Performance Feedback: Fostering Continuous Feedback

Mar 12, 2018 | Performance Management

It’s that time of year again – the often-dreaded annual performance review.  In preparation for the meeting, you begin to dust off last year’s annual review form and re-familiarize yourself with the goals you had set in the previous year.  Next, you meet with your boss and do it all over again – rate your performance on a pre-determined scale, set “new” goals, which look awfully familiar to last year’s goals and complete the process by signing off on the forms for submission to Human Resources … usually barely making the deadline date. Sound familiar?

From past experience as an employee partaking in the process, to working in HR in various organizations having to lead and facilitate performance management, to now working with clients to review and revamp their performance processes and cycles, one thing remains constant… Building a culture around continuous performance feedback is rare and remains a struggle.

Let’s approach this using Simon Sinek’s golden circle.

Why even bother providing performance feedback?

  • Purpose

How do we do it effectively?

  • Process

What is the outcome of having a culture of continual performance feedback?

  • Results

Why even bother providing performance feedback?

In its simplicity, establishing a culture around feedback and building robust performance management processes in alignment with your strategy, will help your business promote, improve and measure employee effectiveness and overall performance.

“I don’t have time to give feedback!”  A phrase that either we’ve heard time and time again or have been guilty of uttering from time to time.  As Managers, our workloads continue to grow, our project timelines continue to be pushed forward, our teams continue to expand, our clients continue to demand more and more.  All of this resulting in less and less time and often sacrificing the time spent on developing our people, including carving out time to mentor, coach, guide and provide feedback.

Understanding the ‘why’ is pivotal in shifting our view on the value around staff development and feedback.

Let’s keep in mind that if done well, building a culture of continuous feedback helps:

  • Provide clear direction on expectations on performance
  • Promote career, skill and performance development
  • Foster a deeper appreciation for lifelong and continual learning and growth
  • Improve employee morale
  • Reduce confusion around expectations and current performance
  • Provide clarity around opportunities requiring further improvement
  • Drive performance, engagement and collaboration

If that doesn’t convince you, let’s add another result of investing the time in providing feedback … it helps to improve client service.  Having a better skilled, equipped and engaged workforce equates to higher quality performance, positively manifesting itself in exceptional client service.

How do we do it effectively?

So the purpose of feedback is clear but how do we do it effectively?  Many companies are veering away from the annual review and instead adopting a performance feedback process that is more timely, frequent, transparent and robust.

I’ve revamped performance management strategies, processes and respective administrative documentation in various industries throughout my career and what I’ve learned along the way is that there are four key steps involved in building an effective performance management strategy, culture and structure.

  1. Identify performance expectations

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Wise words from Peter Drucker.  In the absence of specific, job-related performance criterion and measures, we create a guessing game of what is expected on the job.  Left up to interpretation we sacrifice quantifiable and quantitative measures of what constitutes a job well done vs. a mediocre job vs. a substandard job.  How can we expect leaders to measure their people without having identified key performance expectations and measures per job that is aligned, transparent, accurate and attainable?  Likewise, how can we expect our people to measure their own performance, understand their current skills and determine goal attainment opportunities, without an understanding on the core competencies, expectations and predictors contributing to job success for their specific role?

The bottom line is, work with cross-functional teams to establish the key performance expectations for each job title, outline the specific job scope requirements and capture the core technical and professional skills competencies.  Conducting a job analysis, developing detailed and accurate job descriptions and key performance measures will then assist in:

  • Creating alignment and an understanding of performance expectations per job
  • Developing more robust goal setting aligned to performance measures
  • Supporting tailored learning opportunities aiding in further skill and career development
  • Creating more meaningful conversations with staff on continual performance
  1. Communicate the performance measures

Once the core competencies and performance expectations are established, the next step is to communicate this out.  This will help in reducing any ambiguity around performance expectations for each role.

  • Use detailed job descriptions for job postings to ensure candidates are clear on the responsibilities, complexities of the role and work conditions
  • Share detailed job descriptions with existing staff to provide clarity around roles and expectations and to shed light on career progression opportunities within the company
  • Revisit job descriptions regularly and encourage employees to be a part of the review process to update core responsibilities for evolving roles
  • Leverage job descriptions as part of the informal and formal performance criteria and/or measures per role
  1. Administer processes to foster feedback

 

Now that performance criteria and expectations are identified, the next step is determining how best to administer feedback.  To administer a process and/or system that is the “right” fit for your company, it is important to take into account the nuisances of your company and workforce.  When it comes to processes and systems for performance feedback, one size does not fit all.  Here are some questions I’ve asked to better assess current state and then determine appropriate future state goals:

  • What are the current gaps in the performance management system/process resulting in low qualitative and quantitative performance feedback?
  • How do current performance review forms/measures align with performance goals and expectations per role?
  • What mechanisms could yield a higher completion rate of feedback and more valuable, meaningful, specific and regular feedback on job performance?
  • Which systems could be implemented to reduce the administrative burden without compromising the quality and quantity of performance feedback?
  • What training is currently provided to ensure aligned and fair execution of feedback?
  • How can training be strengthened to foster better overall performance feedback?

Some of the changes I’ve introduced to build a more robust performance management process included:

  • 30-60-90 day reviews
    • A 30-60-90 day check-in is crucial in effectively onboarding a new hire and in establishing clarity around performance expectations at the onset of the employee/employer relationship.
  • Performance Improvement Plans (PIP)
    • Creating a structured process around performance action plans provides employees with timely and transparent feedback around their performance and an opportunity to improve and succeed in their roles.
  • Performance Scales
    • Simplifying the performance scale reduces ambiguity around definitions of ratings and promotes increased alignment of administration of scales.
    • i.e. Eliminating a five-point scale to avoid the ‘central tendency theory’ of always choosing 3 (average ratings).
    • i.e. Placing a heavier emphasis on the comments/goals rather than the ratings themselves.
  • Electronic Performance Reviews
    • Reducing the administrative time investment is instrumental in garnering buy-in for performance feedback.
    • Introducing a user-friendly form (i.e. fillable PDF) reduces the administrative time investment without compromising the quality or quantity of the feedback.
  • Regular Roundtables
    • Meeting with Management quarterly to discuss performance is important in identifying gaps in performance and addressing it in a timely and fair manner. We have to remember that annual review feedback should never be a surprise.
  • Mentoring/Coaching Program
    • Setting up a mentor/mentee program provides employees with a go-to Mentor for continual dialogue, guidance and direction in performance and career progression.
  1. Provide and support opportunities for continual growth

Retaining top talent is difficult due to an increasingly competitive and constantly evolving market.  Employees remain engaged and loyal if they see a correlation between their efforts and future growth opportunities.  Working in a role that may appear to be a dead-end will not drive or promote a motivated and highly engaged workforce.  We need to be clear on not only the performance expectations within current roles, but also lay out the career progression opportunities within the company.

Listed below are some ways you could provide and support employees with their continued professional development and growth:

  • Create a detailed competency grid or career pathing map to illustrate core competencies and building blocks per level/job family etc.
  • Solicit feedback from staff on potential topics of interest for training opportunities
  • Provide in-house and/or external training opportunities to foster continual growth and advancement in the industry/profession/role
  • Encourage job shadowing opportunities to allow employees to learn and develop newfound skills and knowledge from SMEs within the company
  • Emphasize the importance of goal setting and revisit career plans and goals regularly

Providing employees with career pathing allows them to reflect on their starting point and determine their end goals.  This will help them to navigate their career and take ownership of their professional development to reach their end goal.

It’s these four steps that have worked wonders in fine-tuning current performance management processes and re-shifting the culture around feedback.

 What is the outcome of having a culture of continual performance feedback?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has said “We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change”.  Meeting with employees once a year to shed light on performance is not good enough and will not result in specific, honest, robust or well-received feedback.

The ultimate goal of a performance management system is to establish performance expectations, guide performance accordingly, facilitate employee professional growth … all in the effort to achieve business objectives.

Fostering an environment of continual performance feedback will result in:

  • Improved job performance
  • Increased job and client satisfaction
  • Improved employee morale and potential employee retention
  • Strengthened alignment and direction of performance requirements/expectations
  • Robust, transparent and meaningful communication and dialogue
  • Enhanced learning and personal/professional growth

How will you build a culture around continual performance feedback?

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