More leading organisations are ditching the performance review in favour of more frequent feedback. But it’s not always easy to communicate constructively and honestly – particularly when good intentions are met with a negative response.
Giving feedback is crucial for learning. Without it, we’re unable to get an objective sense of how we’ve performed and unable to reflect properly on our progress. This dissuades us from trying new approaches and bringing fresh ideas to the table. Feedback is therefore the most powerful tool for creating high performance. It supports a continuous cycle of reflection, refinement and forward momentum.
(Find out how top companies organise their performance management systems from Brian Kropp, CEO at Gartner, formerly CEB).
Good feedback, gone bad
Yet we often find ourselves in a tangle with feedback. We’ve all experienced feedback conversations that went wrong, or perhaps didn’t even start. The phrase “I’d like to give you some feedback” is one many people are hardwired to receive negatively. It invokes a classic fight-or-flight response, for both the giver and receiver. Even when getting positive feedback, we’re hardwired to expect the worst, triggering heightened emotions and stress. These responses are only increased when feedback happens only once or twice a year, as part of a formal performance review.
(Read our story about why companies are ditching the annual performance review).
Giving feedback: Practice makes perfect
Given the emotions often associated with feedback conversations, we pursue alternative strategies. Some managers hope the issue will just disappear, or we may even opt for adapting an employee’s role without explanation, rather than work with them to improve their performance. Either way, they avoid giving feedback. The awkwardness associated with feedback can create paralysis – and can result in situations in which feedback is never or rarely delivered.This is a lose-lose situation for managers and employees alike.
The crazy thing is, to improve the experience of awkwardness associated with feedback, we ought to provide more of it.
Why? As with any skill, the more you practice, the better you get. This applies to both the giver and the recipient of feedback. Research suggests the core reason people struggle with giving and receiving feedback is not a lack of proficiency but of frequency.
(What alternatives to performance reviews get results? These feedback practices offer new solutions).
One size does not fit all
One reason we become so paralysed by the prospect of giving feedback is that too often we associate it with dramatic and transformational conversations, that must be thoroughly prepared for. Instead, we should see feedback as a series of micro-signals that might be as short as one or two lines. Some of the best feedback I’ve received was delivered in only a few sentences. It was effective because the person providing it didn’t overthink it.
Another useful effect of giving more feedback is that others start to follow suit. As more feedback is given, giving and receiving feedback becomes less of a “big deal”. Feedback is repositioned as the norm, and organisations see individual and collective growth in spades. And in the modern workplace, making the most of mobile technology can significantly aid the easy flow of feedback, and its frequency.
We should therefore think less about feedback in the context of grand conversations to be mastered. Instead, we ought to think about feedback in a much broader sense. That is, as a range of micro-signals that are continuous, delivered in multiple formats, from a diverse set of people invested in the development of an individual.
Ben Barnett is CEO of Loop, a feedback platform for people and teams.