How to Knock a Box off a Stool with a Cookie
In a recent workshop, I invited a participant to knock a small box off a stool using a cookie. She stood with her back to the stool and tossed the cookie over her shoulder – without looking. (The cookie was wrapped.)
The audience was instructed to remain silent. The first toss hit the ceiling and dropped about two feet behind her.
Her second attempt flew about half way to the stool. But she couldn’t see where it fell.
I asked the audience to give her feedback. Someone in the second row said, “Throw it harder.” Another said, “Hold your hand a little higher.”
I stopped the process and said, “That’s not feedback. That’s instruction. Let’s try again.”
Another participant said, “You were about half way to the target.” I asked her to try again.
The cookie fell short by about a foot. “Give her feedback.”
“Your line is perfect,” someone said. Another responded, “You were about a foot short and too low.”
On her fifth try, she knocked the box off the stool. Everyone exploded with applause.
“Did you feel judged by the feedback?” I asked. “No,” she smiled.
I asked her, “How did you feel?” She said, “It was exciting.”
Feedback – done well – energizes performance. Done poorly, it sucks the life out of people.
- Feedback is simply noticing behaviors, impact, or results as compared to known standards or expectations.
- No one improves until they receive feedback, even if the feedback is the sound of a cookie hitting the ceiling.
- Successfully knocking the box off the stool is a random accident apart from feedback.
- Give high performers freedom to adapt. Give novices or low performers feedback and instruction.
- Feedback should energize people, even if it might sting at first. People want to succeed.
What mistakes have you seen when it comes to giving feedback?
What does good feedback look like from your perspective?
Excellent example of how to give feedback! Demonstrates the line between feedback and instructions. Instructions don’t provide the opportunity for the employee to grow and learn. Feedback does. I like the non-judgmental approach in the example. Judgment inhibits growth. Really liked this post!
Thanks Daryl. Feedback might sting because we don’t intentionally do things wrong. But pointing out a behavior or result doesn’t have to be the same as judging the person.
Thanks for this! I recently found myself giving feedback to an employee. I was pretty nervous at first because the feedback had to do with how this employee seemed to negatively rub off on others. I felt the need to address it because he is motivated to grow and we are a small organization- relationships matter. Turns out, he is self-aware and motivated to grow. He took it as feedback and although it hurt he received direction on how to grow in that area.
Thanks Joe. Your comment highlights the key idea of aspiration. Leaders who are committed to help team members succeed and motivated team members enjoy learning how to better achieve their goals and fulfill their values. Congratulations for bringing up an awkward subject.
It would be pretty unusual for someone to WANT to fail. We should assume that people want to succeed. The other important concept is shared aspiration. Do your aspirations for a team member align with their aspirations for them self.
This is the best illustration of feedback versus instruction that I have ever seen. I am bookmarking it…Thank you!
Thanks Jenny. Best wishes.
Great illustration of effective feedback, Dan! Note that the cookie thrower had an objective she couldn’t achieve without feedback, so she was engaged and interested. Those providing objective, non-judgmental feedback had a helpful perspective that she did not have. I think the attitudes of those giving and receiving feedback are critical. Providing feedback to someone who doesn’t care is like throwing pearls before swine. And even those needing and desiring assistance might very well reject condescending, judgmental, or self-serving feedback. All the best.
Thanks Paul. A little humility goes a long way to opening another person’s heart. I’m glad you brought up attitude. It’s helpful to know that we can do the right thing in the wrong way and end up shooting ourselves and/or others in the foot.
Wow, what a great example! Thanks for sharing.
I put up a simple Checklist around designing good performance feedback, accessible free through this blog. The BEST feedback comes from self-review and reflection, when the goals are all framed positively. There are simply so many LITTLE things you can do to improve performance.
Oh, Dan, this was lovely and perfectly timed! In prep for a performance appraisal, I just read up on feedback – HBR article in March/April issue called “The Feedback Fallacy” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. When we notice our team member’s behaviors and we honestly care about that person’s success and development, and we take it a step further by stating what we see, how it makes us feel, and why it matters, everyone wins. Criticism gets us nowhere fast.
This is true at home, too!!
What mistakes have you seen when it comes to giving feedback? Having a one shoe fits all approach to feedback.
Oddly enough, last week I stumbled across an article entitled “Performance Reviews that Energize”. In this article the authors make an argument for focusing on feedback during a performance review rather than following a checklist and verbalizing scores. The idea is to mention the employee’s strengths but not to forget their weaknesses. I think the way you explain noticing behaviors is perfect, as the audience in your example would tell the participant how close she was to achieving her goal, and then telling her how far she was from achieving her goal. It is an invigorating tactic that I can see being very useful, as long as it is sincere.