5 Zebra Finches on a branch


Take full advantage of our natural capacity to learn and develop performance behavior

I recently interviewed a number of leaders concerning Feedback in the context of performance leadership.

While healthy feedback is considered a cornerstone for performance culture, almost all confess to not making a conscious effort to get there.

Typical barriers – apart from the bad excuse of “not having the time” – are

1) not feeling comfortable telling another person how they are behaving and performing,

2) fearing the reaction of an employee who may disagree with the input,

3) thinking it is not that important, addressing small everyday things, and

4) simply not knowing precisely what to say and how to say it

Feedback is often seen as being ”evaluative statements”, or “opinions”.

But Feedback is way more than that! It is a natural mechanism that makes everything work – either by maintaining balance, or by amplifying what works and unfolding this potential.

For example, birds. Zebra finches also need to perform. In an article in Science(1) it is described how these birds develop their singing (in order to attract a mate, for instance) – a life or death performance endeavor. In a constant trial-and-error approach, they are evaluating their own song performance against internal performance goals. When the song notes are good, the brain releases a dose of feel-good dopamine; this is the natural reward system, a neural mechanism of performance evaluation that helps zebra finches – and humans – learn.

Imagine how natural performance in your team will increase, the more you are able to activate this natural feedback system…The beauty, as well as the potential, of interacting in a way that will support the natural loops, is awesome:

When you offer someone effective feedback on their specific behavior (was that tone just right, or a bit off?) you help their brain integrate information and amplify what already works. Feedback, when well-formed, is a gift – it helps unleash your performance potential and be the best you can be.

It is not just about delivering a message – although that in itself may at times feel challenging. It is fundamentally about giving high-quality input to another person in a way that allows them to truly integrate it and (feel motivated to) adjust their own behavior as a result of it.

Think of it this way: the person you interact with is already (mainly outside of awareness) feeding back to himself whenever there is something to learn, any reason to self-adjust and update. Sometimes, you see or hear behavior or performance (effects of behavior) that he is not aware of, or cannot take in/integrate; so, you can expand his awareness and willingness and herewith, his opportunities to tap even deeper into his own potential for learning and development.

When you offer effective feedback, you are simply reinforcing and amplifying what is already working, and you are indeed building high performance, quite naturally.

Knowing this, do you already feel more comfortable giving input to another person about their behavior and performance? Do you see how addressing small everyday things will contribute to raising overall performance levels?

If so – who now deserves your attention and effective feedback?

(1): Science, Dec. 2016: “Dopamine neurons encode performance error in singing birds”, V. Gadgkar et al.