August 16, 2017

Could Timely Feedback be the Seed of Professional Growth?

By Pamela Ashby | 16 August 2017

What happens when you take Agile principles and apply them to developing human potential as well as developing products?

In a competitive market, organisations make recruitment choices based on what an individual could become, not just what they know. Work is no longer just about rewarding a fixed set of services. In collaborative and empowered environments, the workplace becomes a place where people can explore, innovate, and extend their capability.

Within an Agile culture, it’s ok to ‘fail’. New products are tested frequently throughout development, and evolve based on regular and frequent feedback. Research from Dr. Robert Kegan, Professor of Professional Development at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education* encourages us to use the same principles to build on human potential, so that organisations and individuals can learn faster.

Feast on your weaknesses or starve on your ego,” says Bryan Ungard of Decurion – an organisation committed to building learning communities, and whose ethos includes both profitability and human development as part of a single whole.

Timely feedback is critical to any Agile development. When it comes to our own development and progression, feedback is a very powerful but underutilised tool. Robert Kegan describes feedback as ‘conversations that help people improve’ and suggests that in many organisations such dialogues are infrequent and often ineffective.

The human brain is built to detect errors – noticing variance is a part of our survival mechanism. So we tend to point out what people are doing wrong first, and it’s easy for people to take this personally. Receiving feedback can attack a professional’s sense of status and their autonomy, although it may equally enhance feelings of status for the giver of the feedback.

Asking for feedback

The NeuroLeadership Institute is currently researching this area. Amongst their recommendations is one simple change to improve the impact of feedback – rather than wait for feedback to be given, we should ask for it. By asking for feedback regularly as a part of our working lives, we invite our peers and our managers to collaborate in our development. This keeps us in control, protecting our status and our autonomy. We can ask a few different people for feedback, which helps to filter out any bias, and regulate the flow of feedback to match what can be absorbed at any time.

Kegan points to the talent and productivity that’s lost in organisational cultures where it’s not ‘ok’ to fail. Cultures where a massive amount of resource is used up by people trying to work around or hide their weaknesses. In an Agile culture, people should feel able to acknowledge their weaknesses and work to improve them – as part of an iterative, collaborative development effort.

Just consider – is work a place where you go to ‘perform’ with the goal being perfection, or is work where you go to ‘practise’ and grow.