Monday, August 22, 2016

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Feedback?

The Wall Street Journal reports today on the changing culture at Kimberly-Clark, maker of products such as Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues.   In this article, Lauren Weber writes the following: 

"One of the company’s goals now is 'managing out dead wood,' aided by performance-management software that helps track and evaluate salaried workers’ progress and quickly expose laggards... Armed with personalized goals for employees and large quantities of data, Kimberly-Clark said it expects employees to keep improving—or else. 'People can’t duck and hide in the same way they could in the past,' said Mr. Boston, who oversees talent management globally for the firm.  It has been a steep climb for a company that once resisted conflict and fostered a paternalistic culture that inspired devotion from its workers."

Weber goes to write that Kimberly-Clark's performance management system reflects a trend taking place in many companies, in which firms have eliminated annual merit reviews and replaced them with more continuous feedback.   She cites examples such as Accenture, Adobe, and GE, all of whom eliminated traditional annual performance reviews.   These firms have adopted real-time feedback systems for a number of reasons including, according to Weber, the belief that, "Millennial workers, meanwhile, demand more feedback, more coaching and a stronger sense of their career path."  

My question is simple though:   Can we take this shift to continuous monitoring, evaluation, and feedback too far?   I keep hearing that millennials want more feedback, but I've spent a ton of time around young people as a college professor.  I'm not sure any of us love being critiqued at every turn.   We work on some projects that take some time to get off the ground.   Some ideas require some time to take shape.   In short, I think this shift taking place in corporate America raises some critical questions:  Is too much early "feedback" going to quash some creative ideas?    Are managers adept enough at offering constructive critique to make this type of real-time feedback system effective at many firms?  Are we evaluating what truly drives success, or are we focused on what is easy to measure?  Are we encouraging short term thinking when we provide real-time feedback, or are we making sure to keep long term objectives in mind?  

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