
Even well-intended, constructive criticism can make the recipient feel hurt and defensive, so it helps to have parameters. Hastings developed the following guidelines:
Make It Helpful
The goal of giving feedback should be to help the individual, team, or company improve—not to hurt the recipient, vent, or advance your own agenda. (Shortform note: Helpful feedback isn’t always about points for improvement. In fact, experts recommend that you give positive feedback more frequently so that employees will be more receptive to negative feedback.)
Make It Concrete
Corrective feedback should focus on how someone can improve, not what she’s doing wrong. (Shortform note: Some argue that corrective feedback isn’t helpful at all and that you should instead focus on what employees are doing well.)
When receiving feedback, Hastings warns, fight the urge to be defensive or to give an excuse. Show the person you appreciate her candor and helpful intention by listening and considering the advice with an open mind. (Shortform note: One way to remain open to feedback is to make sure you’re separating the actual feedback from the messenger. You might be tempted to discount valid feedback just because of the person who’s giving it, if you dislike that person.)
Reflect and Act
You don’t have to follow all feedback—as long as you consider it. When someone gives you feedback, thank her, consider her message, and decide whether or not to use it. (Shortform note: If you disagree with the feedback, take time to reflect on it then discuss your disagreement with the other person, working together to determine how you can move forward.)
Managers should also coach employees on how to give feedback and monitor their feedback delivery. Ultimately, Hastings says, candid feedback should be delivered in a way that makes the recipient feel positive and motivated, not discouraged and unproductive. (Shortform note: While feedback should be motivating, you should avoid using the “feedback sandwich”—giving positive feedback, followed by negative feedback, then ending with more positive feedback. This method may send mixed messages and undermine the negative feedback.)
3) Give Feedback Anywhere, Anytime
People often want to wait until the right moment to give constructive criticism to avoid embarrassing or upsetting the recipient. But if you wait to give feedback, you may be robbing the person of the opportunity to use your critique and correct the issue. For this reason, Hastings says that Netflix encourages employees to give feedback anywhere, anytime—even if it’s in the middle of a meeting. With a culture of candor and a staff of people who know how to give and receive constructive criticism, a public critique that could be considered disruptive in another setting becomes a corrective lifesaver.
(Shortform note: Netflix employees can give feedback in the middle of a meeting, but some experts argue that not all feedback should be given in public, saying it’s best to give private feedback in two instances: First, when other team members aren’t affected; and second, when you want to coach the employee after he receives feedback from others. You should also remind employees to give only essential feedback during meetings. Otherwise, you risk wasting time on inconsequential matters, which was one of the criticisms against Bridgewater’s similar culture of extreme openness and feedback-giving.)
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