Loved this from Daniel Coyle’s “The Culture Code” on feedback and creating a safe place to give effort.

One misconception about highly successful cultures is that they are happy, lighthearted places.  This is mostly not the case.  They are energized and engaged, but at their core their members are oriented less around achieving happiness than around solving problems together.  This task involves many moments of high-candor feedback, uncomfortable truth-telling, when they confront the gap between where the group is, and where it ought to be.  Larry Page created one of these moments when he posted his “These ads suck” note in the Google kitchen.  Popovich delivers such feedback to his players every day, usually at high volume.  But how do Popovich and other leaders manage to give tough, truthful feedback without causing side effects of dissent and disappointment?  What is the best feedback made of?

A few years back a team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale and Columbia had middle school students write an essay, after which teachers provided different kinds of feedback.  Researchers discovered that one particular form of feedback boosted student effort and performance so immensely that they deemed it “magical feedback.”  Students who received it chose to revise their papers far more often than students who did not, and their performance improved significantly.  The feedback was not complicated.  In fact, it consisted of one simple phrase.

I’m giving you this comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.

That’s it.  Just nineteen words.  None of these words contain any information on how to improve.  Yet they are powerful because they deliver a burst of belonging cues.  Actually, when you look more closely at the sentence, it contains three separate cues:

  1. You are part of this group.
  2. This group is special; we have high standards here.
  3. I believe you can reach those standards.

These signals provide a clear message that lights up the unconscious brain: Here is a safe place to give effort. They also give us insight into the reason Popovich’s methods are effective.  His communications consist of three types of belonging cues.

  • Personal, up-close connection (body language, attention, and behavior that translates as I care about you).
  • Performance feedback (relentless coaching and criticism that translates as We have high standards here).
  • Big-picture perspective (larger conversations about politics, history, food that translate as Life is bigger than basketball).

Popovich toggles among the three signals to connect his team the way a skilled director uses a camera.  First he zooms in close, creating an individualized connection.  Then he operates in the middle distance, showing players the truth about their performance.  Then he pans out to show the larger context in which their interaction is taking place.  Alone, each of these signals would have limited effect.  But together they create a steady stream of magical feedback.  Every dinner, every elbow touch, every impromptu seminar on politics and history adds up to build a relational narrative: You are part of this group.  This group is special.  I believe you can reach those standards.  In other words, Popovich’s yelling works, in part, because it is not just yelling.  It is delivered along with a suite of other cues that affirm and strengthen the fabric of the relationships.

Do you think about creating a safe place to give effort with your team?

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