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 SoftwareView a Demo
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!