Why Feedback Is Irresponsible and What To Do Instead: Part Three

Carol Sanford
4 min readApr 23, 2018


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This is the third in a six-part series on the irresponsible downside of feedback in all its forms. The previous two premises are:

Premise 1: Self-governing Behavior is Energy Effective

The foundational element in effective human systems is self-correcting, self-managing, self-accountable, self-governing behavior. Energy spent on monitoring and attempting to affect human behavior from the outside, by others, is wasted energy that could be better used to improve the system and its people. In human systems it is critical to continuously increase self-governing capability.

Premise 2: Self-governance Depends on the Capability to Self-reflect

The capability to be self-correcting or self-governing depends on the capability to be self-reflecting. Self-reflection is the observation and interpretation of one’s own internal processes for the purpose of restoring or maintaining homeostasis (internal balance and harmony with one’s environment) and creating heterostasis (evolution and change).

Premise 3: Developmental Plans Are the Basis for Self-Reflection and Self-Governance

To become self-correcting — individually or as parts of teams — we must operate from development plans that we create for ourselves based on hierarchies of value and influence. Following these plans, we discover ways to express our own uniqueness (first-line work); we learn about ourselves and the joys and problems of working with others (second-line work); we search continuously for opportunities to make contributions to something greater than ourselves (third-line work). We optimize internal balance and maintain the capability to govern ourselves by continuously self-reflecting in order to stay with our plans.

Cybernetics theory tells us that isolating individual systems in order to correct imbalances inevitably leads to runaway. In human systems this happens most often as the result of well-intentioned processes based on feedback exclusively from external perspectives. Useful information — information unlikely to cause runaway — originates within systems in which people continuously produce value for others with whom they share reciprocal relationships. Producing genuine value for others always requires taking whole systems into account.

In the business world, the enlightened goal is to enrich the lives of customers and consumers who make use of the goods and services produced. At the same time, businesses also enrich the lives of all the other stakeholders in their endeavors. Within businesses individuals are able to determine what is likely to produce value for stakeholders and to develop within themselves the capabilities required to participate in making this contribution. This entails the use of self-reflection to garner self-understanding in order to grow oneself to be more effective. This self-generated, self-reflective process requires and enhances discovery and continuous self-reflection.

In businesses driving to creating responsible management systems, personal develop plans are based on personally set aims that require growth beyond a present state of being and capability. These aims are augmented when a person sees things that need improvement based on more ability to contribute what is unique to him or herself. Each individual sets aims to develop the ableness of the organization or business, the stakeholders affected by the business, and the work teams they are part of. They also set personal aims that they feel are required to meet these larger aims. In this way, a development plan includes three lines of work (on self, on how others work together, and in service to stakeholders).

Aims are not the same as traditional goals and objectives. They are intrinsic developmental paths that require a person to be, rather than just do something more effectively. For example, for a person to take on bigger challenges (the doing), they may need to learn to manage their reactivity to anything new (the being).

What is not developmental or responsible?

Several “categorizing feedback” methods currently in vogue seem to now be essential tools for training and development. In fact they tend not to be developmental in nature. The Myers-Briggs analysis, for example, and other models like it are usually presented as static typologies. They appear to invite better understanding of who we are but they offer no real way change or develop. They focus primarily on standardized and functional aspects of personality and discourage exploration of the uniqueness of individuals.

Relying on these models people come to believe that they are static — common and definable by external standards (“what I am”) rather than evolving (“what I am becoming or could become”). Within an organization, this kind of assessment, and the feedback attendant to it, contribute to a field of external judgments, which tends to limit seeing one other as more than the representatives of a type — and fixed in that type at that. The lives of real persons are reduced to boxes or ranks and individuals are robbed of their liveliness and their capacity to develop.

Originally published at carolsanford.com on July 21, 2011.



Carol Sanford

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson |# 1 AmazonBest Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator