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Episode 38 Transcript - Feedback or Feedforward?


We ask for it after meetings, we provide it to our subordinates, and we receive it from those higher up the corporate ladder. I often give it to my students. Sometimes it's positive, sometimes negative, and hopefully always constructive. It's good when it's relevant and honest, direct and accurate. It may be verbal or written. Few words in the corporate English language are more popular than the word "feedback".


Hello, guys, welcome to another episode of PoLoop Angielski. After a long break, I'm back with my ramblings on the English language and current news topics, providing you with an opportunity to learn new phrases, just like the ones you can find in this episode, which is full of language related to the evaluation of performance, particularly the word "feedback". I highly recommend listening to this episode not once, but maybe twice or even more. And while you are doing this, spot all the phrases that you could use when discussing this particular topic.


Okay, so a quick look at the dictionary entry for the word "feedback" will tell you that it's an uncountable noun, just like advice, information, love. So it's uncountable., and we can say "some feedback", but not "a feedback" or "feedbacks". As we know, uncountable nouns don't have a plural form. The word originated at the beginning of the 20th century, and was first used to refer to the return of a part of an electrical output signal to the input of an earlier stage, whatever it means. Then it came to mean the unpleasant noise produced by electrical equipment, such as an amplifier, when some of the power returns to the system. In the Polish language, we use the term "sprzężenie zwrotne". Finally, in the middle of the 20th century, the word started to be used to mean "information about the results of the process". From the there was just a short leap to today's most common meaning, which is information, advice, and sometimes criticism about how good or bad someone or something is. So when we ask for someone's feedback, we ask about their opinion, evaluation views on something, which later we can use to make some changes in the process. In other words, we can feed those opinions back into the process.


It's a useful word that has served us well for many decades. But it seems like its position, at least in the workplace is at risk, thanks to Gen Z's, those born at the end of the 90s, who are already joining the corporate workforce. I read about it in a recent article published in The Times, it reports that the new generation of employees who are currently undergoing the first performance reviews don't like feedback. A performance review, by the way, is a regular meeting that bosses hold with their employees during which they can provide them with feedback on how good they work is. Megan Gerhardt, a consultant and a Professor of Management at Miami University, says that many young workers are not used to receiving feedback. She says that they haven't had a lot of experience with failure and critical feedback. And their common reaction to criticism is negative. Something like, "Well, if that's how you feel, I will just work somewhere else."


So no wonder that many managers are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do with the young staff. On the one hand, there is a consensus that feedback is essential in the process of improvement, still on the other, what to do if the person receiving it, can't take criticism, and instead of taking steps to improve their performance, they have a knee-jerk reaction and quit the job? By the way, a knee-jerk reaction is an immediate spontaneous response, something you do automatically, without giving it any thought first. In Polish we say "reakcja orduchowa", a knee jerk reaction. One possible solution comes from Joe Hirsch, author of the book "The Feedback Fix". So, what is Mr. Hirsch's fix? Well, he suggests getting rid of the word "feedback" altogether and substituting it with the word "feedforward". He believes that the word feedback holds us back and feedforward can push us forward. Feedforward focuses our attention on the future. So the manager might talk about how they see the employee's future performance, rather than taking a critical view of their performance so far. The problem has given rise also to another new term. This time coined by Jennifer Salomon-Baum, a former marketing director at Microsoft. She suggests rebranding the term "performance review", and proposes calling it "connect conversation". The idea being that such a name would make people more open to the process of analysing their work. Many managers however, might not see the point of Mr. Hirsch's and Miss Salomon-Baum's creativity when it comes to the language of employee evaluation. They see the Gen Z's negative attitude to feedback as more evidence the youngest generation is a bunch of entitled snowflakes. For those of you unfamiliar with a phrase, "entitled" is an adjective describing a person who believes that they have special rights, or more rights than others. And the term "snowflakes" is used metaphorically to imply that these young people are delicate, sensitive, much like a snowflake that can melt easily. The phrase "entitled snowflakes" is derogatory, or I might say insulting, and it's often used by older generations, accusing the younger ones of having an exaggerated sense of entitlement, sensitivity, or self-importance. The word "entitlement", by the way, is a noun and it comes from the adjective "entitled". So, for the time being, feedforward or connect conversations might not have spread across the corporate ecosystem. But I think it's only a matter of time. Already managers in corporations are being advised to explain the process of performance reviews to young employees in advance, sort of, to trigger-warn them about the unpleasantness of the process. And very often, the performance review with a young employee looks like a festival of praise instead of consisting of constructive feedback. There is a risk that after such a performance review, or should I say, connect conversation, a mediocre or a weak employee, having heard the boss's feedforward comments, leaves the room convinced that now is the perfect time to ask for a pay raise, rather than convinced that it's time to improve his or her work.


We, teachers, are also expected to give evaluations of our students' progress, would I stop giving them feedback and start giving them feedforward in connect conversations? I believe we shouldn't play with names but simply follow this so-called Goldilocks principle. For those unfamiliar with the term Goldilocks, this is a character from a popular children's story called "Goldilocks and the Three Bears". In the story,. Goldilocks is a young girl who comes into the house of three bears while they're away, which I guess from whatever angle you might look at it, could be classified as a crime of burglary. Inside the place, Goldilocks finds three bowls of porridge and she is rather picky, and she tries the food from one bowl and it is still hot. Another one too cold. But luckily the third one seems just right. Then, she discovers three chairs and three beds, and her decision process follows the same pattern. She rejects chairs that are too small and too big, and beds that are too soft or too hard until she finds the ones that are just right Goldilocks is often used metaphorically to represent finding a situation or condition that is not too extreme in one direction or the other, a sort of solution of achieving a perfect balance. In the context of feedback, the Goldilocks principle suggests that feedback should be neither too harsh, nor too soft, but just right, constructive and balanced. Harsh criticism can be demotivating. It may make a person feel discouraged or defensive, it can lead to misunderstandings or resentment, creating a hostile atmosphere. On the other hand, overly positive feedback might not offer the necessary direction for improvement. Balanced feedback keeps people motivated because the efforts are acknowledged. And also gives them specific suggestions, helping them focus on areas that require attention. So my point is, we don't need to invent new terms. There is nothing wrong with the word feedback or performance review. We don't need to find new packaging. An unprofessional feedforward during a badly-run connect meeting could produce a worse result than constructive balanced feedback during a well-run performance review.


What do you think? I'm interested if you share my views on the topic. Do you think that coining new terms feedforward and connect meeting is a step in the right direction? Do you agree with the opinion that Gen Z's can't take criticism? Do you think they should be treated differently because of the sensitivity? Have your say, share it with me? That's it for today. Thank you for listening and please don't forget to come back for more. Bye

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