When is Too Much Feedback… Too Much?

Score one for feedback junkies. Last month, the Economist ran a story about a new way to satisfy people looking for constant feedback at work.  It’s been said that individuals just entering the workforce thrive on feedback; one example being the millennial generation’s love of video games, which give you instant and continuous feedback on your performance. Turns out this generation is eager to keep score on their performance at work, too.  This can be challenging for managers, who are being asked for feedback on every little thing by young workers looking for instant reaction to their work.

The creators of a new, web-based service called Rypple claim they can satisfy this desire for frequent feedback while easing the burden on managers. The service asks employees to establish a network of trusted colleagues whose opinions they value. They can then send out short questions, such as “What did you think of my contribution in the meeting today?” to which their network responds immediately online.  Individual responses are anonymous; aggregate feedback is compiled and reported.  The Economist also noted:

“Among other things, Rypple lets users ask members of their networks to measure their performance against a scale, so they can track how they are doing over time. It also lets employers see what “tags”, or overarching themes, are being used most often in questions. If, say, creativity is key to a firm’s success but there are few requests for feedback on employees’ creativity, then bosses can tell they have not done enough to communicate their priorities.  Daniel Debow, one of Rypple’s co-founders, says the system “reverses the onus on the demand for more feedback” by getting employees to build and manage their own coaching networks.”

This is where you might be saying – whoa, won’t that chew up a lot of time?  How much of a good thing is good for us?  Managers could end up spending a lot of valuable time fielding feedback requests, and what about “gaming” the system by soliciting input from just your friends or trusted colleagues?

Well, the Economist reports that companies that have road-tested Rypple claim that such concerns evaporate once it is up and running. (The basic service is free, but a premium version costs $2-5 per user per month.) Tony Chapman, the boss of Capital C, a Canadian marketing agency, says employees across the board have embraced the system.  He is even using it to solicit feedback from clients.

Rypple may not be perfect, but it is certainly better than no feedback, or a poorly delivered annual performance review. At a time when results are under pressure almost everywhere, I suppose anything that helps improve employees’ performance quickly can be a source of useful competitive advantage.  OK, so I’m in – for the right situations, this could be great. I can certainly see how it would be effective at gathering feedback quickly from a lot of people, especially if they’re remote.  Still, it leaves me wondering… couldn’t you (ahem) just ask people what they thought of your presentation?  Mark my words, in about 10 years someone’s going to reinvent this innovative, revolutionary process called “talking face-to-face”, and it’s going to HUGE!