I still remember my first ride on a bike. That moment when no one was helping me, when it was just me and the machine and this incredible sense of flight. I wasn't aware I was pedalling. I wasn't aware of anything except the magical feeling of flying that has stayed with me for the rest of my life. I still have that feeling when I get on a bike.
Momentum and feedback are as close as we can get in business to that magical feeling of flight.
Momentum is one of the most powerful forces in business. Feedback is the most powerful force in achieving that momentum.
Momentum and feedback share something: they are both abstracts drawn from the physical world to create a powerful image.
Momentum draws on the image of the flywheel: get a large enough flywheel spinning and it seems to spin on its own forever, without further input.
Feedback happens when an signal (say, from a loudspeaker) is fed back into the system (into a microphone) and alters the original signal (making it louder - then called positive feedback). It is a self-reinforcing loop.
Momentum and feedback are connected because feedback management is one of the most effective ways to create momentum. Both forces create forward movement, and a sense of things happening with less effort; a kind of flight.
What is the opposite of the image of the flywheel and momentum? The Greek myth of Sisyphus: the story of the ancient king doomed by Zeus to roll a huge boulder to the top of a hill. The curse is, just as Sisyphus gets the bolder almost to the top of the hill, it eludes him and rolls to the bottom again.
Sound like running a business?
If it does, you don't have momentum. If you feel like every day, every month, even 10 years after you started, everything grinds to a halt when you go home at night, and you have start it all up again in the morning, you don't have momentum. If you don't feel like you can get sick or go on holidays without the wheels falling off the bus, you don't have momentum.
You have an owner-scaled business; one in which every bit of movement is 100% reliant on your time, your efforts, your energy.
Read also: Want the Truth? Feedback in Business
Momentum is one of the hallmarks of an enterprise-scale business. The owner is not the flywheel, the business is. It grows and thrives and makes money whether the owner is operationally present or not.
Positive Feedback Management
The heart of business momentum is our people. Feedback is the heart of managing our people in a way that supports momentum.
- We start with our mission and objectives.
- We hire people for the right strengths - and those aren't always what we think they are.
- We train our team members to link their strengths to the mission and objectives.
- We get out of their way.
- When a team member does something that contributes to the forward momentum of the enterprise we feed that information back into the system by explicitly pointing out what the team member just did that was effective.
- The team member connects the behaviour with the feedback that it has made a difference; and they are more likely do it again. This is the heart of feedback management: team members take our information, and feed it back into their own process, allowing that feedback to adjust their efforts in the next 'cycle'.
- The rest of the team notices the behaviour, the feedback, and the positive impact on the enterprise. Using the phenomenon of social proofing they nudge their own behaviours in the direction that has a positive impact on the enterprise. Momentum begins.
- The loop of talented people using feedback to move the enterprise forward with increasing effectiveness is the most powerful creator of momentum there is.
This is a story. Nothing ever happens this cleanly, but positive feedback management connected to other drivers (cost control, marketing, communication), generates real momentum.
What behaviours contribute to momentum? While many talents and behaviours can move an enterprise forward there are a few that consistently stand out:
- taking creative risks to create non-linear improvement;
- working cooperatively with other team members to achieve improved effectiveness;
- bringing new learning into the enterprise from outside in a way that improves the intelligence of the enterprise;
- bringing to attention anything in the enterprise that threatens momentum, even when that intelligence is hard to hear;
- anything that speaks to a team member operating from their place of strength in a remarkable way.
What does feedback management look like? What it does not look like is a pat on the back. What it does look like is explicitly connecting an action to our mission, and its positive impact on the objectives of the enterprise. What is also looks like is 'public' celebration. We want the benefits of social proofing; of the whole team noticing what kind of behaviour or action makes a difference. There are two caveats:
- Use individual feedback when supporting individual behaviours, and celebrations when attaining the goals we have set collectively;
- The exact form feedback takes is determined in part by the team member. Not everyone is comfortable with having a fuss made over their accomplishments. This must be respected.
Learn more about how we create Feedback Management Systems and why it matters for your organization: