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What is Continuous Feedback and How Does it Work?

A manager providing employee with continuous feedback in office environment.

Con­tin­u­ous feed­back is a sub­sti­tute for annu­al appraisals; it’s dia­logue between employ­ees and man­agers which is ongo­ing and focused on results rather than rankings

Con­tin­u­ous feed­back is feed­back which is ongo­ing, but it’s also much more than that. It’s feed­back which builds towards prag­mat­ic and action­able next steps and devel­op­ment objec­tives, rather than a form-fill­ing exer­cise which focus­es on ret­ro­spec­tive rat­ings. In short, it’s what every busi­ness should be adopt­ed instead of the tra­di­tion­al annu­al appraisal.

How does con­tin­u­ous feed­back work?

The way con­tin­u­ous feed­back works depends on the com­pa­ny, but it has sev­er­al fea­tures which make it the ide­al replace­ment for out­dat­ed annu­al appraisals. First­ly, con­tin­u­ous feed­back means that employ­ees don’t have to wait until an arbi­trary date to get feed­back or dis­cuss an issue, con­cern or idea with their man­ag­er. An effec­tive con­tin­u­ous feed­back sys­tem will allow for that kind of dia­logue on a reg­u­lar basis.

Sec­ond, con­tin­u­ous feed­back uses employ­ees’ strengths, areas for improve­ment, con­cerns, and pas­sions as tools for dis­cus­sion, rather than ways to judge or rank employ­ees. If an employ­ee is strug­gling in a par­tic­u­lar area, con­tin­u­ous feed­back focus­es on how they can improve. If an employ­ee is strong at some­thing, con­tin­u­ous feed­back focus­es on how they can lever­age that strength for the ben­e­fit of the team or the organ­i­sa­tion. What’s more, because the feed­back isn’t once or twice a year, it can focus on what an employ­ee can do right now to improve.

Final­ly, the most impor­tant aspect of per­for­mance feed­back is that it goes both ways. An employ­ee should be allowed to talk frankly to a man­ag­er about how a com­pa­ny can improve just as a man­ag­er talks to an employ­ee about how they can improve. If you have a prop­er con­tin­u­ous feed­back sys­tem in place, this can be done with­out man­ag­er or employ­ee offend­ing each other.

What’s a con­tin­u­ous feed­back system?

A con­tin­u­ous feed­back sys­tem is a nec­es­sary part of imple­ment­ing con­tin­u­ous feed­back. Because the nature of con­tin­u­ous feed­back encour­ages the free expres­sion of ideas, it needs a sys­tem to pro­vide a frame­work for giv­ing and request­ing feed­back. With­out such a frame­work, man­agers and employ­ees can lack the con­fi­dence to give feed­back reg­u­lar­ly and can strug­gle with how to frame their feedback.

For a con­tin­u­ous feed­back sys­tem to be effec­tive, it needs per­for­mance man­age­ment tools such as a pur­pose-built per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware app. For man­agers, keep­ing track of con­tin­u­ous con­ver­sa­tions and feed­back with their team mem­bers is incred­i­bly hard to do man­u­al­ly. Soft­ware removes this dif­fi­cul­ty by remind­ing the man­ag­er when they are due to give feed­back and to whom and keep­ing all the notes and action points from their feed­back con­ver­sa­tions in one place. It also gives HR vis­i­bil­i­ty of who is and isn’t giv­ing con­tin­u­ous feed­back across the organisation.

Tech­nol­o­gy also enables feed­back to be giv­en and request­ed in-the-moment from a smart­phone or com­put­er which is essen­tial for teams who are fre­quent­ly in dif­fer­ent loca­tions. With­out this abil­i­ty, man­agers with­hold their feed­back until the next time they are face-to-face with the team mem­ber and then fre­quent­ly forget.

Whilst con­tin­u­ous feed­back should be about effec­tive con­ver­sa­tions, it’s extreme­ly hard to build new feed­back habits with­out tech­nol­o­gy under­pin­ning and rein­forc­ing the behav­iours. So whilst it might be tempt­ing to intro­duce a con­tin­u­ous feed­back process with­out sup­port­ing tech­nol­o­gy, this is usu­al­ly a false economy.

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Why should I adopt con­tin­u­ous feedback?

Despite the fact that 65% of busi­ness­es are still using annu­al appraisals, it’s well estab­lished that they don’t work. They’re incon­sis­tent, demo­ti­vat­ing and expen­sive in terms of time. Above all, there is no evi­dence that they improve employ­ee per­for­mance, which after all should be the whole point. It’s time for a step change in per­for­mance management.

At their core, annu­al appraisals are about past look­ing mea­sure­ments — often a numer­i­cal rank­ing or a sur­ro­gate for num­bers such as good” or needs to improve”. Evi­dence has shown that these rat­ings tell us very lit­tle about the employee’s per­for­mance due to man­ag­er bias and oth­er fac­tors at play such as bonus expec­ta­tion and risk of the employ­ee leaving.

Appraisals also fail to tack­le under­per­for­mance. Man­agers fre­quent­ly give all of their employ­ees a good rat­ing to avoid upset­ting them. One HR expert remem­bers how a com­pa­ny she worked for gave 96% of staff the high­est pos­si­ble rat­ing after an annu­al appraisal. This alone reveals the absur­di­ty of annu­al appraisals. They are a rit­u­al which labels employ­ees rather than rewards or moti­vates them.

It’s for this rea­son that so many employ­ees and HR experts dis­like them. One 2012 study revealed that 98% of employ­ees thought annu­al appraisals were unnec­es­sary. When only 2% of employ­ees think some­thing works, it’s time to adopt a new strat­e­gy. That’s exact­ly what con­tin­u­ous feed­back is all about.

If you want to find out how your busi­ness could ben­e­fit from a proven con­tin­u­ous feed­back sys­tem, con­tact Clear Review today for FREE demo of our inno­v­a­tive per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware sys­tem.