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Continuous feedback in work and how it drives greater employee engagement

Why continuous feedback cycles will always beat annual reviews and surveys

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By now it’s no great secret, continuous feedback is a hugely effective tool for improving employee engagement (we cover this in our HRD guide to engagement).

Yet many businesses still see less frequent, more traditional methods such as annual performance reviews and bulky engagement surveys, as their main engagement tool.

If you’re not familiar with our HRD guide, or you could just use a little more detail, keep reading to find out why continuous feedback in work will always be better than isolated surveys and performance reviews.

The shortcomings of annual reviews and engagement surveys

In the words of Kevin Miller, the Chief Humanity Officer at APEX HR, “When people are not feeling engaged at work, they either quit and leave or more often, they quit and stay. The key word is “feeling.”

As Kevin argues “we seldom get to the heart of issues using infrequent staff surveys that are often tick-box exercises.”

Why?

Well, one reason relates to participation. It’s doubtful that you’d even get 100% employee participation in these surveys, which tend to run from 50 to 100 questions long. In an interview with SHRM, Rajeev Peshawaria, CEO of The Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre and author of Open Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There’s No More Business As Usual, points out that those who work hardest have the least time for these surveys, and so ‘the bulk of the data, therefore [comes from] average- or low-performing employees.’

Engagement surveys are often pitched as anonymous, but questions about aspects of their work experience such as role or tenure can render such anonymity moot.  As Peshawaria points out, ‘There is no such thing as anonymous. If management really wants to find out who said what, they easily can. That said, the difference between ethical and unethical management is whether they choose to find out. It boils down to trust.’

Annual reviews aren’t any better. They’re as far from continuous feedback in work as it’s possible to get, and managers conducting them often fail to see the bigger picture. When performance is only reviewed once a year, things will inevitably slip through the cracks, whether they’re personal accomplishments or issues an employee is struggling with.

According to research from Gallup, only 14% of employees strongly agree that they are inspired by their performance reviews. In fact, traditional performance reviews were found to actually make performance worse about a third of the time, despite costing organisations with 10,000 or more employees between $2.4 million and $35 million a year in lost working hours alone.

This supports findings referenced in our HRD, which show that 80% of managers see little benefit from performance reviews, and 72% of employees find them to be more of a hindrance than helpful. It’s for these reasons that annual performance reviews have arguably sullied the name of performance management in general.

How ongoing feedback strengthens employee engagement

Provided that you can handle the higher expectations of an engaged workforce, then it’s in your best interests to provide employees with continuous feedback at work. After all, engaged employees are more attentive with greater productivity, and higher levels of creativity and innovation.

  • Timely feedback is most effective: Continuous feedback in work is essential for actually improving performance and engagement in any meaningful way. If you give an employee advice about something they did earlier that week, it’s going to click a lot more easily than if you critiqued them for something they did at the beginning of the previous quarter.

  • Ongoing feedback exchanges give employees a voice: Workplace feedback isn’t just about telling employees how to do their jobs better. It’s also their chance to highlight any issues affecting their engagement or wellbeing, in order to help their managers to lead more effectively.

  • A continuous dialogue encourages honesty: You don’t need anonymity to get employees to be honest. You just have to prove to them that they can speak their minds without being punished for it. Regular, ongoing feedback helps you build a rapport with your staff in a way nothing else can.

How to implement continuous feedback performance management

Now that we’ve outlined why it’s so important to have continuous feedback at work, it’s time for some tips on how to provide effective employee feedback on a regular basis:

  • Direct 1:1s are still very useful: Employees may despise their annual performance reviews, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to sit down with their manager for a frank discussion about their experiences and career goals. Many employees crave effective feedback, and making time for 1:1s lets you discuss these things organically, answering any questions as they arise.

  • Implement a weekly employee check-in: While you should definitely make time for 1:1 meetings, too many can still be disruptive. So, managers and HR directors need a non-invasive and time-effective way of maintaining a dialogue with employees. Our employee check-in platform is extremely lightweight, but incredibly customisable. It takes mere minutes to submit an update, and it’s just as easy for managers to review them while being able to view question histories and respond to specific answers for quick problem resolution.

  • Use 360° feedback: 360° feedback is great, not only for collecting insights that managers or HR leaders might overlook, but for providing a level of impartiality for employees who may have doubts about traditional performance reviews. Our 360° feedback tools allow you to customise question sets for people in different roles, allowing you to gather the most relevant insights from people who with different specialisations or levels of seniority.

  • Take employee feedback seriously: There’s no quick and easy substitute for building a dialogue of trust over time through continuous feedback in work. But, if that’s what you want, it’s not enough just to let employees have a voice. You need to actually take their feedback into consideration, and incorporate it in the form of practical workplace policies. If you don’t, your employees are virtually guaranteed to lose faith in the feedback process.

Want to know more about continuous feedback and its role in growing employee engagement?

Download our 30-page HRDs guide to find out.

Head of People Science