Neurological foundation of good performance feedback


Reinforcement Learning is a well accepted model in the computational community.
It was originally created by the artificial intelligence community as a model to understand and improve learning. The model’s core principle is based on a reward signal. Rewards in the animal world can be juice, food, or excitation of a pleasure zone in the brain. What we find fascinating is the fact that neuroscientists have been using Reinforcement Learning at the center of their model for understanding the brain, and it seems to be working!

tmp 33The most interesting aspect of studying the brain has been the realization that some neurons (called dopamine neurons) have the power to react not only to the reward signal, but also to the early sign of a reward signal once the pattern has been learned. Pavlov experiences in which the sound of a bell creates a reaction (salivation) in dogs prior to them receiving a reward (food), are probably the most well known examples of this mechanism. The reward signal was already delivered to the dog at the time of the sound of the bell.

Let’s make the leap to the corporate world, where we see from the start that we have major issues:

1. Often people complain about the lack of feedback they receive on their job. This major issue is preventing our brains from receiving the tools it needs to learn. In short, it prevents us from growing at all!

2. Lack of candid feedback: this non-consistent feedback makes any learning opportunity a waste. There is no way we can consistently see patterns and learn from them when they are not candid. What’s even worse is that we can build the wrong reward signals when the feedback is not consistent.

3. Rare feedback: Seeing the annual review as an opportunity to gain feedback in an organization is a waste of time for learning purposes because the brain cannot retain the information over a year.

Our feedback approach at Checkster is based on a “Checkup” system of regular feedback in order to prevent the traditional lack of “reward” signals that enable our brains to learn.
Today Gen Y expects to receive these types of signals (feedback) and looks at the older generation as Crazy! The best analogy is that of a cook who only tastes the dish when it is served on a plate. It’s crazy because one wonders why the cook can’t just taste the food as it is cooked?
We can only dream of the potential benefits this Y generation can deliver to the workforce if regular feedback is performed diligently over the course of one’s career!