Feedback is a real key to intrinsic motivation and performance management. And most organizations can make big improvements in how people can self-maintain and self-improve if they just stepped back from things and looked at them differently.

Many years ago, we polished up and used a simple 14-point checklist that seemed to hit on the most important aspects of people getting the feedback they need to improve or maintain the highest levels of performance. To some degree, many of the items are a bit unrealistic or idealistic, but they also represent possibilities and reframes and potential things that might be addressed or improved or designed. Some of the items on the list are below, and you can click here to download the pdf file of the checklist and explanations: Analysis of Feedback

1.  Information on performance is based on actual measured accomplishment and not on estimates or opinions about how results were accomplished. Some people may appear to be very busy or doing a good job, especially if you are there watching them. Others may work at a slower pace and not appear to work as hard. Personalities differ and opinions about accomplishments may not reflect actual results. Good measures of results need to be implemented.
2.  Information highlights areas of performance that have quantifiable value to the organization rather than more general areas of preference Be concerned with results that produce bottom-line impacts. Sometimes, we get focused on issues of little or no importance to profits or quality or revenue. While a poor producer may chew gum and come in late, it is better to focus on the productivity than on the gum or lateness.  Feedback should focus on more critical issues.
3.  Performance information routinely goes to the people who do the work, rather than mostly to management.People see summarized results. People need performance data, not just feedback from management. In the absence of specific information, people will often assume that all is okay. Alternatively, some managers may only say something when results are not good, missing on the opportunity to comment positively.  Information on results provides balanced feedback.

Some of the other items are:

13. Data is expressed in a positive way.  This means “results achieved” and accomplishments rather than failures, complaints or errors. Regular negative information (such as error reports) has a tendency to be ignored or debunked and thus become ineffective motivators over time.  People tend to learn ways to avoid the negative as opposed to improving the positive.
14. Information is summarized to interested levels of management to insure recognition of achievement and continued positive involvement of others. Without the observable support of top management, few feedback and performance improvement programs are maintained. Top management will not support programs in the absence of reliable and actionable information. Top managers are generally unlikely to continually request and review information that is not positive and current, reflecting issues of performance related to bottom-line impacts.

In playing with this in workshops over the years, few managers would say that they attained even 8 or 9 of the 14 possibilities, but they were always impacted to consider ways that they could improve the feedback systems, even to go toward simple checklists or other things on a random basis — like a post-customer-contact call list to self-assess if customers were called by name and asked if they had any other questions and if they said they were satisfied with the contact. Stuff like that can be a powerful reminder of things to do and can be intermittent.

Shifting focus, let me address the play of our team building game and how we try to add performance feedback into the play to make it a more powerful learning experience.

In my post on Perfect Play, I shared a bit about how to debrief really good performance. You can see it here.

The idea is around how to motivate performance and build intrinsic motivation.

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The performance situation, briefly, is that tabletops are challenged to “Mine as much gold as We Can” and given resources they need to manage a 20-day journey to the mine and back. They have a variety of choices to make as to resource management, risk, route, information and similar. Once they leave the home base at the bottom left, Apache Junction, they move toward the mine on one of three routes.

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Some facilitators just let the groups play. In all of my games, I have a map on an overhead that also has “dots” of some kind that represent each team. Thus, every team can see the location of each team every day. Some teams might stay at Apache Junction for an extra day or two to acquire information, while others might take the high risk, apparently shorter route across the bottom of the map.

Since the goal is to mine as much gold as possible, the more days that teams are able to spend in The Mine (toward the top right), the more gold they get. Since they have to return to Apache Junction by Day 20, we can also see who leaves when and what route they use.

A design feature of the exercise allows for some teams to stay much later in the mine and get back twice as fast, This becomes VERY evident when a few teams return on Day 18 while other teams have just left the mine. The former, who are often a bit information-starved or resource-deprived because of their choices, see this discrepancy and this generates their conversations about how this is possible and what they might have done differently.

By the time we get to the debriefing, they already know what they could have chosen to do differently and the role of the facilitator is to bridge that information from the play of the game into the realities of the workplace and the issues of alignment, information sharing, collaboration and optimization of results.

Because of the map, I think we set up a neat little situation of cognitive dissonance and thus the motivation of the lower performing teams to discover these unknown best practices. At the same time, the map reinforces the higher-performing teams for the planning and collaboration that they did during play that helped them perform at a higher level.

My personal belief is that this feedback – the visual aspect of the map and the movement and performance of each team — helps generate a more effective debrief.

In the workplace, we have higher performing individuals and average and poor performers. If we make the performance a bit more obvious, and make the tools that are used (best practices) better-known and understood, we should be able to create these same kinds of gaps in actual and desired results, lending to better intrinsic motivation and self-directed improvement.

I may be wrong, but I do not think so. I think we can help people perform better, build teamwork and esprit de corps, and make the workplace a more engaging place.

You might also find this article on Managing Flow to be of interest:  high_performance_team_flow

Scott Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
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