Charles Seashore in his book, “The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback,” suggests that offering one’s opinion is the ‘second most necessary ingredient for human life.” He further states that giving feedback and proffering one’s own views on something is tantamount to lack of air (3 minutes), thirst (3 days), and hunger (3 weeks).
Humans give unsolicited feedback in less than 3 hours
Seashore posits that humans will only exhaust upwards to three hours without venturing to give our suggestions, responses or critiques to family, friends, co-workers and subordinates. Maybe even strangers!
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Giving and receiving feedback during personal exchanges
In personal exchanges, we don’t even realize it. We are always opining about something. Research published in PLOS One Journal (Public Library of Science) suggests that outside of the regular work environment we critique to:
- Offer mentorship and support when parenting
- Resolve conflicts in intimate relationships
- Motivate positive changes in behavior during educational programming
Giving professional feedback paramount in work scenarios
Giving and receiving actionable feedback is paramount in the work environment too. Critical Values in Oxford Academic touts effective feedback as a “critical component of productive workplace environments.” Feedback in a working environment has these features:
- Tool for assessing work performance
- Roadmap for developing employee improvement plans
- Information for employee self-reflection
- Inducement and motivation for improved performance
- Data for the analysis of organizational learning gaps
- Information for organizational improvements
In fact, until just recently, the foundational underpinning of employee feedback was. Wait for it. Direct observation. Now that upwards of 30 to 40% of the workforce is working from their home office, one can imagine just how difficult the challenge of giving, receiving and acting upon constructive feedback in remote work settings.
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Underpinnings of traditional work-related feedback
Not all forms of feedback occur in a formal, official performance review setting. Even those involving work. In its broadest form, a direct observation occurs when we focus on pre-identified expectations, astutely observe the behaviors that we see, the implementation with fidelity of procedural tasks and then offering feedback related to the behaviors and actions we observed.
A manager or supervisor employs feedback by:
- Collecting information through observations on past behavior
- Delivering feedback to the subordinate employee in the present time, with the anticipation of
- Influencing future performance and behaviors
Even in the most ideal settings and scenarios, work-related feedback isn’t often well received. Why did we bring up this tidbit of information? It turns out that work related feedback oftentimes does not result in the outcomes desired: a positive change in work performance.
Not all work related feedback given is accepted by employees
Research psychologists and organizational behavioralist understand the variability of feedback and its less than stellar impact on work performance. In Kluger and DeNisi’s study, they found negligible impact of performance, virtually none to be exact.
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It isn’t until employees accept the performance evaluation of their superior and believed internally that they needed to improve their work performance, would they become motivated to change their behavior.
- Arguing and disputing against managerial observations
- Lowering their goals for risk reduction of job loss
- Decreasing their commitment to their current employer
- Reinterpreting the feedback in a more favorable light, and
- Repairing their self-esteem internally
Communicating feedback to remote workers can be time consuming
Recognizing the challenges of delivering effective feedback, we turn to another peer-reviewed journal. In Computers in Human Behavior, it was found that communicative exchanges increased between and among distributed workers working flexibility at home, hybrid or in a remote work setting. However, as messages between colleagues and supervisors increased, it took longer to craft, send, read, view, and/or reply to communication received.
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The benefits of remote work are often too numerous to mention. Many positive features of working from home were recorded in the study. A study respondent while waxing about the positive aspects of working from home still yearned from in person engagement. He noted the absence of collegial exchanges shared in one-on-one and group in-person breaks, random and spontaneous meetings occurring by chance in the hallways, elevators, parking garage, employee breakroom and by the water cooler.
Here are his thoughts:
“R99 [Respondent #99]: This is a good collegial experience. The spirit of the organization seems to be closer and more relaxed than in the so-called normal times. We are helping friends out and supporting each other’s competences. The channels to communicate have narrowed down now when casual encounters are missing. […] In a community of experts, it is usually possible to get feedback and boost one’s ideas and actions constantly; one can ask for advice casually and hear news in the coffee room. Now, it is up to one’s own initiative to seek information and contacts; spontaneous interaction hardly exists, and that is a clear shortcoming.”
Employers seek to find ways to offer feedback using less formal techniques
There’s research to bear this out. Nurmi and Hinds discovered that even an occasional meeting with colleagues fact-to-face can have the positive effect such as increased job satisfaction. As frontline workers have tended to excel when frequent face-to-face and side-by-side cubicle interactions are emphasized, many employers require supervisors, managers and remote teams leads to:
- Maintain high levels of interaction with employees regardless of national borders
- Work after hours considering time zone differences
- Make routine and pre-scheduled site visits
As you can see, managerial reliance upon traditional forms of giving and receiving formal feedback through antiquated personnel performance reviews has its challenges. And may be more problematic with the adoption of remote, hybrid and flexible working arrangements.
Trends in work feedback on performance given relationally
What seems to become ever more critical is the interdependent collaboration and interaction among distributed workers and their virtual team leads. Thusly, more attention has been given to relational communication. Oxford dictionary defines relational communication as interpersonal communication centered round relationships. The primary focus then, is on the bonds between communicators. This is in contrast to the emphasis on task-oriented or role oriented communication.
This trend toward relational communication seems to support the gut instincts of Respondent #99, quoted earlier.
As remote workers working from home and digital nomads working from anywhere, we may be less inclined to respond as expected to formalized performance feedback. Instead we are agile enough to “proactively make changes in how [we] work,” rather than wait for formal evaluations on past performance and observational feedback down the road. Please see Frese & Fay (2001) and Grant & Ashford (2008) for additional reference. Further research by Grant & Parker (2009), contend that astute employers of fully autonomous and distributed workers “rely heavily on employees to adapt to and introduce changes in the nature of work and the methods used to carry it out.”
Because antiquated systems of providing formalized feedback in a distributed working system where workers are located anywhere in the world may not lend itself to an abundance of opportunities to provide continual one-to-one, face-to-face support, feedback and supervisory guidance (Golden & Veiga, 2008).