Make it specific
Give feedback in-the-moment
Suggest solutions but respect employee's autonomy
Schedule regular check-ins
Encourage team members to critique each other's work
Use team building exercises to foster a supportive culture
Always give negative feedback in small doses
In recent years, we’ve seen a move away from traditional performance management programs. Annual performance reviews were once the lore of the land, but now continuous feedback is radically altering how HR professionals manage performance.
Continuous feedback is not about filling in forms or ticking boxes. Instead, it’s about those nuggets of feedback we receive day to day. It might be a comment from a co-worker on our pitch, or insights from our manager on how we can improve our sales strategy.
This informal, regular feedback can be extremely valuable. It can motivate us to build our skills, or point out errors we didn’t notice. Evidence suggests this is the type of developmental support employees are looking for. According to ClearCompany, over half of office workers want performance check-ins at least once a month, and 94% want real time feedback.
You might ask, isn’t continuous feedback something that happens naturally? However, CIPD’s report highlights that giving feedback takes skill. As they write: ‘Given well and at the right moment, feedback can be invaluable, but given poorly it can feel devastating’.
‘Devastating’ is not the word you want associated with your performance management process. Creating a continuous feedback model means being intentional about how informal feedback will work.
But hope is not lost. HR can train managers on giving helpful, constructive feedback. They can use HR software to schedule regular virtual check-ins, or encourage managers to make daily stand-ups an opportunity to track progress.
It's time to think creatively about performance management - and continuous feedback is worth a try.
The Benefits of Continuous Feedback:
Address problems as they arise
Link feedback to specific areas of improvement
Connect performance management to daily tasks
Inspire collaboration in a psychological safety environment
Improve working relationships
Athletes use continuous feedback to up their game. After every match or tournament, coaches give feedback to players on how they performed in that game.
Receiving criticism and pointers is normal for athletes. They expect to receive feedback on their performance after each game. In traditional organisations, employees have to wait for the next performance review to find out about their progress. Footballers only have to wait until full-time!
What does this mean for performance management? Criticism from coaches can be jarring at first for athletes. But it then becomes an everyday part of their training. Since coaches offer their thoughts after each game, feedback is always specific. As SMART targets remind us – feedback must be specific and measurable.
If feedback is confined to the annual performance review, it’s likely to offer out-of-date advice. Managers should think of each project or new task as a ‘game’ – if an employee missed the mark, tell them why. Keep feedback grounded in their work, and you’ll see employees’ work improve.
The problem with annual performance reviews is that managers save up a year’s worth of criticism for one meeting or appraisal. When they drop this giant feedback bomb, it can come as a shock to employees.
Many will leave the company, or have their role terminated following a negative performance review. They may have had no previous one-on-one meetings or appraisals in which concerns were raised. Blindsiding employees is never the answer – it will damage employee engagement.
Negative or constructive feedback is often crucial. But you can turn it from a necessary evil into a developmental tool with ongoing feedback.
Firstly, you should always give negative feedback in real time. For example, imagine someone is due to give a presentation, and you note that they’re not spending adequate time on preparation. Telling someone six months down the line that more prep would have been beneficial is developmentally useless.
Organizing a check-in at the moment you notice issues however means you can support the employee to build their preparation, and overcome any obstacles.
Feedback is about the company culture you want to promote. In psychologically safe environments, employees provide pointers to one another freely and supportive criticism is normal.
The Minneapolis-based food producer Cargill was struggling to support and engage its 160,000 employees. Cargill took the leap from annual reviews to ongoing feedback – and reaped the benefits. Nearly 70% of Cargill employees said they feel valued and have received useful feedback from managers.
It’s no surprise that when we invest time in our employees, they feel more supported and more likely to take on feedback. Ongoing feedback makes managers schedule one-on-one meetings, and build rapport with employees.
Giving honest and supportive feedback builds trust. Be careful – harsh feedback will do the opposite! A coaching management style is a great way to facilitate employee engagement. You offer the employee autonomy on how to act on feedback, and you take on an active role in every employee's development.
Continuous feedback also benefits the team as a whole. When you feel comfortable giving notes to your co-workers, you’re more likely to collaborate effectively. Some of the best teamwork happens when we put egos aside and take onboard our colleagues’ thoughts.
So many of us have felt the crushing sense of uncertainty at receiving a ‘Satisfactory’ rating. Is your work meeting expectations – and if it is, how do you start exceeding expectations? If a colleague’s rating is higher than yours, is your job at risk?
Performance review ratings can be a minefield. They often raise more questions than they answer. Ratings are removed from specific events or context. Ongoing feedback is the exact opposite – it is grounded in current projects or day to day activities.
Ongoing feedback is about more than the numbers – it’s about dialogue. Managers can speak to employees about areas of improvement, and employees can respond. Performance reviews can be one-sided. By communicating with your team on their progress regularly, they can tell you what’s holding them back from success.
This better equips managers too – as they can give employees the resources or training they need to work efficiently.
Since the pandemic, more of us than ever before are working from home. Remote work has its positives, but communication can suffer. We’ve all said ‘you’re mic’s not on!’ as a colleague mimes their product ideas, or received a confusing message from a co-worker.
Feedback relies on open communication – and this is especially difficult in the remote environment. Companies such as Google delayed performance reviews as workers adjust to remote work, and Facebook gave employees universal “exceeds expectations” reviews.
These companies are rightly mitigating the impact of the pandemic of employees. However, a feedback strategy is needed more than ever. How can we support our team to keep growing their skills in spite of the distance?
Ongoing feedback conversations are, of course, the answer. A daily check-in is an opportunity to give helpful pointers to employees. It’s also an opportunity for them to offer tips and feedback to each other.
Remote work can be isolating. Creating an ongoing feedback culture builds trust and community, and makes everyone feel that little bit more supported.
As Bill Gates says, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” Ongoing feedback is about supporting employees to reach their full potential. It’s about building a community at work, even in the remote environment.
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