A Lesson in Leadership from Fitbit

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.  ~Ken Blanchard

fitbit runnerAthletes serious about improving their fitness and physical capabilities have always known the value of feedback.  How do you know if you are improving without feedback? Feedback is useful for monitoring progress, keeping aligned with goals and making changes in training regimes when necessary.  And one of the more interesting elements of getting feedback in a timely and regular manner is: it’s personally motivating! Feedback is a concrete form of recognition, and human beings thrive and strive with healthy doses of recognition.


Shaq with his Fitbit

And it is the human need for feedback and recognition that has spawned the relatively new industry of digital wearable technologies.  It is estimated that the fitness tracker market will top $5 Billion by 2019. And one of the superstars in this new movement is Fitbit.

fitbit trackers

Fitbit Inc. is a public company headquartered in San Francisco, California, founded in by James Park and Eric Friedman in late 2007. Fitbit manufactures and markets activity trackers; wireless-enabled wearable technology devices that measure data such as the number of steps walked, heart rate, quality of sleep, steps climbed, and other personal metrics.

And it’s popularity and growth has been phenomenal, as evidenced in the rise in revenue.

fitbit revenue

Plus its popularity is global.  One of my business associates from Kuwait told me he lost 20 kilos (about 45 pounds) by monitoring his calorie expenditure and number of steps using a Fitbit. He said it was so captivating to get the feedback almost instantly and so motivating that if he had not reached his calorie expenditure goal in the evening, he would get out of bed and do pushups!

A Leadership Lesson from Fitbit

So, it is a fundamental part of human wiring to value and respond to feedback. Not only does it allow us to correct activities and behaviours, but is motivating as well.

Sound like a good thing for business? Feedback, self-correction and motivation?

Feedback in business is mostly limited to sterile data and numbers that are often less than motivating. The problem with most feedback in business is that it is not personal and not related to human behaviour and human activities. It’s measurement of widgets, profits, costs, quality conformance measures and the like. Management does respond, however, with fixes to the processes, improvements in technology, doubling of the sales force, etc.

But what about human performance? The sad reality is most employees, including senior executives, receive very little personal feedback throughout their lifetime of work. And what feedback is given, is usually at the end of the year in the annual “performance review” Not exactly real-time! And a raise without any feedback is not very useful for learning and continuous improvement!

After conducting hundreds of culture assessments across multiple industries one of the consistently low scoring categories has to do with the effectiveness of performance reviews and performance feedback. And in many cases these ritualised activities tend to have a demotivating effect.

What Are the Roadblocks to Effective Feedback in Business?

In many of the senior leadership alignment workshops I have conducted over the past 30 years, the topic of performance reviews and feedback almost always comes up. I usually ask the group a series of questions to get the ball rolling:

  1. How may believe that feedback is vital for improving performance and for personal motivation? (nearly everyone raises their hand)
  2. How many have received a bit of feedback at some point in their career that has been truly helpful in making you a better leader (person, employee, manager, etc.)? (most of the hands go up again)
  3. How many of you get enough feedback? (almost no hands go up)
  4. How many would like more feedback on a regular basis> (almost all hands go up again)

What gets in the way? Roadblocks to feedback in business.

Usually there are two categories of roadblocks uncovered in the ensuing discussion. The first is a series of almost unconscious beliefs about giving feedback:

  • If I give someone critical feedback they will take it badly and either lash out or become demotivated.
  • If I give appreciation they will get complacent and slack off.
  • They might turn it around and give me some feedback and then it turns into a negative critique session on both sides.
  • I don’t have enough facts to support my feedback and they won’t believe me.
  • It might open a “can of worms”
  • They are professionals, they should know how they are doing and self-correct. I’m not a nursemaid.
  • It’s potentially an awkward experience that I would just as soon not have.

The fact is, people want and need feedback, so these limiting beliefs are really all in the head of the manager, not the receiver. I call them leadership self-limitations.

The second roadblock category is usually a poor understanding of how to deliver effective feedback.  Here we can make great progress.  Basically there are two types of feedback, and they go together.

Appreciative Feedback: A good phrase to use is . .  “What I really appreciate about your work is . . . “ and then follow with an example of how their work is helpful to the business.

Constructive Feedback: A good phrase to use is . . .  “You could be even more effective if you …….”, then follow with specific, actionable suggestions for improvement.

Taken together, these two elements, Appreciative and Constructive, form a useful method for giving performance feedback.  And it is critical to deliver feedback in as real-time as possible.

One caution, there is such a thing as too much feedback!

too many fitbit

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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