From this week's Marshall Memo

posted Oct 16, 2011, 8:48 AM by

3. “Pull” Versus “Push” Feedback to Adults

            In this Wharton Leadership Digest article, Wharton professor Katherine Klein says the commonly-held belief that feedback improves performance is largely untrue. “Typically, performance after feedback improves only modestly,” she says, “and over one-third of the time, it actually gets worse. People who receive positive feedback often see no need for change, and those who receive negative feedback often react with skepticism, discouragement, and anger, dismissing the evaluation as inaccurate, unhelpful, or unfair.”

            So what should managers do? Klein says the problem with feedback is that it usually involves “pushing” corrective suggestions to the employee, with the implication that they’re underperforming. “Pulling” is far more effective, she says – teaching, coaching, and developing people. The key elements of effective pulling are:

-    Clarify and specify the behaviors, skills, and expected accomplishments of the job;

-    Convey high expectations for improvement;

-    Create an organizational climate that makes it safe to ask questions, make mistakes, and learn new things;

-    Coach supervisors to give formative feedback that’s direct but provides an opportunity to learn; that keeps the focus on the task and behavior, not the person; and that sets goals for improvement;

-    Support improvement through mentors, coaching, and other learning opportunities;

-    Give frequent on-the-spot feedback, such as the U.S. Army’s “after-action reviews” that critique every mission, pinpoint needed improvements, and fix problems immediately.


“Pull, Don’t Push: Designing Effective Feedback Systems” by Katherine Klein in Wharton Leadership Digest: Nano Tools for Leaders, September/October 2011,