What Candy Crush Crush Saga Taught Me About Workplace Feedback

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Jan 24, 2014

I admit it. I am addicted.

They say the first step is to admit it, so here goes: I am addicted to Candy Crush Saga.

If you aren’t familiar with it – don’t start! It is an online game (many access it through Facebook or an app) where you match three like candies to crush and remove them, thus making way for new candies. You have a limited number of moves to crush sufficient candy or you fail.

It doesn’t say, “you lose,” or “better luck next time.” An odd little character jumps up and down with a frown on her face, next to the words, “Failed.”

Tough feedback — from an online game

Ouch. That’s harsh, particularly when I did my best. Those pesky little candies move really fast, and it’s hard to get them matched.

The first time she popped up and said “You failed,” I thought, “Hmm, that’s pretty blunt.” I felt a little badly; I’m not one who likes to fail. What was interesting to me was my reaction after I got over feeling a little badly.

I came back, more determined than ever to crush those ^%$# candies! I was motivated!

So you probably are now wondering what all this has to do with leadership, with human resources, with performance and learning, aren’t you? Those are the topics on which I typically write.

What I learned from Candy Crush

I actually think there is a lesson here, so bear with me while I try to explain.

  • We don’t talk about failure. OK, this isn’t news, but in today’s business environment we would never think to use the “F” word. We talk around it, find some positives to say first, and possibly blur the message with words that are not hurtful and don’t damage morale.
  • People really don’t like to fail. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to classes of leaders, “You really don’t think people come to work thinking, ‘I think I’ll do a lousy job today,’ do you?” Most people love to win, feel nicely validated when they do, and avoid failure if at all possible.
  • Everyone is not a winner. Don’t tell that to the Little League, since everyone there gets a trophy. In reality, sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes our work is excellent, sometimes it is less so. There can be myriad reasons for less than excellent work. It could be we’re having a bad day, it could be we don’t have the resources we need to be successful.
  • We learn from our failures. In 1991, the late Chris Argyris wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review titled, Teaching Smart People to Learn. For the article, he studied top ranked management consultants from “A” schools and found that smart people have difficulty learning because they have never failed. Yes, failure is an excellent opportunity to learn.
  • We get motivated to not fail again. I really don’t like to fail. I’m going to do my absolute best to make sure I don’t do it again. In order to make that happen, I have to study and reflect on the circumstances of the failure, (think, learn.) If my failure is minimized, do I have the same motivation to learn and reflect?
  • Feedback needs to be clear. I’m not advocating being hurtful, but I do think we should give some thought to the way we use feedback. If my premise, above, has any merit, feedback needs to provide someone a clear message that they didn’t hit the mark, and send them back to reflect and learn. Will this hurt people’s feelings? Perhaps. But most people spring back with determination that they aren’t going to let that happen again.
  • Feedback needs to be two-way. If the reason I failed is because I didn’t have the skills, resources, or support, that needs to be a big part of the discussion. But if the one providing feedback glosses over that, the topic of support probably doesn’t come up.

I guess I shouldn’t be mad at my son for getting me started with Candy Crush Saga, and fueling my addiction, since it may have been a real learning experience.

But I think the gamers who conceived of this game had some pretty good insight into human nature. We really do want to get it right and win.

Maybe blunt feedback can, in some way, be motivating.

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.

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