The Carrot and the Stick

RikiThere has long been a difference of opinions about the proper application of carrot versus stick–positive versus negative reinforcement–in encouraging the culture of feedback in the Judge Program. There’s really not much stick in the Judge Program when it comes to reviews these days. The current review-writing requirements are solely for advancement and maintenance.

In the past, there was a “requirement” for L3s to write one review per event they judged with 10 or more judges on staff (a fairly arbitrary number that was simply meant to apply to GPs and PTs). This requirement was never enforced, or known about really, and was pretty much an artifact of wishful thinking on the part of the then-Judge Manager Andy Heckt.

It’s important to understand why the stick isn’t used. Our primary purpose as Magic Judges is to judge tournaments. Period. Development of other judges, which is what feedback and reviews are, is a secondary goal. To put it bluntly, TOs aren’t paying you to help other judges get better.

That said, under ideal circumstances, this secondary goal should still be something that we as a Program and those TOs that pay us should aspire to. Helping other judges improve is something that serves future events. Attrition in the ranks is inevitable, and it is imperative to replenish those ranks continuously both in quantity and quality.

If I did not place such a high personal priority on developing other judges, I could be a more effective tournament judge. So why sacrifice my effectiveness, which corresponds with my market value to TOs?

It all comes down to the fact that I really love Magic: The Gathering, the community and the tournaments. I expect Magic to last as a game for the foreseeable future. Yet when I examine my own participation, I have to admit that there’s an end to it (not really any time soon, but the end is out there somewhere on the horizon). I want Magic and its judges to continue to be awesome when I leave it behind. So I invest in that future by fostering a culture of feedback.

Every year, I see that culture under fire. As I’ve said, all of our potential sticks have burned in that fire.

What then of the carrots? Traditionally, these have been few and far between as well. I’ve never received any direct compensation for writing reviews. But now we have a powerful carrot in the form of the Exemplar Program, itself a form of positive-reinforcement feedback. Of the Exemplar nominations that I’ve personally received, 14 of them include the word “review” and 15 mention “feedback.” (6 reference both.) Of the Exemplar nominations I’ve written, 22 involve “feedback” and 18 “review.” (8 for both.)

If feedback is important to you, consider writing an Exemplar nomination for it. This could be for something of a more personal nature, thanking someone for excellent feedback that they gave you. It could be for more general activity like reviewing all the members of their team at an event. It could also be for finding different ways to encourage feedback.*

*How meta. No, don’t nominate me for this blog post.

One motivator could be classified as either a carrot or a stick: peer pressure. The urge to conform, to do what everyone else is doing, is a powerful one. There can be both a sense of satisfaction in participating (carrot) and a fear of being the one person who didn’t (stick).

Yet it’s easy to lose touch with the healthy motivation behind peer pressure because of the fear of failure. This fear is so strong that our culture hesitates to be proud of accomplishments out of fear that those who failed will feel shame. So we get participation trophies for everyone. I even tread carefully as SCG judge manager by asking people not to get braggadocious about event acceptances on Facebook.

In feedback culture, I’ve struggled to find the right balance between encouragement by example and showing off. I’ve hesitated to ask others to be held publicly accountable for writing reviews. (Privately, I cajole those near me with impunity.)

Well, it’s high time for that cajoling to get bigger and bolder. To me, feedback is the most essential component in the long term success of the Judge Program, and I’m tired of it living in the shadows. As the Head Judge of GP Milwaukee, the last Grand Prix of 2016, I did something that’s never been done before. I asked the judges on staff to join me in a challenge that could change feedback culture forever.

Find out more next month on The Feedback Loop.

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