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What do feedback and underwear have in common?

Feedback may not always be fun to hear, but if L&D professionals want to release a world-class product, feedback is essential.


“I feel you’re getting defensive right now.”

Our team has spent the past two months living, breathing and eating this new employee orientation re-design and now you’re telling us that you don’t like it. Darn right I’m defensive!! And I’m not just defensive. I want to take my ball and go home and you all can keep your old, crappy new employee orientation!!

I didn’t say those words, but I certainly thought them.  

My team was in the midst of piloting a completely overhauled new employee orientation and we were showing off what we felt was the coolest part: a board game that illustrated how our organization was going to achieve its mission. The feedback we received wasn’t as positive as we had expected/hoped for. We tried to explain why we had made some decisions, and that’s when a participant suggested we were being defensive.

I’ve attended a handful of training sessions designed to help people effectively deliver feedback to their co-workers. I’ve even designed a few of those sessions. In just about every single feedback training session I’ve attended, someone uses the metaphor of a gift to describe feedback.

If feedback is a gift, I see it as the kind of gift that you open on Christmas morning. Sometimes it turns out to be a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle. Positive feedback falls into this category.

Then there’s “constructive” feedback. Constructive feedback is like opening a package on Christmas morning and hoping for the Red Ryder air rifle only to discover that the box actually contains a 12-pack of new underwear. This is nowhere near as enjoyable in the moment, but it’s a pretty essential gift when it comes to looking presentable out in public.

The feedback that was being offered to us turned out to be essential, and when we stopped trying to defend why we made certain decisions and instead just listened and took notes, we realized that it was going to make the new employee orientation even better when we put it in front of a real cohort of new employees later this week.

Feedback can truly be painful to hear, especially after you’ve poured your heart and soul into a training program. The truth is, however, that if we’re not asking people outside of our normal circles for feedback on our instructor-led or elearning programs, it’s very likely that we’ll put a flawed product in front of our learners… and that’s even more painful for us, and for them.


I posted this image of our overhauled training program on LinkedIn last week just before we began piloting the program and receiving feedback.


A number of people have reached out to ask for some more details about this program. On Thursday, I’ll share a brief summary of how this program (game) works and why we decided to overhaul our old program.

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Brian Washburn
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