Recognise This! – Some employees are well conditioned to receive and respond to feedback, but they will still do better if that feedback is given in a constructive, helpful and positive way.

My kids are going to top performers in the workplace someday. Sure, they’re only 12 and 5 right now, but I’m fairly confident in their ability to perform, refine skills based on feedback, and deliver results.

Of course, you could chalk this up to “Proud Mama” talk, but I have validation. Andy Porter, Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute, wrote in a Fistful of Talent blog post:

“All things being equal, if I have the opportunity to hire a musician or an athlete over a non-musician or athlete I’ll do it.  Every time.  … How about those running drills you used to do at 6AM before school so you had a chance to make the team as a third-stringer?  Turns out that discipline of getting up early to practice and go after something you really wanted sticks with you even today.  And it makes you a better employee because of it. Why is this the case? … 1. Feedback is public and immediate. … 2. You know who’s better than you.  … 3. The tape doesn’t lie. (Performance is documented.) … 4. Deliberate practice…

“Now when I say ‘musician’ and ‘athlete,’ I’m not talking about the guy who plays Guitar Hero in his underwear or the woman who’s an intramural league MVP.  I’m talking about people who, for an extended period in their lives, were formally trained to be a musician or an athlete and had to practice and perform on a regular basis.  Why?  Because they understand the importance of accepting critical feedback and diligently practice to get better.  It’s just part of their DNA.  And in a work world where most people are just trying not to make waves and piss anyone off, it’s refreshing to have people on the team who demand that you help them be better.”

I agree with Andy’s perspective. Aside from specific skills, athletics and music train for discipline. Being in the midst of volleyball tournament season with my daughter and the soccer season with my son, I’m on the sidelines watching the practices, seeing the reactions to referee judgments or coaching corrections, and watching how they respond by working harder and tweaking performance.

But one observation I’ve made more times than I like to count is how feedback is given to these young athletes. By way of example, let me share this story from one of my daughter’s volleyball games this past weekend. The opposing team had a very vocal parental cheering section, and not in a good way. Waves of constant berating comments flowed from the stands, both towards our team as well as their own team members. I noticed the physical effect on the girls – downturned shoulders, less aggression, negative instead of supportive comments between the teammates – and this was the girls on the team we were playing against, responding to comments from their “cheering” section.

I’m proud of how our girls rallied. We cheered them on with positive encouragement and comments like “You’ll get it next time, step in more.” The girls offered encouraging words to each other, as they usually do. The outcome – it was a well-played game on both sides by well-matched teams based on skills, but our team won. I know beyond a doubt a key reason we won was the consistent, positive feedback, even when constructive criticism or redirection was also needed.

So, yes, your “athlete and musician” employees are accustomed to feedback and hard work, but how that feedback is given is a primary determinant of how well the individual and the team perform.

What’s the predominant form of feedback in your organisation or team? How do employees respond?