Feedback Can Just Make Performance Worse

Susan Hall

Everybody hates performance reviews, especially the notorious stack ranking that keeps workers focused on their peers’ performance.

In a post on improving performance reviews, my colleague Ann All urged managers to provide regular feedback rather than storing it all up for review time — and that seems to be sensible advice. Millennial workers in particular seem to crave high levels of feedback.

Feedback, though, isn’t always a good thing, according to research from Queen Mary, University of London. The study involved about 100 people who were given tasks to determine how to best ensure a baby’s health. It found that providing feedback — either positive or negative — while a person is trying to complete a complex task  just makes their performance worse, reports Medical Xpress. It sounds like backseat driving to me.

Study author Dr. Magda Osman explained about the work published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience that feedback while trying to perform a task just overloads them, distracting them from actually performing the task:

We found that people's performance got worse when they had to make sense of the feedback they were given while also performing the main task.

The role of feedback is overemphasized. People typically think that any form of feedback should improve performance in many tasks, and the more frequently it is given the better performance will be.

However what needs to be considered is how complex the task is in the first place, because this will determine how much feedback will actually interfere with rather than facilitate performance.

Osman offered this advice to managers:

We have shown that feedback really doesn't help people who are making complex decisions. People in management positions need to give their staff more time to analyze and evaluate things in detail when dealing with difficult situations so they can come up with solutions without any distractions in order to get the best out of them.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 17, 2012 3:00 PM dmausc dmausc  says:
It is a thoughtful article. I love reading things about how to manage people is a nice yet productive way, unlike how I am treated. But this article is weak in context. It needs to drive deeper into the real whys and how a different approach could bring the most benefit. I may have missed its purpose? I doubt it. Delve deeper into the subject all in one article. Just my opinion. Reply
Aug 22, 2012 7:42 PM Trish Voskovitch Trish Voskovitch  says:
Feedback and training is so important, but you have to make sure it's having the desired impact. You want feedback to empower your employees, not make them resentful or perform worse. Each employee is different and there is no "one size fits all" training/feedback solution, but there are steps managers can take to get everyone at least on the same page. Reply

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