How to master the art of world class feedback

While many companies are scrapping performance appraisals, one commentator suggests that the problem with appraisals might be in the way that we give feedback.

by Karen Evans, APAC MD of talent management technology company, Acendre

1. There’s a lot of noise about the end of ‘performance reviews,’ but Acendre says that rather than killing performance reviews, organisations need to focus on world class feedback. Can you give us an overview of world class feedback?

“The growing popularity of the removal of performance reviews among large multinationals, including Accenture and GE, shows that organisations are continually focusing on HR practices – vital if companies want to get the best out of their people. One of the most important issues HR must address during this process, whether they keep annual reviews or not, is how to give feedback.

Many aspects of the review process need to work efficiently to be genuinely constructive. The most important of these is the manner and frequency in which feedback is given to employees. Consequently, the question HR professionals should be asking themselves is, “Are my organisation’s managers equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide world class feedback to their staff?”

The key components of world class feedback, as currently taught by the Harvard Business School, are that it should be delivered with a mindset of helpfulness, the value of specific behaviours should be communicated, and feedback should be regular, timely, future-orientated, specific, and owned.

In practice, this means managers should be meeting with their reports on a regular basis, whether it’s weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. During these catch-ups, the employee should be able to openly discuss how they are doing at work, and managers should be focused on helping their staff further improve and grow. This way, formal quarterly or annual reviews will not produce any surprises. The review can instead focus on what’s next for the employee, and what development plans should be put in place to help them get there.”

2. What’s the benefit of world class feedback vs. say a traditional performance review every year or quarter?

“If not delivered with the ‘world class feedback’ principles in mind, annual performance reviews can focus on the past. They can run the risk of becoming a check-list of successes and failures, and can quickly spiral into a conversation conducted in a defensive mindset.

In comparison, when the principles have been followed, there will be no surprises in a formal review. Any areas that employees need development in will have been addressed in one-on-ones, and this forward-looking conversation can focus on removing roadblocks to help the employee succeed.

Only through a feedback-rich work environment can employees understand how their KPIs positively affect the company as a whole, while also being engaged and empowered to meet these goals.”

3. It’s one thing to give world class feedback, how do you receive world class feedback?

“While a lot of the impetus of giving world class feedback falls on the manager, the direct report has a role to play, too. There are three main areas employees should focus on to receive world class feedback.

Firstly, be realistic. Acting on every piece of feedback received is often impractical, especially as some may be conflicting.

Secondly, be open-minded. Be ready to listen and act on feedback once the value of changing your behaviour has been explained. If feedback is given with a genuine desire to help facilitate development and improve performance, it is much easier to not take things personally. Employees must not become defensive, and think of solutions, not excuses.

Finally, be a constructive team member. Remember, senior staff need to receive feedback, too. HR managers can offer a birds-eye view of the business to senior managers, enabling senior team members to get the development they need. This also ensures any areas requiring improvement are not perpetuated throughout the business.”

4. How can HR help managers deliver world class feedback?

“Training and guidance from HR on how to run performance reviews and informal catch-ups are crucial to ensuring everyone gets world class feedback. It’s important for line managers to be empowered to deliver feedback, both formal and informal, creating a more open, honest and productive culture.

Data can also provide insights into staff engagement levels. Where this is available, such as through a people analytics solution, HR should share this information with line managers ahead of reviews and catch-ups, so any problem areas can be addressed before they result in a disgruntled employee leaving the business.

Finally, any new initiative or program, such as moving to a world class feedback culture, needs to be measured. HR managers should think about what they are trying to achieve and report on these metrics regularly. This could include improving engagement levels in the business, reducing turnover, or increasing the number of employees hitting their KPIs.”

5. What are the steps you’d recommend to create a culture of world class feedback?

“Benchmarking is a great place to start creating a culture of world class feedback. HR departments should aim to conduct employee engagement questionnaires twice a year. These indicators show how employees feel about management and the company as a whole. Giving employees a chance to share feedback of their own helps increase openness in an organisation from the top down. Once the results from the survey are received, they should be used to develop and implement an action plan.
Secondly, managers need to give feedback as soon as possible. Don’t reserve it all for formal reviews, as delayed feedback can lose context and meaning. If feedback is delivered immediately, employees can then either perpetuate or alter particular behaviours, bringing positive results for the team.
Finally, managers should practice giving feedback in different forums. This can include delivering feedback publically, privately, one-on-one, or in tandem with other managers who are also involved in that employee’s development.”

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