“Feedback is the breakfast of champions” – Ken Blanchard, American author and thought leader in day-to-day management and business leadership
Performance management, as part of workforce management, is witnessing a tectonic shift. Disadvantages of the traditional approach to performance review, given the transformation in workforce and workplace or organizational culture, are increasingly rendering it irrelevant. Some of the notable challenges associated with the conventional appraisal process include absence of efficiency, rigidity of the process, and an archaic approach to feedback, such as confining it to being time-based or project-based only.
As the push towards adopting an approach that is neither too formal nor process-centric grows, the spotlight is on feedback – for both givers and receivers. Incisive performance assessment hinges on meaningful feedback. It is incredibly important to align delivery and reception, so that goals are conveyed effectively and acted upon efficiently – with motivation. Feedback is becoming continuous or ongoing, and collaborative for more pointed outcomes.
According to the latest performance management statistics for 2023, compiled by Shortlister, a US-based marketplace for employers and consultants:
- Companies pursuing continuous performance feedback have significantly outperformed competition
- Team members receiving weekly feedback are over 5 times more likely to strongly agree that they receive meaningful feedback
- Four out of 10 workers find feedback engaging—its absence leaves them disengaged
- Almost all (97%) of Gen Z are open to receiving feedback, while 67% want it in a timely constructive manner throughout the year
Why is performance review or management so intrinsically linked with workforce management?
Because psychology is at play.
According to Psychology Today, to enhance future performance, it is important to provide fair performance ratings that employees perceive as just. Regular feedback and clear goals are essential for keeping employees motivated and engaged at work. Research shows that investing in personal development can significantly improve workers’ ability to confidently discuss their performance and contribute to constructive conversations about their work. By prioritizing these aspects, employers can foster a more productive and fulfilling work environment.
Feedback needs to be understood as a two-part process: delivery and assimilation. Absence of either will render it irrelevant. To master the art, therefore, a leader needs to work on three planes: build conditions conducive to feedback, enhance individual skills for giving effective feedback, and build a workforce that is eager to receive and act on the feedback.
What steps must a leader take to deliver impactful feedback for an effective shift in performance?
(I) A culture where people work with each other, or work against each other? The choice is yours.
- Conditions determine quality. Create the right environment.
Clearly define the goals and expectations; and explain the values and culture your organization stands for.
Objectives and targets will give them a sense of purpose, while values will help them identify with the culture. They become aware of the foundation they need to build on, and the collective success they must work for. It discreetly sets the standards and highlights the need to think and work like a team.
- Interpersonal risk-averse or interpersonal risk-taking? Provide psychological safety.
A psychologically safe environment is essential for achieving peak performance from teams and individuals. Positive and safe performance feedback is both delivered and solicited, without any fear or threat of adverse impact associated with receiving it.
- Unlock the secret with frequency. Why do you need to collect feedback for delivery only along crucial timelines? Why can it not be more integrated with daily processes? Will that not make it more relevant? Say, an employee makes a critical mistake that nearly costs you a key assignment. Will you wait for the end of the quarterly review cycle to let the individual know what course correction was required?
For a measurable improvement in performance, feedback should be immediate, incisive, and constructive. Only this will make it reliable and relatable for the receiver and help the individual identify the area of development accurately.
(ii) It’s your story – you’ve got to own it. Being a leader, you need to constantly keep working on your skills. Some areas of development are:
- What’s your grip on human psychology? How well do you understand your workforce?
Incisive feedback cannot be given unless you have a sound or deeper understanding of human behavior. Whether you are a reporting manager or a line manager or a leader to whom the practice heads report, every reportee is different. The parameters that may apply in appealing to one person’s sensitivity may not apply to their peers. How would you then make your point clear without compromising on emotional intelligence? It is important to have clear frameworks, such as conversation models, scripts, formulas, and rules/benchmarks/parameters, to give personalized feedback that is both nuanced and impactful.
But this is the groundwork on the process front. Soft skills and understanding of human psychology play an even bigger role. Focus on enhancing these skills.
- When traits become habits. Cultivate by practicing consciously, constantly.
Give your feedback as and when necessary, even though the recipient may not be inclined to hear. Let it be impromptu. This also means you be observant throughout and make a note of everything that you feel qualifies for feedback.
Your aim is to not be a people-pleaser, but to be a genuine leader. Leadership is all about acting with conviction and being fair. Evaluate 360 degrees. Should you give the feedback right away, or observe some more? What will you say and how? Did you take peer-input in assessing to get the complete picture?
Read the person and the situation carefully. Assess their potential to grasp the feedback. Then tailor your message to give personalized feedback.
Don’t just share a lump of observations as feedback. Provide them with actionable insights to benefit from.
Feedback, in all likelihood, should be given individually, unless you are commemorating good work.
Be mindful of the language you use. Clarity is appreciated, not temper or aggression. Tread carefully where sensitive issues are involved – for instance, whengiving feedback to a person of color on their poor performance in a domain which is generally considered white-dominated. Your words must be measured to indicate the desired improvement required, without any racial connotation.
Give constructive feedback, not negative. Be empathetic. Suppose a woman who has just become a mother resumes work. Because of the caregiving involved, her performance is not optimum and the spill-over of work is creating stress for her peers. How will you indicate this to her? A judicious approach would be to start by asking her about the pressures she is facing, and what could your organization do to assist her so that she can perform optimally.
Credibility counts. Don’t give feedback on hearsay. Look deeper for the roots. If it is a behavioral issue of not complying with authority, where is it springing from? What is the trigger? The fault could be in the reporting structure itself. Have data in your hand, so that when asked to corroborate, you are not caught off-guard.
Don’t fake sympathy or understanding in the attempt to come across as empathetic. Be honest and express your point clearly. Keep your conversations forthright.
(iii) Involve them – build up the quest. Feedback will help in driving performance only when it is received well. But that does not happen always. How you, as a leader,prepare your employees to seek or perceive feedback is as important.
- Train them on receiving feedback. This can happen through pointed sessions on soft skills, including self-awareness, and how to handle a differing opinion. They will learn how to control their emotions, take a broader view of things, analyze, avoid impulsive response and develop the maturity to see feedback as an opportunity to grow, rather than as a negative criticism evoking extreme responses.
- Let them have their voice, too. Keep feedback collaborative—mature conversations where both sides get to express their opinions. It should not be one-sided, dispensed only when the leader sees the requirement. It should be off the cuff also, at the behest of employees.
Also, this will help in coming up with mutually agreed call to actions for course correction.
When thus involved and prepared, the receiver will not just be able to accept and work on the feedback, but also be more vigilant of their performance and develop insights to improve it
With the conventional approach to performance appraisal declining steadily, feedback, as a fundamental tool in performance management and review, is rapidly emerging in a new light.
Effective feedback is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, feedback needs to be tailored considering the individual’s disposition, delivered in real-time, and must factor in a range of factors, such as data, peer input, and personal goals. By transforming their feedback practices, organizations can create a feedback culture that promotes growth, collaboration, and continuous improvement, ultimately leading to better outcomes and a more engaged and satisfied workforce.
Continuous, collaborative feedback not just increases productivity, but also boosts the morale of the workforce, enabling organizations to achieve their top goals.
Won’t be wrong to assume then that only a champion who has feedback for breakfast can feast on success and transformation.