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Continuous Feedback: What is it and how does it work?

A manager providing employee with continuous feedback in office environment.

Con­tin­u­ous or fre­quent feed­back is a fun­da­men­tal build­ing block of effec­tive per­for­mance man­age­ment along with near-term objec­tives and mean­ing­ful coach­ing con­ver­sa­tions. Con­tin­u­ous feed­back in per­for­mance man­age­ment refers to fre­quent, infor­mal, in the moment com­ments, insights or infor­ma­tion an indi­vid­ual receives about their per­for­mance from their man­ag­er or col­leagues, as opposed to a once a year event, like a per­for­mance appraisal. 

Why is con­tin­u­ous feed­back a bet­ter approach than annu­al appraisals?

Con­tin­u­ous feed­back is becom­ing increas­ing­ly impor­tant for many employees. 

The CIPD report that there is great vari­abil­i­ty” in the con­tri­bu­tion of feed­back to per­for­mance, explain­ing that giv­en well, and at the right moment, feed­back can be invalu­able, but giv­en poor­ly it can feel devastating.”

How­ev­er, if done well, con­tin­u­ous feed­back can be extreme­ly valu­able and boost per­for­mance. Here’s how: 

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 employee’s strengths, areas for improve­ment, con­cerns and pas­sions as tools for discussion.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 dur­ing an appraisal, 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. 

Reg­u­lar feed­back between employ­ees also has a link to employ­ee recog­ni­tion. Research shows that 69% of employ­ees would work hard­er if they felt they would be recog­nised and appre­ci­at­ed for their work. One study even found that busi­ness­es that spend as lit­tle as 1% of their pay­roll on recog­ni­tion have 78% greater chance of see­ing pos­i­tive finan­cial results. So, at its best, reg­u­lar real-time feed­back can dra­mat­i­cal­ly improve employ­ees’ per­for­mance and productivity. 

How to build a con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance feed­back culture

Con­tin­u­ous feed­back should be about effec­tive con­ver­sa­tions, how­ev­er, it’s extreme­ly hard to build new feed­back habits with­out tech­nol­o­gy under­pin­ning and rein­forc­ing the behav­iours. Whilst it might be tempt­ing to intro­duce a con­tin­u­ous feed­back process with­out sup­port­ing tech­nol­o­gy, this is usu­al­ly a false econ­o­my. To build a self-sus­tain­ing feed­back cul­ture, it’s impor­tant to enable peo­ple to eas­i­ly thank oth­ers for their feed­back. There are psy­cho­log­i­cal and behav­iour­al reac­tions at play here. Per­son­nel Psy­chol­o­gy found that employ­ees who express pos­i­tive emo­tions imme­di­ate­ly after receiv­ing feed­back, go on to obtain high­er per­for­mance rat­ings. But those who express neg­a­tive emo­tions show low­er per­for­mance rat­ings. One fac­tor explain­ing this is our sense of self-esteem or worth. Feed­back that threat­ens an employee’s self-esteem tends to lead to neg­a­tive responses.

You want to ensure that feed­back in your organ­i­sa­tion is per­for­mance-enhanc­ing, not per­for­mance-reduc­ing. And that it is con­tin­u­ous, nat­ur­al and in the flow of work.’

How to go about it?

Sim­ple feed­back process:

First­ly, ensure that it is incred­i­bly sim­ple for peo­ple to give and receive feed­back, using a real­ly intu­itive, user-friend­ly and acces­si­ble tool. The CIPD have found encour­ag­ing­ly, for an era of apps… feed­back can be just as pow­er­ful com­ing per­son­al­ly or imper­son­al­ly, in face-to-face dis­cus­sions or through tech­nol­o­gy” (same ref­er­ence as above). 

Encour­age­ment to give feedback: 

The added advan­tage of using an online sys­tem to pro­vide feed­back is the abil­i­ty for it to mon­i­tor the amount of activ­i­ty going on, and to gen­tly nudge or remind indi­vid­u­als to give or ask for feed­back if they have not done so for a while. 

Watch A Demo To Discover The Benefits of Ongoing Feedback Software
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Instant feed­back:

Tech­nol­o­gy also enables con­stant 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. 

Data shows con­tin­u­ous feed­back dri­ves performance

The data from our Clear Review sys­tem shows that it is pos­si­ble to build a con­tin­u­ous feed­back cul­ture with the help of a user-friend­ly tool. We recent­ly analysed the data from 50,000 of our users to look at how they inter­act­ed with Clear Review over a num­ber of months. We found that when peo­ple have a check-in con­ver­sa­tion, they are then 33% more like­ly to give and request feed­back fol­low­ing it. And when peo­ple give or receive feed­back, they are 48% more like­ly to have a high-qual­i­ty per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tion with agreed action points.

Who is involved in con­tin­u­ous feed­back and when should it be given?

Every­one across the organ­i­sa­tion should be involved in giv­ing and receiv­ing con­tin­u­ous feed­back — this is not the pre­serve of man­agers alone. Peers and col­leagues should be encour­aged to give feed­back to each oth­er as well as man­agers giv­ing feed­back to their employees. 

In addi­tion to giv­ing feed­back, request­ing feed­back for your own work is also impor­tant. Organ­i­sa­tions should encour­age every­one to request and give feed­back fre­quent­ly and in-the-moment in order to build a cul­ture of lit­tle and often.’

Some organ­i­sa­tions encour­age 360-degree feed­back. How­ev­er, try and avoid the stom­ach-churn­ing, detailed and oner­ous 360-degree feed­back process by replac­ing it with fre­quent, light-touch feed­back com­ments. This kind of reg­u­lar feed­back means so much more because they are giv­en in con­text and as events occur. There is noth­ing more demo­ti­vat­ing than being told at a for­mal per­for­mance review that you did some­thing wrong sev­er­al months ago! Even pos­i­tive feed­back los­es its val­ue if it is giv­en a long time after the event. 

Ensur­ing that feed­back is attrib­uted and not anony­mous is impor­tant for employ­ees to be able to self-mod­er­ate and take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their mes­sage and impact. 

Food for thought:

What neu­ro­science teach­es us about feed­back – time for new labels?

In 2018 Microsoft want­ed to learn from neu­ro­science and it replaced the word feed­back’ with per­spec­tives’. They report­ed that As much as we might say we’re open to feed­back from our peers, human nature can make it hard to have an open mind when it comes our way — it can feel too much like a threat.” In fact, neu­ro­science shows our brain reacts to the term feed­back” in a way that often shuts down our abil­i­ty to take in new infor­ma­tion and learn.

Brain sci­ence also shows that peo­ple are more recep­tive to feed­back when they ask for it.

Learn more about how feed­back is crit­i­cal for a pro­duc­tive workforce

Our eBook on Max­i­miz­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in the new nor­mal” explores the 5‑step pro­duc­tiv­i­ty mod­el, which includes feed­back and coach­ing style con­ver­sa­tions. Down­load it for free!