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You Can’t Grow Without Feedback (and Top Performers Know It)

Target practice lesson

Do you suck at giving feedback? Are you hurting people’s feelings? Or, are you so afraid to hurt feelings that you never tell people what you know they’re doing wrong?

Many of us get feedback wrong. The right way to do it is not obvious, yet even managers rarely get evidence-based training on how to give effective feedback. In other words, most of us are on our own to figure this out.

That’s a huge problem—you can’t grow without feedback!

If the people below you can’t grow they’ll stagnate, their job satisfaction will dwindle, and they’ll start looking for other opportunities.

On this episode of The Podcast (part two of our miniseries on employee and distributor engagement) Kenny Rawlins and Nancy Tobler, our resident PhD, tease apart the science-backed strategies that allow savvy managers, employers, uplines (and even software designers) to help their people grow. Listen in to learn how you can start driving greatness in your team.

Full Transcript

Kenny Rawlins: This is The Podcast. I’m your host, Kenny Rawlins. And today we continue our miniseries of episodes about distributor and employee engagement with Nancy Tobler. Nancy how are you.

Nancy Tobler: Good. Great. Thank you.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah thank you. So today we want to talk a little bit about feedback and the role that it plays in distributor and employee success. Let’s start there and have you introduce the idea. Talk a little bit about how feedback effects performance.

Nancy Tobler: So, feedback is crucial. Positive feedback is important, and I don’t want to downplay it but what we’re going to talk about today is negative feedback. So, feedback is the process that gets us from what our behavior is right now to what we want that behavior to be (which is the goal). And feedback is that crucial link that hooks those two things together.

And you can’t really move forward toward a goal you don’t know is a goal. So, it’s really important to goal setting but we’re not talking about that today. But you have to have the goal be clear in mind. And then you have to have somebody who’s watching your current behavior and who can give you feedback in order to move you towards that new goal.

And people have all kinds of goals—they want to move up in the company—so they set a goal to learn a new piece of software that another department uses so that they can move over to that department and move up. And distributors they want to make more money and so the goal is there. Someone just needs to provide that feedback loop.

Kenny Rawlins: And so, when we’re talking about this… When we use the term feedback, what constitutes feedback?

Nancy Tobler: Well so… So, there’s positive feedback and there’s what I call “feel good feedback” which doesn’t last very long. So, people will tell you “great job.” It’s one of my least favorite things about my church is people will say “great talk.” I have no idea if they even listened to it. They just knew I was up there talking. [laughs]

Kenny Rawlins: Right. Right. Right. It lacks specificity.

Nancy Tobler: It lacks specificity. Right. So, feedback is: you did a behavior and someone else noticed that behavior and they gave you information. When it’s a “feedback intervention” that’s when there’s a goal in mind and that feedback is going to help us get to that goal.

And we can do positive feedback. That’s important.

But really to move towards [a goal]… I’m already doing the positive behavior. I don’t need feedback on that. What I need is feedback on what I’m NOT doing.

So that’s the sticky wicket as I like to say you have to give negative feedback for people to improve. But how you give that feedback is very tricky.

Kenny Rawlins: And I think in my experience that’s the kind of feedback that people are most scared to give and that it can get dicey just because of people feeling picked on or feeling defensive. So are there ways… I mean what goes into how negative feedback is received?

Nancy Tobler: So, the biggest issue is self-image, self-esteem. So, I like to say it’s the reason it’s impossible to argue with a teenager because teenagers are in an era or an age where their self-image is low to begin with. So, you have to build them up on self-esteem before you can ever give them feedback. You need to have… I don’t know… people always say seven to one. I don’t think so. I think its way more than that. You have to have a lot of positive self-image kinds of statements. So, I appreciated what you did on that project. It was in on time. There’s no negative feedback there. That’s all positive but it’s specific. I don’t say “great job.” I just say “hey I appreciated that project that was in on time. I appreciate the hard work you put in on those complex issues that we’ve been having.” Whatever they are. Right?

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: So. So, if you happen to have someone whose self-esteem is damaged… And people can have relatively good self-esteem and then something will happen in their lives—like a divorce or the loss of a loved one. Anything like that. Any traumatic thing can make a person particularly sensitive and what sensitive means is that their ego is bruised. And those people… To give them negative feedback only makes it worse for them.

They don’t improve. They don’t work harder. They reject themselves essentially. They say “I’m not worthy. I’m not good enough. I can’t possibly reach that goal.” So, they just dismiss the goal altogether. They just say “I can’t do it. I don’t know why they asked me to do that. They know I can’t do that.” Right? That’s the kind of negative comment a person with negative self-esteem will say.

But I have a pretty good self-esteem. So, when you give me feedback right about something I’m doing… So, I was giving Kenny this example just a minute ago… I have been transcribing an interview and I [laughs] some people are going to laugh at this because it’s so primitive. I was playing the recording and just typing it, then playing back the recording and typing. So, very primitive. Right?

Because I’ve used speech-to-text editors in the past and they were just so bad, I had to redo it anyway. I haven’t ever used a new one. Well Frankie told me about a new one and I went oh “I’m going to try it.” I’m not going to say to myself “oh, Frankie thinks I’m stupid. I shouldn’t have been doing it that old fashioned way. Oh man, I’m so dumb.” Right? That’s somebody with negative self-image does that. Somebody with a relative positive self-image goes “oh! Your goal is to do transcription faster? Here’s a tool. Try it, Nancy.”

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: I’m gonna try it. Right? I don’t dismiss it because I feel good about who I am. I like to say you’ll have way fewer conflicts in your home, with your spouse, with your children, if people have good self-esteem. So, it’s really worth all that time you spend telling people they’re good at what they do, and that you like them, and that they’re worthy as human beings. All that stuff.

Kenny Rawlins: Because then that’s creating an environment where they’re going to be willing… Not even willing. But they’re in a better place to receive negative feedback.

Nancy Tobler: Right. And it doesn’t seem personal. That’s the key.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah. Now going with that—it doesn’t seem personal—one of the things that you were saying is that feedback should not tie into personal things correct?

Nancy Tobler: Right. So, it’s really easy to slip. And I actually was watching one of my nieces’ children’s Facebook posts and she had not received feedback at her work. They would simply come in and do her work over. But they didn’t show her what she was doing wrong. And they… One of them said they “we’re just very disappointed in you.” Right?

Well it’s not… They’re not disappointed and you. That’s not… You can’t… You have to separate the “you,” the person from the product. The product is “I need the seam on this blanket to be straighter. And the way you do that is this way.” That’s negative feedback that separates the person “you’re not good at this” from “what can be done to change the behavior.”

Kenny Rawlins: Does that play into both negative and positive feedback or is it more important with negative feedback that you separate the two.

Nancy Tobler: So, there’s a whole bunch of research that used to be done on what we called “I” language and “you” language a long time ago. Kind of hippy dippy stuff. And in general, taking responsibility for your perception or “I” language when it has to do with a person is better than “you are an idiot.” Right? So positive language. I think it works better if you say it without “you” or “I” or you say it with “I.” “I appreciate what you did.” Right?

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: So, I don’t say “you did a great job” because that’s me evaluating you. I say, “I appreciate what you did.”

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: So, there are little tricks. But I think in general if you care about the other person, they know you care.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: You can remember your high school teachers or your college teachers. The ones that you knew cared about you, you took feedback from them.

Kenny Rawlins: Right. Right.

Nancy Tobler: They didn’t have to be overly loving and easy to please. But if you knew they liked you.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: So, if you just genuinely like people and you show that like all the time, then negative feedback, which is crucial to improvement is easier.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah. One of the things that makes this even more interesting to talk about—or more difficult I guess—is when you take this in the context of not just employees but in the context of distributors as well. Because even though they are independent distributors, obviously you’re trying to help them succeed. And there does need to be that feedback. So, what are your thoughts on how companies accomplish that?

Nancy Tobler: So… It’s both a glorious thing and the bane of our existence that distributors are independent. So that means that they came to your meeting voluntarily. They set a goal voluntarily. So, we talked about this a little bit earlier. If you have a job you’ve already bought into the idea that “I’m selling myself to this company for money.”

I already know it’s my job to improve. I’m going to improve. Right. So, you don’t have to convince employees that they’re going to improve because they know they’re going to. But people who are volunteers. That’s very tricky.

I think I mentioned this earlier too. Nicki Keohohou does a whole bunch of seminars on how to give feedback essentially. And one of the big things she says is “it has to be their goal. It can’t be your goal. It has to be their goal. Then you can give them feedback. That’ll help them move to that goal.”

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: I think that’s the trick.

Kenny Rawlins: And one of the other things you talk about is that the feedback has to be close to the event that you’re receiving feedback on.

Nancy Tobler: Right.

Kenny Rawlins: And that can be tough when you’re talking about distributors just because that relationship and that observation isn’t there. Right? So, you’re relying a lot on the results whether it’s like their org volume, or their new enrollments, or number of sales. Right? And it can be hard to give that feedback.

Nancy Tobler: Right.

Kenny Rawlins: And the other…

Nancy Tobler: Both timely and specific. Because I don’t know how you got those new enrollments. I don’t know what behavior you did use and what behavior you might use. Right? That’s that gap analysis.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah so there. So, there’s that difficulty. And then some of it… I mean really… If you talk to a lot of people in this industry they’re going to tell you that that feedback is at least partly the responsibility of the upline.

Nancy Tobler: Yeah absolutely it is. In fact, “why are we paying you if you’re not giving feedback?” Right?

Kenny Rawlins: And so, part of that needs to be clear in what the expectations are. As a leader, part of your responsibility is to provide that feedback to your downline. And so, then companies I would guess need to give some training on on how to give them feedback.

Nancy Tobler: Yeah. And what on. What should we be giving feedback on. What behaviors matter? And that’s tricky to find.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: We think we know. And we set out compensation rules and plans and pay out based on behaviors we think are going to make a difference.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: Sometimes it’s surprising what actually made the difference. But… We need to train people on how to give feedback and what to give that feedback on. And again, timely feedback—so close to the behavior—and it’s specific feedback not general.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: It separates the person from the behavior.

Kenny Rawlins: Those kinds of things. Yeah. Well one of the things that I’ve noticed as talked to different friends and associates as they are first put in positions of leadership is that that’s one thing companies—both for distributors and for employees—often don’t give training on, which is how to give feedback. Right? You say, “OK go and do these performance reviews.” Or “you’ve got this team that you’re responsible for. But there’s no guidance on “hey you need to be giving both positive and negative feedback. And if you need to give negative feedback, here are some tips on how to do that.” And I shouldn’t say “if you need to give negative feedback.”

Nancy Tobler: No. Everybody needs… Right.

Kenny Rawlins: It’s when.

Nancy Tobler: Right. Right. It’s when and I think people are so scared of it that they don’t do it until it’s so bad it’s almost irreparable. Is that a word? Did I make that word up? You cannot repair it.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: And then why would we wait until it’s too late? Again, this niece on Facebook—she feels like she’s almost on the verge of being fired. Well someone should have been given her feedback, specific feedback on how to do that behavior WAY before now. Way before it’s almost out the door.

Kenny Rawlins: Right. Well I think a lot of people perhaps sense that there’s something wrong when there’s negative feedback that needs to be given. And in a lot of ways it can be relieving to receive that feedback because then you know first of all how you stand. And ideally, you’ve got some ideas on how to fix whatever the problem is.

Nancy Tobler: Right.

Kenny Rawlins: And what the expectations are.

Nancy Tobler: I think that clear goal setting is key too. Again, we could do a whole thing on goal setting. The goal needs to be clear to the employee and they need to buy into it. But usually employees will buy into the goal because like I say, they’re being paid to buy into the goal.

Kenny Rawlins: So, what are your thoughts though. I mean… I think a lot of people will buy into it. But what would you say if you do meet resistance and you’re the person giving feedback.

Nancy Tobler: So, I would immediately, I would take responsibility for it. “Hey, I sense some trouble here in the room. I’m… I’m not sure what I’ve done.” Right? So, you’ve got to kind of backpedal a little and say “it should be I hopefully very clear to you how much I appreciate what you do. Specifically…” And then name those things that go very well. Right because ego has entered the room. Ego is in the room.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: “And we can talk about this another time if that’s better.”

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: “Or are we OK to go on? It… It’s your call. Because when I’m trying to help you meet this goal.”

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings because that’s not the meeting.” So, you kind of have to backpedal and kind of go into that self-esteem mode right where… I hate to use somebody here at InfoTrax, but my particular boss is always doing positive feedback. He walks past the hall and gives you a high five. I mean there’s always—every day—multiple times where he gives positive feedback. And it’s general. He says things like “great job. You’re the best.” You know that sort of thing. But it’s really hard to ever take anything personally.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: When he says he has something for you to do… I don’t. Well again I have a good self-image, so I might not be a good case. But you have to go into that self-esteem repair mode and either wait to a different time to give the feedback or plow through and then know that you’re going to have to do self-esteem stuff afterwards to build them back up.

Kenny Rawlins: And I think this goes to kind of laying the groundwork right. Some of it can be how it’s delivered.

Nancy Tobler: Right.

Kenny Rawlins: The example you used before when we were talking is if you lead in with a bunch of personal comments “Hey I know this has been a stressful time in your life.” Or “you’ve been really busy.” You’ve now brought their personal stuff into it. Rather than just having it be on the merits of what they have or haven’t done. A person might feel defensive in having to just say, “No no no. Those other things aren’t affecting this.”

Nancy Tobler: Yeah. Yeah, so it’s tricky.

Kenny Rawlins: And so, the way you lay the groundwork can affect it.

Nancy Tobler: If you know somebody has just gone through a divorce it may be tricky. It may not be a good time to talk about everything that they can do. There are times they’ve just lost someone significant in their lives. People anytime they’re in a high stress situation tend to have what we call bruised egos. So even people who are generally very good with their self-esteem will have time periods in life when they get low.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: So, we know—we’ve been talking about great places to work—we know that best places to work do a lot of positive accolades. They do a lot of cheering. Just like they do with distributors. They do a lot of cheering with their employees. They recognize them. They give them little rewards. Right? Whatever it is. They do things that make them feel special then hopefully if they’re also helping them with training and doing improving themselves… Personal growth is one of the reasons we like a job. Right?

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: “It may not be my perfect job but I’m going to use this job to get the skills I need to get the next job.” I hate to say that because you might not want to hear that. But that’s part of what happens, is they use you for personal growth. And they… If you don’t ever give them feedback, they don’t get that personal growth.

Kenny Rawlins: Right. And along with making them less productive as an employee, it also, I think, causes them to not enjoy their place of work as much. People do want to feel challenged in a positive way.

Nancy Tobler: Right. Now I think you’re right. I think “challenged in a positive way” is the way to look at it. Maybe that’s even the way to say it. When you’re talking to somebody is “we’ve had this goal.” Right? “I have this goal to learn a new skill. Here’s what I’ve noticed where you’re at. Here’s what I think you can do to improve that.” Separate it from that person. Put it in the behavior that’s going to change things. We can make a big difference in people’s lives. People love to be better—in a better place. That’s what goal setting is about.

Kenny Rawlins: And so, the last topic I want to touch on is how technology plays into this. One of the tools that a company obviously has at their disposal are increasingly technology related tools where they can give feedback both to employees and to their distributor force. And you brought up as we were talking in preparation for this that technology definitely has a role to play in how feedback is received.

Nancy Tobler: Yeah there are several things when you look at this… This comes from a research study: one of the things that makes it easier is computer-generated feedback.

So, we were talking about InfoTrax systems has a thing that they use that distributors can see called the “qual module.” How close are you to qualification? That’s a feedback system and I’m probably more likely to see that positively and not negatively.

So, I’m just familiar with InfoTrax’s. I don’t know what other systems are out there. But InfoTrax’s system… I can click on another rank and it will show me how close I am to that rank. That’s feedback. That’s computer-generated feedback.

I am not likely… (I might be the only person who does this.) I’m not likely to talk back to my computer and say “you! You’re hurting my feelings!” We just don’t do it with a computer. We see it as a non-human right. (I… I do talk back to my computer. I’m one person who does. [laughs].)

Kenny Rawlins: Well I talk back to Siri so that counts.

Nancy Tobler: Yeah. That counts. “Don’t tell me how to drive. I know how to drive. That loops not gonna be faster.” Yeah. So yeah. The computer-generated feedback… I don’t think companies use it enough. I think there’s a lot of things you could do where you can mine your own data and find nuances of data.

Let’s say someone always sells more in November—in the past three years they’ve been a distributor, they always sell more in November—you aughta say something! You as a company aughta say something. “You are a November queen!” Usually in direct selling it is queen—75 percent of them are women. Right? Well we didn’t talk about that. Right. Women might get into direct selling because it helps build self-esteem.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: It may be that they build business skills and business skills is about building self-esteem. We teach little boys that confidence. We don’t always teach little girls that confidence.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah.

Nancy Tobler: Right. Anyway, that’s irrelevant. But software could generate that to say, “here are people who sold the lot last year in November.” You could generate that kind of report, send them an email, remind them: last year you sold”—I’m thinking of essential oils—”15 bottles of frankincense. We have a special on frankincense in November every year. See if your customers need frankincense again this year!” Right?

There are just so many things you can do with technology that give feedback that aren’t going to be seen as negative. No one’s going to say, “Oh now they think I got to sell 15 bottles this year.” They’re not going to do that to a computer, but they might to a person.

Kenny Rawlins: Right. And like you said you can mine your own data. Because what I’ve seen is every company has those cycles. Right? So, for weight loss it’s the Spring is your big time. Right? You’re going into the holidays. Weight loss products are not not having their best month.

Nancy Tobler: [Laughing].

Kenny Rawlins: It’s coming out of the holidays.

Nancy Tobler: The swimsuit season.

Kenny Rawlins: And going into the swimsuit season—that’s when you’re really going gangbusters. So, yeah, doing those month over month. And that’s where you can be smart about it. Right? You can make better comparisons using technology because rather than comparing…

Doing this month compared to last month might not make sense. If you’re comparing May to April maybe April is a particularly high month because we’re heading into the Summer and now May we’ve set into the summer and people are less likely to do well.

And so, if you’re comparing May to April, in certain cases you might not be giving appropriate feedback. But if you go May to May and say “hey! Here’s what you did last May.” And once the month’s over say “hey! You did better,” or “you did worse,” both ways come across as… This is just data, coming from a computer.

Nancy Tobler: I don’t have to take it personally. And I can use that.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah. I can see how that can be a big way that we can use technology better. And it can be extremely timely. Right? Because if it’s like “hey this week you had your most sales in a week ever.” I can give them feedback immediately as it happens through an automated system of some sort.

Nancy Tobler: Right.

Kenny Rawlins: And have that recognition be there and then I can really utilize that same system to notify the upline so that then they are also getting the human feedback.

Nancy Tobler: Right. Yeah. Yeah. I think… I mean there’s a researcher out of Stanford—BJ Fogg—and he’s done a ton [of research into feedback loops]. All kinds of behaviors… we can use technology as the feedback loop connector.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: You think about Fitbit. Right. They just have done gangbusters with that system.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: I mean I yell at my Fitbit. But I, again, I’m an oddball. I yell at technology. I yell at the TV. All kinds of things. Always have.

But using technology is really something I don’t think… I mean… Have you told them that “last month your customers bought these five things.” “Do your customers need a refill?”

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: I think… Not just “as a company we sold more or less this May from last May.” Yes sure. Look at that. But I think we can give individualized feedback.

Kenny Rawlins: Right.

Nancy Tobler: You have access—as direct selling companies—-to amazing [data]. I mean researchers we go gaga over how much data you have. You know all kinds of things about your distributors that you could provide feedback loops on.

Kenny Rawlins: Yeah. All right. Well Nancy, I think we will end it right there. I appreciate your time. I think this is something worthwhile and I know—both looking at it from the employee’s standpoint and also the distributor standpoint—that is something that I don’t think we think about enough: How to give them meaningful feedback—and where that fits in with the distributor field.

Nancy Tobler: Yeah. Great. Thank you.

Kenny Rawlins: That does it for this episode of the Podcast by InfoTrax Systems. I’m your host, Kenny Rawlins. I’m grateful to Nancy for taking the time to join us today. We also want to thank Jana Bangerter for production support, and you our listeners. We hope you’ll join us again next time!

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