Defining Positive Feedback Loops at Work and How to start one
Updated: Jun 1
At work we receive feedback in a variety of ways: work that is accepted, a pat on the back, a client’s praise or complaint, a mention in the office circulation, etc. These are feedback bursts – like small atm deposits and withdrawals in your mental bank account of success – great to get but quickly forgotten unless connected to something much larger.
What is a Feedback Loop? A feedback loop is a term used in economics to refer to a situation where part of the output is used for new input. Thus, it is a circulatory event. According to Lexicon Financial Times, in positive feedback loops success feeds success. When this becomes an ongoing experience, information flows with more regularity, purpose, and value.
A negative feedback loop involves information about what can be improved, corrective action to improve, assessment of improvement, and follow up information about what has improved and what still needs to happen next. If the cycle continues, this is when negative feedback can lead to positive feedback results – change that is measured, mentioned, and seen.
Negative feedback can be detrimental when improvements are not seen, accepted, or measured and the recipient is left without follow up and feeling forgotten, thus giving feedback in general a bad name.
Digitalmag.com offers a great analogy, comparing non-constructive negative feedback loops to planting tomatoes and letting them rot on the vine. Those who receive negative feedback need the feedback loop to feel as if someone cares enough to see it through. In much the same way, when survey results are collected, action must take place, or the whole experience loses its value and ‘dies on the vine’.
A Positive feedback loop includes what you are doing right, what doesn’t have to be changed, how it shows up in what you do, and how to sustain it – building upon the concept that success feeds success. This presents a new opportunity for positive conversation. In fact, leaders who aim to stay competitive take this idea to new heights by simply asking for feedback on what is going right and what doesn’t need to change. Beth Armknecht Miller, CMC offers that leaders who ask for feedback regularly are a greater value for their organization as they are keenly aware of what may need changing before negative results are ever experienced.
Why start a positive feedback loop? According to research and articles, positive feedback loops aming high performing teams existed shared more positive information than negative. The metric for this was a staggering 5 to 1 on positive-to-negative statements; not non-critical visuals (cue the ‘you look great today’ comment), but in solid, purposeful comments about what is going right, what is solid, who is contributing, and why it matters. Research from positive psychology reveals that gaining positive feedback exponentially feeds the part of the brain that needs to feel accepted and respected, beefing up resilience to continue the behavior with an increased degree of self-efficacy, while buffering attitude to handle any negative information.
Creating positive feedback loops not only contributes to high performance, but also to organizational retention. When someone provides you an example of how they see ‘what you are doing right’, you get to view performance from their perspective, not just your own, which adds a valuable layer to your work perspective. You start to realize that what you do is seen, valued, and you gain the perception that your success matters. An employee who feels valued and able to grow in an organization prefers to stay within that organization.
How to start a positive feedback loop: Affirmative Inquiry is a strength based organizational change approach growing out of Australia. Affirmative Inquiry looks to affirm what is going right, breaks it down into all the components of what it took to make that happen, and then objectively look at all the parts as they tackle the new challenges of change.
Starting a positive feedback loop on a individual’s level can be done with a similar formula: First, decide on the context, ask for what is going right, discuss what does not have to change, and ask what that looks like from the other’s perspective. Studies show that when you can gather regular, positive feedback about what is going right, you too can handle the occasional negative information surrounding correction or improvement as you will have a firm grasp of what you do well and can offer solutions faster when improvements are required.
Can you give me an example of a how to build a feedback loop? Rosie is the sole contracting officer for her organization. Rosie feels the RFP process is too slow and that her performance might be affected by the current process established before she was hired. She wants to be proactive on investigating a solution, but doesn’t know if her supervisor wants her to do this work. Here is how she approached it to start a positive feedback loop on the topic.
(context) – I would like to review our Request for Proposal process to see if it can become more efficient.
(one thing) – Can you share with me what you feel is going right with our current process?
(no change) – What do you feel does not need to change?
(perspective) – Can you share with me how you currently see this process evolving?
(creating the loop) – I’d like to look at the parts that might need improving. Can I come back to you and review what I find and get your perspective again?
The supervisor can ask for her to wait or proceed with the project. Either way, Rosie has started a conversation and can follow up on to identify performance and process improvements.
To learn more about how to utilize this information, gain coaching for work-life success, or help your organization implement methods to support positive feedback loops to increase performance, reach out to Carole Stizza with Relevant Insight Coaching.
Download our eBook: One Bite Feedback eBook
If you could grab the feedback you needed, when you needed it, to be better, get better, and grow in your career… Would you ask for it? Would you be open to receiving it?