Blog Performance

The perfect approach for workplace feedback that packs a performance punch

Traditional performance management is dead (or should be). Are you still running the same old tired cycle of one or two reviews a year and not much else? Then you’re setting yourself and your team up to fail. You need to read this…

According to Gallup only 14% of your employees find annual or bi-annual performance reviews improve their performance. And 90% of HR leaders and 95% of team leaders see them as little more than a box-ticking exercise.

Yet, 65-80% of businesses still use either an annual review or 6-monthly as their only tool for formal employee feedback. And at a staggering average estimated cost of $2.4 million per business, they're not cheap.

So, if you’re keeping score that’s:

  • Your people don’t usually benefit from annual/occasional reviews
  • Your HR team and managers see little long-term benefit
  • They cost a whole lot of money
  • Most of us still cling to them over anything else

There must be a better way.

Why traditional feedback approaches are broken

To improve how we give feedback we need to take stock and understand why traditional approaches don’t work. And there is a list of issues with traditional performance reviews – here are 5 of the biggest ones:

Traditional performance reviews are infrequent.

Even if you are running bi-annual (or quarterly) reviews then long periods between reviews in which feedback is shared means things are often forgotten, missed, and left to fester and grow.

Traditional performance reviews don’t offer timely feedback.

Research shows there’s a short window in which feedback must be delivered to be effective in helping people grow. If you’re sitting down with your people anything less frequently than monthly, then your feedback will not be as effective as it could (and should) be.

Traditional performance reviews are too focussed on the past.

Too often managers running reviews focus on the past and not looking at the real purpose of reviews – improvement, learning and development. Reviews should be about moving forward and how to improve in the future, not chastising about past mistakes.

Traditional performance reviews are too subjective and open to bias.

Often managers are given quotas to hit in terms of how they rank the performance of their people, with targets set around numerical scores. This doesn’t help people to grow. Nor does recency bias, the phenomena by which we tend to focus more on and have better recollection of recent performance.

Traditional performance reviews are often based on just a single source.

Usually in a traditional review it is only the employee’s direct line manager who feeds back on performance. Yet the likelihood of a single person knowing with any degree of accuracy all they need to about that individual employee’s performance and efforts is low.

How to give better feedback at work

So, how do we improve? Quite simply, we take all the things that don’t work with traditional reviews and build something better.

The exact look and feel of this process will likely be slightly different depending on the nuances of your organisation, but there are four key things to include:

Developing a growth mindset

Organisations with a growth mindset believe the abilities of its people can be developed through guidance and hard work. A growth mindset will almost organically lead to a better way of giving feedback.

Thinking in this way reframes the way we have traditionally viewed feedback and performance. The focus shifts from criticising and chastising to learning and growing. Discussions become less about the past and more about how to improve moving forward.

Deploying continuous feedback processes

It’s simply not good enough to give just one or two windows a year for employees to both give and receive feedback.

Expectations have shifted massively (even more so in the wake of COVID-19), and employees want to hear from their managers and leaders on an ongoing basis.

Tools like employee check-ins allow managers to collect and give feedback on a regular cadence. This regularity not only means things can be shared when they need to be, but also helps build positive habits around feedback faster.

The lightweight nature of a well-designed check-in means that your people can share feedback in a timely way but importantly in a way that doesn’t take up lots of time.  

Setting of clear targets and expectations

It might sound obvious in a conversation about improving performance, but the setting of clear targets is vital for your people.

Feedback cycles should focus on ensuring how progress is going towards targets as well as the appropriateness of any targets set.

Sharing feedback more widely

Managers can’t be everywhere at once. They certainly can’t take note of how everyone on their team is performing at all times.

That’s why feedback processes need to become more holistic. Tools such as 360° feedback or those aimed at sharing peer-led employee recognition are as important in the new age of feedback as anything else.

Canvassing other colleagues for their views and experiences of an individual’s performance will help shine a light on things managers will inevitably have missed.

A simple framework for better workplace feedback

And when it comes to delivering feedback to your people, what’s the best approach to take?

It may sound like a simple question, but studies show 82% of managers feel anxious when giving feedback to their team members.

To help, our People Science team have developed a simple feedback framework that will help supercharge your own feedback and cut out the nerves.

It’s called F.A.S.T.T. feedback:

F = Frequent

Research shows feedback is less effective at changing behaviours if it’s more than 2 weeks after an event. Feedback should happen weekly for most impact.

A = Appropriate

Feedback needs to be framed positively (focus on improvements), be tactful and simple to follow.

S = Specific

Feedback must be related to observed behaviours, performance or against a clear and measurable goal. Be sure to include clear expectations, what wasn’t quite right and plans for improving.

T = Transparent

Honest and open feedback is the only way to impact future performance. It also helps build trust within your team when everyone knows they’re able to speak freely.

T = Two-way

Feedback needs to flow down and up the chain of command. Great managers request feedback from their people and listen to it.

So, next time you have to deliver some feedback to your people and aren’t 100% confident in your approach, just think F.A.S.T.T.

Want to up your feedback game? Download your free feedback cheat sheet to see how to start.