Tag Archives: harvard business review

A more effective approach to feedback?

By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th March 2019

How to give ‘negative’ feedback is one of the most frequent questions posed by delegates on RiverRhee’s management courses.  It’s a topic we get into during our course on Performance Management and Development too.  And it’s a question that arises when we explore the difference between coaching and mentoring.


Word Cloud (https://worditout.com/word-cloud/create) generated from this blog on Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s article “The Feedback Fallacy” in the March-April 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review (pages 92-101) 

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s article “The Feedback Fallacy” in the March-April 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review (pages 92-101) is a gold-mine of information on this subject.  And by the way, it also reminds us about why ‘positive’ feedback is so important, with fabulous guidance on how to do that well too.

Dispelling three feedback fallacies

Traditional approaches to feedback rely on three fallacies which Buckingham and Goodall masterfully dispel through the use of analogies and neuroscience research results.

1. The source of truth

Our new managers are often uncomfortable about giving feedback. Although their reasons for feeling so may vary, the HBR authors assert that we are not necessarily the best judge of what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘the right’ performance.

They point out that we will each have a different perspective of this – they call this the “idiosyncratic rater effect”.  The analogy they use is how different people will rate the redness of a rose – asking more people will only create more diversity in the interpretation of the truth of that redness!

Instead, the authors suggest that people are better at assessing their own performance (as they would assess their own level of post-operative pain).

In this situation, as Buckingham and Goodall say: “all we can do – and it’s not nothing – is share our own feelings and experiences”.

In our courses we suggest that managers emphasize what they have observed when they give feedback. This would still seem like a good starting point.  They could then add to that, “When you did this, I felt that”; or “Here is what I would have done in that situation.”

2. The theory of learning

The authors confirm something that we know from the field of Appreciative Enquiry: that people will learn (most) effectively if they build on strengths and what’s working well, rather than on weaknesses and what isn’t working well!

As they say: ” Learning is less a function of adding something that isn’t there than it is of recognizing, reinforcing, and refining what already is.”

Buckingham and Goodall cite insights from neuroscience as evidence of this:

  • Our brains build far more neurons and synaptic connections where we already have more of them i.e. in our areas of strength, than in our areas of weakness.
  • When we focus on areas that we need to correct, our sympathetic “fight or flight” survival system kicks in and actually impairs learning.
  • When we focus on  dreams and how to achieve them, our parasympathetic or “rest and digest” system is stimulated and fosters openness to learning.

This reinforces the need for managers to draw individuals’ attention to their strengths and explore with them how they might develop these strengths further.

3. The theory of excellence

This is perhaps the most exciting of the authors’ three theories.  They point out, again with analogies, from comedians, and sports, that each person’s example of excellence is unique: no two people will excel in the same way.

The trick then is to help individuals recognise their moments of excellence, and how they can top up their learning to make these repeatable.  The authors call this a “highest priority interrupt”.

We can do this by giving feedback at the moment that we spot some great performance – what it was that we observed and how we felt about it – and asking for instance: “What was going through your mind when you did that?”.  (Hence reinforcing the “rest and digest” performance of the parasympathetic system.)

And by the way, the authors explain how studying failure and how to avoid it will help to plug gaps in performance and fix flaws, but is unlikely to lead to excellence!

Coaching vs. mentoring

The observations in this article reinforce our approach to coaching: that it’s about creating the conditions and asking the open questions that will help the individual build on their strengths, further their learning, and excel.

Buckingham and Goodall give an excellent framework for helping people think through what they might need to do going forward:

  • Start with the present, and encourage them to think about what is working for them right now.  (This stimulates oxytocin – the “love or creativity drug”.)
  • Then get them thinking about the past: what example can they think about of when they tackled something similar that worked well – what they did or felt.
  • Then focus on the future – what do they already know that they could do; “What would you like to have happen” (an example of clean questioning).

There is still a need to give instruction and feedback on aspects of work where there is a need to do things in a certain way – for health and safety or otherwise critical steps.  This is more like mentoring.

And we can also share how we would do something, but this will only be a starting point for an individual’s reflection.


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Performance reviews – kill them or keep them?

By Elisabeth Goodman and Liz Mercer, 6th December 2016

The idea of starting our own ‘Journal Club’ cropped up recently during a demonstration of the GROW coaching model on one of RiverRhee’s Introduction to Management course.  Both of us are keen to keep up with our professional reading and so pick up and feed ideas more effectively into the training and coaching that we provide to our clients.


Goler, Gale and Grant’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Let’s not kill performance evaluations yet” (November 2016 pp.91-94) seemed a fitting topic to start with as it’s one that we cover in our course, and has also been very much to the fore recently in our in-house training for clients.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that this HBR article is written from a US perspective and may not be reflective of the situation elsewhere.  It is also a case study of Facebook’s approach where Goler and Gale work.  Dale is a professor at Wharton and also a consultant to Facebook.  That said, there are some good, thought provoking ideas relevant to any organisation that employs people! And many organisations we’ve worked with have considered the same opportunities and challenges.

Performance evaluations, performance reviews, appraisals – what’s the difference?

The terms seem to be used somewhat interchangeably.  The article seems to focus on the use of performance ratings or scores as an integral part of performance evaluations.  We have mainly seen or heard the terms performance reviews and appraisals used interchangeably in the UK – and tend to use the former, as in the title for this blog.

Arguments for killing or keeping performance reviews

Goler et al have found that some organisations are stopping the formal performance reviews altogether, because the assignment of ratings is often biased, and the annual cycle means that employees don’t get feedback often or soon enough.

However, as the authors point out, ratings will still be assigned by management behind the scenes as a way of making decisions about pay and promotion. They suggest that the mechanism for assigning ratings should be transparent.

They also argue that something is better than nothing: people want to have feedback on their performance and discuss their development goals.  They quote Daniel Kahneman’s findings that even bad news about performance is better than no news – it gives people the certainty that they need to adjust their perspective and take action.

Some of the organisations that Goler et al have come across are switching to real-time feedback systems.  However, they suggest that an annual review is a useful way of formalising the process – allowing proper time for consideration and reflection.

Our experience of performance reviews in the UK

RiverRhee logo

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

All the companies that we have come across are using some form of performance reviews.  Our experience is that some of them are:

  • Taking the rating piece out of the performance review discussion, so as to allow a more open discussion – however that does mean there is less transparency about how pay and promotion decisions are made.
  • Supplementing the formal annual review with quarterly or twice yearly reviews.  Something that is particularly important for many of the Life Science organisations that we work with, as the unexpectedness and uncertainty of science can make it important to review and adapt objectives on an on-going basis.
  • Ensuring that direct reports have regular one-to-one discussions with their managers to discuss feedback in a timely way

How Facebook is taking performance evaluations a step further

Facebook has adopted some interesting approaches to their performance evaluations.

  1. Peers write evaluations, share them with their managers, and, in most cases, one another.  This supports openness and transparency.
  2. Managers then discuss their reports in a face-to-face meeting, championing and defending.  This reduces the risk of personal bias.
  3. Managers then write the performance review documents – which are examined by a team of analysts to remove bias.
  4. Ratings are translated into compensation using a pre-defined formula.

In addition:

  1. They set stretch goals, with a 50:50 chance of success, as they believe it is more motivating for people to have something high to aim for.  They suggest that people want to find out and know what they can and can’t achieve.
  2. Senior leaders share the feedback from their own performance evaluations, normalising the fact that they too can sometimes fall short of targets.
  3. There is a general acceptance that people will not get the same performance ratings from one year to the next.

What we would like to see adopted more widely by organisations

We don’t have a solution yet on whether ratings should be shared as part of the performance review discussion.  We can see arguments either way.  However we do think that:

  1. How ratings are determined should be transparent.
  2. There is definitely value in senior managers having a face-to-face discussion about all the performance reviews of their managers’ direct reports, for the reasons described by Facebook.  We know one company in the UK that does this both before and after the performance review discussions.
  3. More effort should be made to collect feedback from other managers or peers that individuals work with, especially in matrix organisations where they may report to both line and project managers.
  4. Performance discussions should be a continuous process, throughout the year – a shared conversation and based on a growth mindset.

And we do believe that some form of annual review process should be retained, for all the reasons given above!

About the authors

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

Liz Mercer is an Associate with RiverRhee Consulting.  She is a Human Resources professional, with 30 years experience, mainly in Pharmaceuticals and Biotech and understands the challenges of leadership, management and team development.  Liz also runs her own business providing training, facilitation and coaching, for individuals and teams: with a particular interest in the challenges for virtual team leaders. She has a Masters in Organisational Behaviour, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is accredited in MBTI and has a certificate in Coaching.


Feel the fear and do it anyway

By Elisabeth Goodman

Last night I heard Sheri Kershaw & Band at the Royston Folk Club – our favourite twice-monthly music venue.  She introduced her first song ‘Colours of Life‘ with the observation that we will all suffer at some time in our lives, and the suggestion that we embrace rather than resist this experience, as it is what adds colour to our lives.

One of the reasons that I write these blogs is the opportunity this gives me to share the insights that experiences like hearing someone like Sheri gives me.  Combine this with a Harvard Business review blog by Peter Bregman ‘The unexpected antidote to procrastination‘ that I spotted in my twitter feed earlier in the day, and some magic happened that I wanted to share!

Not being afraid to fall

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

Bregman writes of his experience of watching surfers, who dare to ride the waves in search of that epic experience, with the full knowledge that they will always end by falling.  Some fall gracefully, others resist it for as long as they can.  But inevitably, they do fall.  He suggests that the reason we put off doing a lot of difficult things in work or in life, put off taking risks even if what we might achieve might be epic or wonderful, is the fear of what might happen, of failing, of falling, of being hurt.

However, if, like Bregman, like Sheri Kershaw, we accept that the intensity of what we might feel, of what we might suffer, is an integral part of life’s rich tapestry, and of what we can achieve and succeed at, then it’s going to be about feeling the pain, and doing it anyway.

The link to engagement, empowerment and change

This brings me to why I’m writing about music and surfing in a business blog, and why I do the work that I do!  I had the pleasure to experience a one-day course on coaching, organised by the Cambridge Network‘s Learning Collaboration, and led by Sue Blow from Management Learning & Coaching.

Listening to Sue and hearing about her approach as a coach reminded me that my work with teams is all about giving the individuals within the team the time, environment and skills to deal with the pain that they have been experiencing.  As a result, the members of the team can become more engaged with their organisation’s goals, and also feel more empowered to do something about the challenges that they are facing.

I was talking with David Bance and John Moore earlier in the week, in our nascent Melbourn Business Association Special Interest Group for Operational Excellence. We were comparing experiences of how empowered people had been to raise suggestions for improvement as a result of participating in Total Quality Management, or Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.  The best outcome was that it gave them the permission, the courage, the skills, the data and reasoning to dare to change situations where they had previously been feeling the pain.  Of course, a successful outcome is also dependent on the management and organisational support to make the resultant changes.

The fear and the pain can be large or small

I definitely do not wish to minimise or trivialise the fear, pain or suffering that people might experience in their working or home lives, and the courage and the risks that they take to overcome them.  I recognise that these can be very great and some of the situations that I come across can seem relatively small.

For example I also recently attended an excellent seminar by Janet Burton, of The Training Manager, where we explored how to develop, prepare for and deliver  presentations.  Even these kinds of situations can feel challenging and require effective mental preparation, a good stretch and taking a deep breath before beginning!

I’m also a trustee of the Red Balloon Learner Centre in Cambridge, and admire the courage of the students who come in to tackle their personal challenges of recovering from bullying and other traumas that they’ve experienced, so that they can come back to learning again.

The main thing is, as Sheri Kershaw and Peter Bregman suggest, to embrace these experiences and to also remember that there are people out there who will help you if we can.


  1. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge management, change management and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)
  2. Follow the links to find out about other ways in which Elisabeth Goodmanand RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

The needs of globally dispersed, innovative, teams

In our August 2012 RiverRhee Consulting newsletter, my Associates and I wrote about our insights on working in virtual teams, so it was with some interest that I read about “10 rules for managing global innovation” in the October issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR)1.

After all, that’s what most ‘virtual’, ‘dispersed’ or ‘far flung’ teams are aiming to do: work globally and innovate, be it to make incremental, or more large scale innovative improvements to their portfolio, whatever it might be.

In this blog I’ll discuss the needs of globally dispersed innovative teams in the context of the insights in the RiverRhee newsletter and the 10 rules of the HBR article.

A different kind of management to make up for the lack of informal, ‘ad hoc’ communication

In our newsletter we referred to the need for managers of virtual teams to have a “much broader skill set” than those managing co-located teams.  They need to be able to switch between their skill-sets to support dispersed team members in different ways depending on their local characteristics.  Local differences may be cultural, but it may also be a matter of the different personality mix and dynamics at each location.

It’s true that dispersed teams may find it harder to stay focused on goals, tackle problems in a timely way, and make everyday decisions that enable them to maintain their momentum, without some form of more active management involvement than might be needed in a co-located team.

The HBR article suggests that a senior manager should be assigned responsibility for overseeing the work of a globally dispersed team.  This assumes that the team does not already have an overall manager in place and instead consists of a looser form of collaboration between the different locations.

The authors also suggest that one site be appointed as the lead one.  They would assist the overall manager in ensuring that a consistent bigger picture is addressed, whereas other sites might be focusing more on the detail.  This site would also ensure effective decision-making and on-going progress.

A well-defined goal

The HBR article suggests that a geographically dispersed team will find it harder not to drift from their remit!  In our newsletter we suggested that that remit or vision should be centred on consistent communication with their customer.  A team focused on innovation should definitely have a vision for what they are aiming to deliver, and with the end-customer in mind.

So again, this is where a directive management approach is essential in ensuring that the team stays focused on their goal.

A strong team

In our newsletter, we suggested that this is where a combination of good interpersonal relationships and sound working practices will come to the fore – to address the greater diversity of a global team, and the challenges of working in a more dispersed way.

The HBR article suggests that a stable organizational context (to shield the team from additional distractions) and rigorous project management (with seasoned project leaders) are additional key factors for success.  The authors also suggest that starting with small cross-location projects or collaborations will also help the team to develop that strong start.

Globally dispersed teams may cross organizational boundaries, for instance if they are engaged in Open Innovation, something that I’ve been learning a lot about in my work with OI Pharma Partners.  Even without being engaged in the complexities of Open Innovation, globally dispersed teams are likely to have multiple partners, suppliers, sub-contractors etc.  The HBR article suggests that teams deliberately limit the number of these to reduce complexity, and to use those the team knows well and are more closely located.

Like us, the HBR article suggests that a team should not be over-reliant on technology for its communication, and that nothing beats initial and if possible regular face-to-face interaction to build rapport and connection within the global team.

Building the team’s expertise

The HBR article points out that one of the benefits of using a global team is the greater opportunity to draw on the necessary expertise and capabilities at the different locations.  It’s therefore important to do just that, and not get drawn in to involving people just because they are available if they are not a good fit for what the team requires.

The authors also suggest deliberately overlapping areas of expertise between locations to foster interdependencies in their work, collaboration and knowledge sharing between them.

Finally, we stressed the importance of all team members being engaged in sharing their expertise, strengths and insights for the benefit of the whole virtual team.  We also suggested that geographically dispersed team members can each play a leadership role to benefit the rest of the team by looking for opportunities to deliver the greatest value in the application of their individual areas of expertise and strength.

what have we missed?

The reflections from the RiverRhee August 2012 newsletter, combined with the 10 rules from the HBR article seem to be a strong recipe for success!  What do you think? Have we missed anything?


1. 10 Rules for Managing Global Innovation, by Keeley Wilson and Yves L. Doz.  Harvard Business Review, October 2012, pp 85-90

2. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).