Unhappy Sheets, Part Two (Haunted by Feedback)

In my previous post (Unhappy Sheets) I gave two good reasons for sticking with the much-maligned Level 1 evaluation forms.

But it’s true that Happy Sheets don’t tell you much about actual learning.  I accept that’s a strong logical reason for wanting to see the back of them.

However, I have a hunch there’s a psychological reason as well.  There is just a little too much relief in the air when people talk about scrapping evaluation forms.  As if they were haunting us, and we needed an exorcist.

A recent article in the Guardian by Katharine Murphy crystallised this argument for me.  She has realised that she tolerates the “monomaniacal trolling” of her online pieces and the “plain weird” because, if you can look past it, then “sharp audience feedback enlightens”.  She captures brilliantly the challenges of the move from the “priest in the pulpit” to the world of digital dialogue without a mute button.  Really worth a read.

Most people would cite honest feedback as something they want, something that is always a powerful spur to their own development.  We all nod when people say we should scrap annual appraisals (bureaucratic, artificial) in favour of “continuous feedback”.

Because continuous, accurate, evidenced feedback is exactly what will happen when we remove the obligation to conduct 360 surveys and have performance discussions.. isn’t it?  Forgive my doubts, at least my doubts in a UK public sector environment.

We say we love feedback.  Do we?  Especially when people tell us to our face what we’ve done wrong, or could do better. Without mincing their words.  Even then?  Really?

What you get on Happy Sheets is raw and unfiltered.  It’s usually more polite and sane than the comments section on a newspaper website, but can be more wounding, as these are people you’ve just spent some hours with, not anonymous readers who’ve just skimmed an article.

My point is this:

  • many professionals would be relieved to reduce their exposure to the raw side of humanity – the wilful, the contradictory, the unfair, the unscientific, the blunt, the rude, the bland and the batty
  • but many professionals – and many businesses – have concluded, even if through gritted teeth, that they need to do the opposite – to get as much feedback as they possibly can.

Why do you look at reviews on TripAdviser?  Why do brands spend billions on fiddly pop-up surveys and people with clipboards?

We’d be mad to reduce our exposure to feedback.  We should be maximising it.  Like broccoli and cod liver oil, it’s good for us, even if unpleasant.

So we shouldn’t feel haunted by feedback.

We can learn from it, including on (Un)Happy Sheets.  But let’s not confuse it with accurate insights into what others have learned.



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