This time of year many companies are preparing for the annual review season. But even experienced managers and executives struggle to make these reviews meaningful and useful. Many organizations struggle to train leaders on how to provide actionable, timely feedback.
I once had a client contact me to request training on feedback at this time of year. When I asked what business problem they were attempting to address with feedback training, they mentioned that annual reviews were coming up and they wanted to help managers give feedback on sensitive performance issues — yet they had not set performance goals or even had regular 1-on-1 meetings with their employees. They were looking for a simple solution to deliver difficult feedback to employees who had not been set up with a good performance agreement to perform their jobs at a higher level all year.
With this common approach to giving employees feedback, it’s no wonder performance reviews are dreaded by both employees and managers.
The purpose of feedback should be to help employees build their skills, assess their motivation, and do their jobs better. Through effective feedback processes, not only do employees thrive, but the organization is more likely to achieve higher levels of success. Here are three strategies you can use to elevate business results through an effective feedback process.
First Key to Effective Feedback:
Continuous Performance Management Enables More Effective Feedback Practices Than Annual Performance Reviews
Traditional annual performance reviews are broken. One of the main reasons the traditional approach to performance reviews aren’t effective anymore is that it lacks real-time feedback on current performance goals. Backward-looking annual reviews are disconnected from the work happening now. They’re also disconnected from the critical conversations that need to take place before and during challenges — not after employees have already hit performance goals.
When feedback comes too late, or has no context to the moment, it’s not only difficult to respond to the feedback, the process can erode trust and motivation. Not only does feedback that’s not anchored to regular conversations during annual reviews fail to help employees improve, but the reviews can also feel like a stream of criticism. This can cause bad feelings between employees and managers, harming working relationships and making the work environment more hostile.
- Performance Agreements: Giving feedback through continuous performance conversations enables individuals and leaders to agree on what good performance will look like during a given performance period.
- Performance Conversations: Continuous performance conversations allow feedback to address performance needs of the moment, helping individuals develop a sense of trust in themselves and in those leading.
- Performance Appraisals: Continuous performance enables continuous assessment of performance and performance needs during a performance season. Regular feedback opportunities enable individuals to request feedback and provides leaders the opportunity to respond with feedback on a consistent basis, rather than wait until the end of a long cycle. Even if your organization chooses to conduct formal performance reviews, continuous performance conversations avoid any surprises in the feedback received during a formal review process.
The Second Key to Effective Feedback:
Feedback Should Be Focused on Performance, not the Person
One of the main issues the organization had in the introduction of this article is that they wanted to use performance reviews as an opportunity to express what they don’t like about some of their people. Effective feedback should be primarily focused on a person’s performance, not their personality. Outside of HR-related rules and regulations, personalized feedback is difficult to respond to if it’s not related to performance.
The same is often true in the popular use of 360 feedback assessments. While 360-degree feedback solicits feedback regarding an employee’s behavior from a variety of points of view (direct reports, peers, clients, and leaders), it often lacks insights into actual performance; unless there is transparency in the performance goals the person receiving the feedback is pursuing. In other words, it's a great opportunity to give and receive feedback from others beyond a manager, but much of this feedback is difficult to deliver, or to receive, without insight into the goals being pursued.
For example, if you find that someone’s behavior disrupts meetings or is frustrating others, consider how those behaviors may be affecting their performance or the performance of the team and respond with feedback related to performance needs. If the person continues to exhibit behavior not aligned to organizational or team values and norms, the next step would be to collaborate on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), where you can coach individuals through effective feedback during an agreed performance improvement period. If the behavioral issues continue, you have documentation of the feedback and may need to elevate the conversation to HR at that point.
Whether it is one-to-one feedback, 360-degree feedback, or any other type of feedback, it is critical that the feedback is related to or aligned with a person's performance, not simply how great or difficult they are to work with.
The Third Key to Effective Feedback:
Feedback Should Develop Work Passion in Employees
Organizations have been wrestling with the business challenge of employee engagement for decades now. However, the employee engagement crisis has reached such epic proportions that the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified workplace burnout as an occupational health issue. The data is clear: More engaged employees are more productive and more likely to be retained. But how do you engage employees?
That’s the problem; you need to think beyond engagement. Progressive organizations concerned with the health and well-being of individuals need to consider ways to cultivate “work passion.” Work passion is defined as an employee's intentional responses to the way they think and feel about their work.
Regular feedback helps employees be more thoughtful and highly engaged in how they intend to work, not just in how they are performing. Effective feedback develops work passion in two critical ways.
- First, regular, effective feedback allows the individual to continually assess their intellectual, physiological, and emotional needs, because it relates to how they feel about the work they are doing and the organization they are doing it for. Giving employees space for continual assessment of their passion for work allows them to solicit feedback about their work experience that goes way beyond a list of tasks they are working on, or even how “satisfied” they are or doing, and into the things that truly inspire them.
- Second, regular, effective feedback allows managers, coaches, leaders, and peers to respond to the employee’s performance needs in a way that matches those needs in the moment. Often, poor feedback is a oneway street and delivered without understanding the context of the moment or the thoughts and feelings of the individual the feedback is being given to. Assessing an individual's performance needs, before giving feedback, is critical to influencing the positive intentions of that employee, over time.
The Importance of Effective Feedback
Effective feedback is critical to the health and well being of your employees. Establishing effective feedback practices within your organization develops a culture of trust and cultivates a workforce that is passionate about the work they are doing. Ineffective feedback, simply delivering your thoughts and feelings to an employee you’re attempting to influence, can be destructive to the employee, your career, and the organization. Feedback is a fundamental leadership skill that, when practiced through a continuous performance process, provides the right amount of direction and support that individuals need to thrive in their work. When creating a tactical culture of feedback, you’ll help your people build new skills and develop passion for their work — which leads to positive business results through higher productivity, engagement, and retention.
Learn more about providing actionable, continuous feedback with Inspire.