Three common missteps when delivering feedback (told by the data!)

At The Experience Accelerator, we’re in the process of building unique data sets on behavioural skills.  Through our fully virtual “visualise/practice/feedback” learning loops, we are gaining tremendous insights on what goes systematically right and wrong for our learners when seeking to improve their soft skills.

In a world where people analytics and delivering change at scale is ever more important, we’re excited to share what we have found.

In a before and after learning study conducted with final year students at the University of Bahrain, we discovered the impact of our platform supported a 40-80% improvement in feedback delivery skills.  But it was really when we scratched the surface of these findings along with our data set of close to 100 learners that we started to see some interesting patterns:

Performance declines the further you get through the feedback conversation.  Our learners start well, build a good foundation for the conversation and communicate clearly the intent for why they are sharing this feedback.  Most learners also describe the context and what happened reasonably well.  Then things start to go off track.  Learners tend to skip over describing the impact of the situation which in turn impacts their ability to create ownership from the other person and worse still, we see a lack of tangible next steps or commitments to future improvement.  And so no surprises when we assess their ability to structure a feedback conversation more holistically, they don’t score as well as they or we would like.

So why is this trail off so pronounced across so many learners?  We see three factors in play:

Automaticity  is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. Source:  Wikipedia.  Being able to hold the 5 or 6 things in your mind that make for a good feedback conversation takes deliberate practice and focus before it becomes simpler and more automatic.  Many traditional learning practices simply don’t create the time and space to build this automaticity.

Mindset about relationship damage – it’s critical to examine your motives for giving (or not giving) feedback to a colleague, friend, manager or direct report.  Many of our learners, particularly our Millennial and Gen Z learners, cited concerns about “breaking the relationship” if they gave developmental feedback.  This translates into a) prevaricating before sharing what happened and b) an abdication from the steps of describing impact, encouraging ownership and helping to formulate the “what now”.  We work on helping to flip this mindset with questions like:  “what if that person continues to fail in this particular situation because you have chosen not to tell them?”

Emotional hijacking – Daniel Goleman coined the term amygdala hijack and you can learn more about it in this short interview.  An interview with Daniel Goleman. What we observe is we come to these (often difficult) conversations with a certain amount of stress (see point 2 above!) and often, the recipient of our message may react defensively or start to attack our beliefs, observations etc.  This seems to trigger a fight or flight response for many of our learners which causes them to derail on some of the latter steps.  They become emotional themselves, they argue or they retreat.  We encourage a combination of empathy, genuine curiosity, preparation and facts as tools to protect against hijacks.  It’s also important to help learners understand how high performing teams deliver positive and developmental feedback in much more different ratios than you’d think – there’s an interesting HBR article here on that:  Give your team more effective positive feedback

We’ll close this short blog with a fascinating observation from a dear colleague and partner of ours:

“Fundamentally, we are messy beings with lots of needs.  Learning how to manage someone elses’ while regulating your own takes a certain amount of focus and mastery.   Iterative practice is so useful in this domain” – Dr Diza Sauers, Professor of Practice, Eller Management School, University of Arizona

For more information about the learning vehicle that helps us generate these insights, please visit us at:

Are your negotiating skills fit for Industry 4.0?

Wondering if your negotiating skills are fit for Industry 4.0? Catch up with the conversation between Dr Karen Walch and Sarah Schwab on our recent webinar to hear answers to questions like:
*** How are effective negotiating strategies different in an Industry 4.0 environment?
*** What are the common mistakes we see people make?
**** What does the research tell us about how to change our negotiating behavior?

3 effective behaviors of a great change leader

I mentioned last week that we’ve been working with a number of leaders who are about to announce a major change initiative to their teams. We’ve been helping them prepare and practice their initial communication. It’s crazy that we don’t do more deliberate practice in this area – it makes a HUGE difference! What we’ve learned through the data analytics of their performance? Here’s where the focus is:

I love how this article from LimbicZen deconstructs why these factors are important from a neuroscience perspective.

Getting workforce ready?

Anette Hunziker value story Continue reading…

Stepping into Management Shoes in 2018?

As 2018 beckons, there’s a cadre of folks set to have extraordinary impact on the careers of many others. These people? The new managers of 2018. Turns out, that after the promotion celebrations are over, I’ve come to hear how relatively few first time managers still get ANY structured support, training or advice about how to make this important career turn. Meeting a senior VP at a major multinational just before Christmas, I was struck by his comment when discussing the need for new manager support:

“my CEO will tell me that of course these new managers know what to do, we wouldn’t have promoted them if they didn’t”

But why will they?! Too often the very behaviours rewarded for an individual contributor role are completely different from those of a successful manager. And I’ve seen enough light bulb moments over the years when new managers are shown the significant impact their behaviour (good or bad) has on others to know this is a big step for many. So late last year, I turned to a group of experts in the field and we discussed what first time manager behaviours bring the biggest impact – and here’s what they said:

Show the Way: Set a clear and compelling vision and outline clear team goals which are your goals. Make sure every person has responsibilities, tasks and a timeline. When you manage a team, your job is not to do their job or to tell them how to do it, it is to set the conditions and clear obstacles, so they can do the best possible version of they need to do.

Be a Better Version of Yourself: Learn to self-reflect, show tremendous humility and willingness to learn. Work hard on your self-awareness. Recognise that you can make mistakes, don’t try to hide them, but share so everyone can learn and move on. Work hard on active listening and building trust.

Be Inspiring: Set the example for preferred behaviours, be a role model and show others the way, Coach and develop your team. Understand how powerful your honesty, integrity and authenticity are in driving performance.

A Team is a Collection of Important Individuals: Put your employees at the heart of organization. Talk with your team, not at them. Spend time with each team member, be curious, get to know what motivates each one – remember they are individuals. Observe behaviours without bias. Start with describing what you see rather than judging. Remember diversity enriches and often shows different ways forward.

Know someone starting a manager role for the first time? Please send them this article – it’ll be a positive jolt of energy for them and their team.

Greek Gods and Avatars in a new learning solution

Continuing on with our theme of sharing some of the most interesting research into learning, we’re going to take a detour into the world of Greek mythology today.

The Greek God Proteus was known for his power of assuming whatever shape he pleased and, from him, the adjective “Protean” has evolved to bring connotations of flexibility, versatility and adaptability.

In a thoughtful set of studies, Nick Yee coined the term “The Proteus Effect” to describe a phenomenon he discovered – that the use of avatars can cause our own behaviour to change. In his experiments, participants watched how their avatars acted and subsequently changed their behavior to reflect the behavior of their avatars. In one study which focused on negotiations, participants whose avatars were shorter were more willing to accept less attractive offers compared to those whose avatars were taller. Or in other words, the taller avatars helped the participants feel more confident and they negotiated more effectively.

Age also plays a factor in helping us visualise our future self more vividly. In a study that was seeking to tackle the challenge of “we don’t save enough for retirement”, Hal Hershfield ran a series of experiments that tested whether seeing ourselves when we were older had any impact on our decisions about saving for retirement NOW. Participants who saw their future “older” self avatar allocated a higher percentage of pay to their retirement than those who just saw their “actual age” avatar.

These results are impressive and unleash a powerful new set of tools to help accelerate learning outcomes. At The Experience Accelerator, we have deployed the latest technology to bring the Proteus Effect to life. Imagine seeing your future leadership self in avatar form, performing the skill or behaviour you are trying to master! It’s a powerful and fresh way of learning foundational managerial skills at scale and at the fraction of the cost of more traditional methods. Do contact us for a demo:

Mirror Mirror on the wall…..

Some of the best minds in social, psychology and machine learning have been exploring the field of persuasive technology for years. This summer, I locked myself in a room and set out a target of reading 4 academic research studies per day in this terrain area. Yes… arguably I am not the ideal person to invite to your next dinner party (unless of course your friends are passionate about cognitive research in learning in which case I would be perfect!) However, it was fascinating and I learned so much.

My motivation for doing so was simple. The world is moving at exponential pace and I believe we can differentiate ourselves positively by re-examining how we learn, why we retain some information and skills (but not others) and what gets in the way of doing so. I’m hoping to share a few things on what I uncovered in the coming weeks.

In a small but well cited and rigorous study, Gonzalez-Franco and colleagues found that, cognitively, our brains do not see avatars dramatically differently as to how we see ourselves when we look in a mirror. By measuring participants’ brain activity with electroencephalography (EEG), they found that our neural activity was pretty much the same if we look at an avatar or we look at ourselves in a mirror.

With a twist.

Kaufmann and Schweinberger’s research states that our avatar needs to resemble our real life image in a range of 70% or better. If this is true, our brain “sees” yourself (or more accurately the neural activity processes the image) in the same way. Fascinating right? And creates some very interesting possibilities about the power of visualisation in learning.

Put in other words, I can’t suddenly create an avatar that looks like Kate Moss and expect the same result, (for those of you who don’t know me, I am nowhere near!) but I can probably adjust my avatar a little and it wouldn’t dramatically affect how my brain processes the image. It’s as if I were looking at myself in a mirror!

Making a new type of baby

Babies are special aren’t they?  I just took a cab back to my hotel in Mumbai and came very close side by side to a rickshaw with a mother holding this cute baby.  Our eyes connected and we both smiled so hard our faces lit up.  It was a special moment.  And somewhere it made me laugh because it got me thinking.  I have a new baby which makes my face light up – my start-up company, The Experience Accelerator.  We’re in the business of helping leaders learn new skills and behaviours faster and more effectively.

If the Experience Accelerator was a baby, I would describe her as a beautiful blend.  She’s edgy because we are using some of the very latest and best cognitive research applied to learning – and yet dependable because we incorporate practice and feedback through a wonderful network of coaching professionals  – both tried and tested methods for making learning stick.  She’s democratic and ambitious, because our avatar solution aims to deliver leadership development at scale globally for so many more managers than have access today.  And she’s creative because we really are living at the intersection of tech, learning and film making – a heady combo as I’m finding out.  A case in point, I’m in the heart of the Indian film industry this week, shooting motion capture with proper, bona fide Bollywood actors!

And we’re moving fast….

  • we’re close to releasing the beta version of our avatar solution – check it out here:  cool video about avatars
  • we ran an amazing VR Experience in London a couple of weeks ago with PipsLab.  Our 7 leaders, passionate about learning, came up with over 30 corporate applications for the type of VR experience we ran.  The influential leadership guru, Josh Bersin, echoes our findings and this great quote from one of our participants does a perfect job of capturing the mood:

“The adventure of learning takes a new and exciting path!  Immersed in a virtual reality experience, I’m challenged visually, audibly, emotionally…and from all sides.  I spent the best part of 35 years, in various leadership roles in the insurance industry, training people to handle the emotions and challenges that go along with some very tough and challenging future changing moments for families and businesses.  If only I’d had VR…and Sarah Schwab as partners, I know that I could have done so much more, so much more quickly to get the learning in, embedded and making a difference.  This is an adventure not to be missed.” – Tim Culling, Retired Insurance Company Executive

We’re also a member of EPFL’s Edtech Collider – home to positively charged entrepreneurs transforming education.  We number over 50 early-stage to established startups.

Please get in touch if you are serious about pushing the boundaries of your learning strategy.  We’re on a fantastic journey.  If anyone is keen to help, we have 10 places for L&D professionals to beta test the avatar product for free in late September.  Approx 1-1.5 hours commitment.  Please share your details via the contact us link at the top right of this page to join the adventure!

Copyright 2017-2019 The Experience Accelerator