Coaching Letter #77

Hi, I hope your week is off to a good start. I am writing this on Sunday afternoon at PAX East. Last year my kids wanted me to stick with them, but this year they don’t care, so I brought my computer and am enjoying watching the rain move over the Boston skyline and drinking the remarkably good coffee.

This Coaching Letter is about feedback, again. It is a follow on from earlier Coaching Letters that drew to your attention to the article in the March-April issue of the Harvard Business Review called “The Feedback Fallacy,” The example of “radical transparency” at Bridgewater Associates cited in the first paragraph is described in great detail in a book by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, An everyone culture: Becoming a deliberately developmental organization. I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that Kegan & Lahey see feedback as an unalloyed good, but it certainly cleaves to the fundamental assumption that feedback is what helps you get better—which is not my fundamental assumption. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

The description of how feedback is handled at Bridgewater is pretty amazing–certainly a drastic departure from anything I’ve ever experienced. Worth reading. And/or you can watch Ray Dalio giving a TED Talk on radical transparency and algorithmic decision-making. (This is a great TED talk because Dalio is so articulate about how feedback and decision-making tie together. But he also has a great story about failure that I love—I think failure can be a powerful force for good—see Coaching Letter #36.) Check out the feedback mechanism starting around 9:00. OMG. But he also, towards the end, gives a nuanced analysis of why the giving and receiving of feedback is problematic that is worth paying attention to.

There is also an Adam Grant podcast about radical transparency that’s a great listen. (I’ve linked to the TED website, but you can also find WorkLife on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. Adam Grant is all over the place these days—here’s my favorite TED video of him, the subject of a future Coaching Letter…)

What really compelled me to revisit the topic of feedback is that the feedback practices at Bridgewater are discussed in The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth, by Amy Edmondson. This is our current Reading for Leading book selection (tweet and follow us at #CCSCFearless). There’s a really interesting discussion of the pros and cons of the Bridgewater method in the book that made me think differently about what they do…

Finally, a common refrain of mine is that we have much better literature on feedback for students than we have for adults. John Hattie and Shirley Clarke published Visible learning: Feedback last year. I just started reading it this weekend, but I can already tell you that it’s a must-read for educators—but try reading it through the lens of a leader, supervisor, or coach, and not just as something else that teachers need to be able to do. The bottom line is that I still hear leaders and coaches talk about feedback as something that they are entitled and expected to give, both because they think it’s their role, and because they think that they know better than the person they’re giving feedback to. And neither of those assumptions is automatically true, and we need to give more thought to that, and we also need a more nuanced understanding of how feedback works.

More on feedback coming soon… In the meantime, if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. Yours, Isobel

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