12 Jun


"I'm giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them."

Yeager, D. S., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., Brzustoski, P., Master, A., Hessert, W. T., Williams, M. E., & Cohen, G. L. (2014). Breaking the cycle of mistrust: Wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divide. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(2), 804–824. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033906 

Taken from Coyle, D. (2019). The culture code. Random House UK.

THE MEAT (The Main Idea)

We are going to connect this quote/question about feedback to culture. But first, we have to take and breakdown the quote and explore where it came from. So stay with me. 

Having worked in various organizations from the young age of 15, I've witnessed firsthand the profound influence of organizational culture on my experiences and tenure in each role. The culture of an organization holds the power to either ignite or dampen enthusiasm, commitment, and satisfaction among its members. Reflecting on my personal experiences made Daniel Coyle's book, Culture Code, resonate so deeply with me. His work serves as an invaluable roadmap for cultivating healthy and productive cultures within organizations. 

I want to focus on a significant study Coyle references that underscores the transformative power of feedback in shaping student efforts and performance. The study, titled "Breaking the cycle of mistrust: Wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divide," was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014. Coyle highlights the key concept from this study, which he refers to as "magical feedback." The essence of this magical feedback can be distilled into 19 words: "I'm giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them." These seemingly simple words, as revealed by the study, have the astounding potential to increase student efforts and performance by up to 40 percent among white students and a staggering 320 percent boost among black students. On a side note, it is worth noting that Coyle's interpretation of the study may not fully emphasize its original racial focus, but that discussion is a topic for another time. 

So let's explore why these 19 words possess such magical qualities and how Coyle connects them to the broader concept of culture within his book.

THE CHEESE (Added Depth) 

Daniel Coyle refers to the quote as "magical" because it carries a profound impact through what he calls a "burst of cues." These cues can be summarized as follows: (1) you are part of this group, (2) this group is special with high standards, and (3) I believe you can reach those standards. Together, these cues create a powerful underlying message: "YOU ARE SAFE." 

Take a moment to reflect on your current work culture. Do you genuinely feel safe? Safety encompasses both physical and psychological aspects. Can you confidently say "yes" to both? Does your work culture provide an environment where you feel secure to be your authentic self? Moreover, does it communicate that your unique contributions are valued and essential to the collective growth and success of the organization? 

Now, let's dig deeper. On a scale of zero to four, how would you score your organization? Zero signifies a work culture that falls significantly short in providing a sense of safety and belonging. On the other hand, a score of four represents an organization that not only recognizes the importance of safety but also embraces and celebrates the diverse identities and talents of its members. If you are on the 1 -2 side of the scale... definitely keep reading! 

It's crucial to recognize that safety goes beyond physical security. Psychological safety plays a fundamental role in enabling individuals to bring their whole selves to work. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more willing to take risks, contribute their unique perspectives, and engage in open and honest dialogue. Creating a work culture that fosters safety and belonging aligns seamlessly with the cues provided in the magical feedback. 

When individuals feel safe to be themselves, valued for their unique contributions, and supported in their growth, it enhances the power of the original quote. By cultivating an environment that embraces these cues, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams, nurture a culture of excellence, and create an organization where individuals are inspired to reach new heights. 

THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element)

When we want to convey a concept effectively in teaching, we often provide both examples and non-examples to illustrate what to do and what to avoid. This approach not only helps students grasp the essence of the lesson but also allows them to understand the boundaries and nuances of the subject matter. We call this explicit instruction. So let's give it a go to add texture to our quote. 

EXAMPLE: Throughout the Apollo 11 mission, the cues delivered were clear and inspiring. The entire team embraced the vision of reaching the moon, with each member understanding their vital role in achieving this audacious goal. The messages conveyed included, "You are part of this historic mission," "This team is special; we have the highest standards," and "I believe in your abilities to accomplish the impossible." These cues created an environment of trust, collaboration, and unwavering belief in the capabilities of every team member. The result was the successful landing of humans on the moon, marking a monumental achievement in human history. The power of positive feedback, combined with a culture that fosters high expectations and unwavering support, propelled the Apollo 11 team to surpass their limitations and accomplish the seemingly impossible. 

NON-EXAMPLE: In the realm of sports, the non-example that comes to mind is the legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight. Known as "The General," Bobby Knight gained fame during his tenure at Indiana University, where he achieved success on the court. However, his coaching style and approach represented a stark contrast to the burst of cues that Daniel Coyle describes in his book, Culture Code. Despite his coaching accolades, Bobby Knight's career eventually took a turn for the worse. His aggressive and abusive behavior towards players, referees, and even colleagues became increasingly publicized. It ultimately led to his downfall and tarnished his once-glorified reputation. The negative consequences of his coaching style became apparent as the detrimental effects on individuals and the culture he fostered came to light.

These contrasting examples serve as reminders of the immense influence that cues, feedback, and culture have on individuals and organizations. The Culture Code highlights the Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich as an excellent example of creating a psychologically safe team that signaled, "I'm giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them" As we navigate our own professional journeys, let us be mindful of the cues we deliver, the feedback we provide, and the culture we cultivate. Embrace the opportunity to inspire and empower those around you, signaling that they are valued, capable, and integral to the collective mission.

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