Posted on September 14, 2011.

I've been reading a lot about the concept of the feedback loop lately.  A feedback loop essentially gives someone real time feedback on his or her behavior with the goal of modifying that behavior.  The most basic example is the "your speed" signs on the highway that give passing cars a digital read out of their speed as they drive by.  Those signs have surprised law enforcement and highway administration officials with their effectiveness at getting people to slow down.  It made me think, how could the feedback loop improve performance in the workplace?

Some managers may say that they give timely feedback to their employees, so how is this different?  The key to the feedback loop is that the feedback is in real time, not a week, six months or a year after the particular behavior occurs. The standard performance review cycle is useless in delivering timely feedback.

A feedback loop allows the person to alter their behavior right away and put the feedback into action on the spot. When the drivers pass those "your speed" signs and are confronted with how fast they are going, they slow down immediately.  The feedback interrupts their actions. In order for employees to change their ways, they have to be aware of what they are doing when they are doing it.

Finally, the loop closes with the changed behavior.  Your feedback is worthless if you stop with telling the employee what they are doing wrong. Observing and acknowledging the change in their behavior when they are doing it right goes a long way towards reinforcing a positive change.