The Weekly Reflektion 08/2022

We are all influenced by feedback. Good feedback may give us a lift and perhaps encourage us to continue what we are doing and perhaps improve. Bad feedback may get us down but could give us that kick we need to improve. What about no feedback? Well, this may just indicate you don’t care.

Albert Einstein in a reflektive mood

What behaviours do you encourage by the feedback you give?

Albert Einstein was lecturing his students one day and he wrote out the nine times table on the blackboard. For anyone that can’t remember the good old days, blackboards and chalk were a common method of communication before the advent of electronic devices. Einstein at the time was a famous and iconic figure.

9 * 1 = 9 

9 * 2 = 18 

9 * 3 = 27

9 * 4 = 36 

9 * 5 = 45 

9 * 6 = 54 

9 * 7 = 63 

9 * 8 = 72 

9 * 9 = 81 

9 * 10 = 91 

9 * 11 =

Before he could write the answer to 9 * 11 the class erupted as they loudly pointed out that Einstein, the great Einstein, had made a mistake in a simple times table. Einstein thanked the students for pointing out his mistake, which he quickly rectified. ‘What about the ones that I got right? I didn’t hear anyone congratulate me for all the others. I didn’t hear any appreciation for the good work that I had done, only criticism for the one mistake that I made.’

This is the challenge with feedback. When people do as we expect, and we don’t think what they have done is exceptional, then we tend not to say anything. The students didn’t cheer or express their appreciation for Einstein’s efforts with 9 times 1 up to 9 times 9. However, when the mistake was made, they reacted instantly. When Einstein presented his special and general theories of relativity there was a positive reaction and the feedback Einstein received was immense. Einstein had done something exceptional and deserved the praise given at the time, and still deserves our appreciation for his insights. 

When people do something that is important to us, and they help us reach our objectives then we will of course be appreciative. The opposite is of course also important, we will be critical when the objectives are not being met. As a manager you will set the agenda for the feedback by determining what objectives the organisation will be attempting to achieve. Over time you will influence the culture in the organisation and hopefully ensure a safe and effective operation.  

What happens when the objectives and the feedback do not lead to a safe and effective operation?

The Texas City refinery disaster on 23rd March 2005, where 15 workers were killed and over 180 injured, has been the subject of several Reflektions. There were plenty of signals that a major accident was waiting to happen at Texas City. The feedback given to the people at the refinery before the disaster was ‘Our lost time accident frequency rate is coming down, well done keep up the good work. However, our costs are too high, so we need to focus on cost reduction.’ What feedback do you give and what is the basis for this feedback?

Reflekt AS