I have been reading about feedback loops on the @wired magazine. If you’re not familiar with the concept, feedback loops describe the process through which we are prompted with actionable information that makes us sustainably change our behaviour in the foreseeable term.
One case of positive behaviour described in wired is that of the radar-powered, real-time speed signals by the side of the road (those that tell you ‘your speed is 67KM, thank you!’ or ‘your speed is 103KM slow down’).
Even though there is no punishment for speeding (fines, pep-talk by a constable), these signals appear to be the most effective and longest-lasting mechanism to make people do the right thing. The environment gives the individual enough data and ‘resources’ to do the right thing.
Similar examples are more briefly discussed (e.g. cutting down on energy consumption through being informed as to our carbon footprint in real time, etc.). Feedback loops are set to become even more pervasive as the data collection sub-process (which originates the loop) becomes seriously inexpensive – in the main, due to technology getting cheaper.
This got me thinking as to how we could apply feedback loops in the workplace; more specifically: Can we reinvigorate a process such as the employee performance review if we redefine it as a feedback loop of sorts?
- We’d need employee performance data collected ubiquitously and in real time; we cannot ask staff or managers to fill in more forms, more regularly.
- We’d need a scale that translates a particular employee activity/output into a level of ‘business success’ against which his/her performance can be assessed.
- We’d need a way to communicate the level of business success an employee has attained, perhaps on a confidential basis if needed, perhaps publicly made when an ‘outstanding’ success was attained.
- Employees would need the space/latitude to modify/reinforce their behaviour – effectively creating the loop and hopefully replicating it.
This might be crazy talk but, if these parameters and mechanisms could be created, we can render employee appraisal method obsolete.
More to the point, possibly managers may already be using, albeit informally/non-systematically, a loose feedback loop (e.g. when immediate feedback is given, pats in the back, prompt escalations, etc. The beauty of an institutionalised process would come from the aggregation of comparable data across entire organisations, and dissectible by teams, branches, etc.
Wired mentions that at – some point in time – by-the-side-of-the-road radar technology would have been unthinkable due to cost. That is no more. That makes me a bit hopeful as to what we can achieve in the workplace in regards to people (self) management and leadership.