How your organization manages its performance reviews and offers feedback to employees goes a long way to determining the ultimate success of the business in the long term
Performance management is a talent process that can cause angst for both givers and receivers of feedback. Formal reviews, often distant in time from the events they discuss, tend to be vague since feedback-givers prioritize nice over constructive and tend to avoid difficult conversations. And hybrid workplaces have made such avoidance even easier.
Performance reviews and informal feedback conversations (if they happen at all) often fail to support growth and development. As currently structured, performance reviews can be unhelpful at best, and at worst, de-motivating and frustrating for recipients.
With talent concerns around retention, quiet quitting or firing, and issues like diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) taking center stage, and supporting career growth in hybrid workplaces being top of mind issues for many organizations, here are three things to consider when revamping performance reviews:
1. Increase frequency
To optimize the benefits for both individuals and organizations, providing feedback should not just happen annually. Instead, organizations should encourage managers to provide real-time feedback that normalizes the process of debriefing, and discussions of what went well and what could be improved can then use specific, timely examples.
Organizations should also consider implementing a system of more regular feedback during the natural work cycle, for example, at the end of a project or file. When feedback is provided as close to real-time as possible, it is freshest in people’s memories and individuals can take action on the feedback right away. Meetings need not all that long and can address what to stop, start and continue but also, what support from management is needed.
More frequent meetings also can create greater accountability for both employer and employee. Don’t let hybrid get in the way of these meetings happening. Remote one-on-ones can be equally effective. This is particularly important from a DEI perspective if, as recent studies suggest, more women and racialized professionals are opting for remote or hybrid work.
2. Take a coaching approach
Taking a coaching approach to feedback will result in more frequent and interactive conversations. It can also allow the employee to retain agency and ownership over their own development while at the same time, not absolve the employer of its responsibilities.
A coach listens, asks questions, and is forward-focused. Brief and frequent coaching moments that provide feedback in real-time should use specific examples and create opportunities for dialogue. The feedback-giver can share their observations but also test their assumptions, for example, by offering: This is what I am seeing, is there something else I should know, are my observations correct?
Asking employees what they see as their areas to improve will often uncover that they already know and understand the constructive feedback. What they need is more support with strategies to implement or act on the feedback.
A coach can help set goals and partner with the employee to help them achieve those goals. For example, a coach can ask what concrete steps can be taken to support the employee’s growth? Or, does the employee require a particular type of assignment to develop a skill. Who will make that happen? What is the individual’s responsibility and what is the employer’s? When will they check back in with one another?
Each party should leave the meeting knowing what they need to do and when. As such, the coaching approach provides more accountability and emphasizes that feedback is a continuous process that requires frequent check-ins and ongoing dialogue.
3. Build a culture of feedback
Frequent actionable feedback is of particular importance for organizations that want to advance and retain their diverse talent. Studies show that women tend to receive more vague feedback and that comments received tend to be more personality-based rather than skills-based. Similarly, racialized individuals are at once judged more harshly yet given less actionable feedback.
To build a culture of more regular feedback, reviewers need training and guidance on how to provide it. For example, feedback should be based on objective criteria and should require specific examples to allow for growth. Telling someone they need to show more leadership is not helpful without knowing what leadership means and how it manifests in a particular context. Feedback should also focus on actions and behaviors and how these impact situations or how they are perceived, as opposed to comments that go to the individual or their identity.
If reviewer discomfort is a barrier to giving constructive feedback, organizations can consider asking reviewers for their advice. While feedback itself leans to evaluating or judging past performance; asking for advice, on the other hand, is more likely to result in specific, actionable input and is by its nature is more forward-looking. Advice is not only easier to give, but easier to hear. The specificity that comes with actionable advice allows for growth whereas broad vague comments about performance that fell short can be discouraging.
A feedback culture also requires training employees on how to seek and receive feedback, with a particular focus on effective ways to do so remotely and in-person.
The strategies in this article are important regardless of location of work, but organizations need to be more deliberate about implementation in hybrid workplaces in which there is a risk of feedback not being provided if it can’t be delivered in-person.
Increasing the frequency of feedback conversations, taking a coaching approach, and building a culture of feedback or advice focusing on actionable future-oriented recommendations are three strategies that will help organizations improve their performance in managing the performance of others.