How Feedback is the Ultimate Tool for High Performance in Work and Life



I wanted to know what’s the most effective way to achieve high performance, in yourself and others?

A colleague of mine has been in the human performance arena for years, so I posed the following question:

“What’s the #1 most effective way to achieve high-performance?”

He replied:


Next, I asked:

“What’s the second most effective way to achieve high performance?”

He replied:


The Six Boxes Model for High Performance

My colleague then went to whiteboard and drew a simplified version of the Six Boxes model on the whiteboard:


He then walked through and explained it like this:

  1. Feedback is the place to start.  By providing feedback, you start the process.  People naturally get resourceful.  They get curious.  They find ways to improve.
  2. Tools are an easy way to improve performance.  When you have the right tool for the job, it’s easier to do a better job.  He gave a few examples of tools.  If you’re a truck driver, the truck is a tool.  If you’re a carpenter, the hammer is you’re tool.  If you’re a strategist, then mental models and frameworks are some tools of the trade.
  3. Knowledge is a great place, but it’s also the toughest place to drive high performance from.  He said, in his experience, it’s much more effective to start from Feedback.  This would naturally encourage somebody to seek knowledge.
  4. Capacity is about finding the right fit.  It means helping avoid the fish out of water scenario, and putting somebody in their element, so they can achieve high performance.   He gave an example where some people won’t make a great football linebacker, but would make a great horse racing jockey.
  5. Rewards is often the space of human resources.    He said sadly, there is often a disconnect here between performance and rewards.
  6. Motivation is the desire to do things.  He said the key here is that when people have the right feedback and tools, motivation improves.

He also pointed out that the top row tends to be more of the “system” side of things, while the bottom row tends to be more “individual” type things.

Tools are a Great Place to Operate From

He said I tend to operate in the Tools space, since I create frameworks, models, methods, techniques, etc.

I asked him if that’s a good place to operate from, and, without hesitation, he replied that it’s a GREAT place to operate from.

It turns knowledge into action and empowers people to quickly improve their performance and capability.

Wooden Used Feedback to Create High Performance Teams

The thing that really stuck with me though was his point about feedback, and how it bootstraps high performance.

I couldn’t help but think of John Wooden and how he created amazing high performance teams through personalized, specific, and actionable feedback to all of his players on an individual basis.

What’s special about John Wooden’s success is that he didn’t take high performance teams and make them better.

He took ordinary players and made them extraordinary.

You Need Somebody to Call You On It

I also remembered a related conversation with another colleague about learning emotional intelligence.

She pointed out that with some advanced skills, like emotional intelligence, you really need somebody to call you out on it.

You need somebody who can catch your behavior, in the moment, whether you’re in a meeting or during an interaction, and provide you with actionable feedback in real time to help you improve.

Deliberate Practice Depends on Feedback

This little discussion with my colleague also reminded me that the key to expert performance is deliberate practice.

And, the key to deliberate practice is effective feedback.

Once again, feedback is the key to high performance.

Aside from a great discussion, I gained a new appreciation for the Six Boxes model in terms of thinking through designing for high performance, and shaping systems that create high performance.

If you aren’t achieving the high performance that you want, start by creating more effective feedback loops.

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