Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science

I was thrilled to find this book as a means of discovering a more quantitative way to assess the value of feedback and how to use it (more effectively.) I was also excited to learn more about the adoption of neuroscience in everyday life. The author, Charles Jacobs, is a principal at 180 | Partners in Newton, MA. Charles and team focus  on applying the latest neuroscience research, storytelling and behavior change. They refer to behavior change in this context as “rewiring.” Here’s a brief video of Charles explaining their mission.


Table of Contents

 1. Brain Science

2. From Brain to Mind

3. Working Relationships

4. Managing Upside Down

5. Organizing Leverage

6. Thinking Strategically

7. Changing Minds

8. Leading Ideas

9. All Things Are Ready

I enjoyed reading this book. It’s not rich with examples, but it IS rich with guidance for how to effectively apply neuroscience (as a layperson) especially in the workplace. This is the kernel guidance I gleaned: (Italicized text indicates book content.)

  1. Business is not a purely objective pursuit – it is a human activity. I have noted a rapid decrease in the appreciation of people in the workplace in favor of metrics (often chosen by those not performing the work.)
  2. Although we might see metaphors as just rhetorical ornamentation, they are fundamentally how the mind works. One outcome of the focus on objective measures (and experience of others) in the workplace has been the scorn shown for metaphors used to explain how teams could operate more effectively.
  3. The common sense entailed by the objective paradigm distorts the world, leading to actions that are self-defeating, while obscuring others that would prove more effective. In these discussions with management and with leadership, I continue to find an unwillingness to (even) discuss scenarios (let alone metaphors) outside of their own experiences.
  4. There are a special kind of nerve cells in the brain called mirror neurons. It appears that there are mirror neurons for emotions…The discovery of mirror neurons provides a biological basis for what is known as the theory of mind. We call what mirror neurons and the theory of mind enable us to do empathy. Here’s a course to discovering where and how empathy emerges.
  5. One we’ve empathized with our customer, we can fit our product or service into their narrative or create a new, more attractive one. Even with programs like Voice Of The Customer and the recruitment of former customers to function as (internal) domain experts, I continue to see assumptions made about customer behavior (that usually lead to features that are poorly received.)
  6. The most productive response would be for us to take the feedback to heart, change our self-image from infallible to fallible, and work at learning a new way of behaving that incorporates the feedback. I’ve worked at self-image management in the context of unexpected feedback, and it’s allowed me to see myself (including my interests) more clearly (including things and people I really don’t have an interest in.)
  7. Punishment has also been shown to have an effect opposite of what we intend. …the strong extrinsic motivator decreased the intrinsic motivation. We talk (a lot) about intrinsic motivation in Agile, but we continue to shun or make uncomfortable those whose opinions we don’t accept or whose presence makes us uncomfortable.
  8. Reward and punishment are not intrinsically bad. It’s their source that causes problems. When reward and punishment are dispensed by managers, employees are put in a subordinate role. When the manager prescribes corrective action, the employee does not have to take responsibility and has no motivation to make it work. The hierarchical relationship between management and employee is amplified when unexpected feedback is received. Management owns the responsibility to design this experience so as to not adversely impact the working relationship.
  9. It takes more time and is more difficult to come up with a questioning strategy so that the employee self-critiques. Management owns setting the conditions (including tools and training) to support effective strategies leading to employee self-critiques. We can’t expect (or wait for) an employee to develop this skill themselves. This is a key observation that management and leadership need to grasp and adopt.
  10. The manager also has to understand the employee’s version of reality to best know how to best package communication …” Employee feedback is usually delivered from a centralized system, using a common form and delivered per a corporate schedule. This uniformity looks good from the management side but usually leaves employees feeling like the proverbial cog in the machine. Employees can detect when the manager has rushed into sharing feedback.
  11. …people are more likely to change when the motivation comes from within, and when we ask rather than tell. True employee engagement is an acquired skill (that needs to be tailored person by person.) Setting the conditions for intrinsic motivation and change is an expert’s means of providing effective and persistent feedback. We need more professionals thinking and working this way.
  12. …these leaders, with very different styles, communicated ideas that took people beyond themselves to accomplish more that they ever thought possible. That’s the kind of transformation organizations need and people long for. Organizational transformation depends on personal transformation and this form of management (and leadership) is key for a successful outcome (and a positive experience.)

Greg Tutunjian

Greg Tutunjian is a leadership and performance coach specializing in team-centric innovation. Greg is a former software and systems engineer, technical program manager and director, and now advisor to organizations ranging from small and medium-sized software product and service companies to Fortune 10 multinationals.