The difference between ongoing, forward – looking, business – casual feedback and intermittent, episodic feedback runs much deeper than the frequency at which they occur. With the former, your employees come away empowered and already thinking positively about the future. With the latter, they don’t look forward to the exchange of constructive ideas. If anything, they may come to dread it. In 2017, a majority of surveyed employees indicated that they see the traditional feedback system — quarterly or annual reviews — as old-fashioned, unhelpful and little more than an HR exercise.
Breaking this cycle is the key to employee motivation and even higher levels of engagement, creativity and collaboration. Here’s why it’s so important and how employers can start delivering feedback this way.
Encouraging Employees to Look Both Forward and Backward
If there’s just one reason employees might look forward to their next review, it’s the promise of hearing about what they did well, how they delivered value to the company and where they pushed the envelope throughout the year. But the best feedback doesn’t just look backward, as once-yearly reviews tend to do. They also have to look forward.
Making feedback an ongoing exercise is extremely powerful because employees don’t have a lot of time to, as it were, rest on their laurels. Regular feedback keeps everybody’s eyes on the next milestone and the tasks required to get there. Just as importantly, there’s not a lot of lag time in between these ongoing one-on-ones, meaning there’s not as much opportunity for bad habits to become ingrained before they’re brought up for constructive criticism.
Helping Employees Grow More Confident Exchanging Feedback Among Themselves
There’s something really special about a company that’s made ongoing improvement and honest and respectful communication a part of their foundation. It takes leaders who lead by example, though, which is where “tone at the top” comes into our conversation today. Leaders who build their organizations from the ground up on these values and maintain their commitment to ongoing, forward-looking feedback can’t help but inspire it throughout the entire organization.
There’s an atmosphere in companies like these where employees are comfortable being themselves, confident raising new ideas and always excited to exchange honest, open, respectful and cheerful feedback with one another. The idea that we can all help each other grow — and grow more closely together — starts at the top, but it doesn’t tend to stay there.
Identifying Star Performers More Quickly
Managers who train themselves to watch for feedback opportunities on a regular basis are managers who are better equipped to spot star performers, no matter which process they’re involved in and no matter how they manage to distinguish themselves.
It’s not always the grand gestures — the ones that “register” loud enough to be mentioned again in an annual interview — that cause the brightest team members to stand out. Oftentimes, it’s the ongoing expressions of their skill or team-spiritedness — or their smaller, more unsung triumphs — that distinguish those who may be suited to a management track. Think of the value in finding these bright individuals on an ongoing basis rather than waiting until year-end reviews.
Making It More Likely for Employees to Follow Through on Goals
The micromanager’s time has come and gone, and everybody knows it. The essential leadership technique we’re talking about today isn’t about casting judgment on the tiniest things throughout the day or insisting on a “my way or the highway” approach. Instead, it’s about helping team members find short-term tasks and challenges that support their long-term goals, like achieving a certification in their field, developing a new skill or chasing down a specific promotion.
There’s plenty of good reasons why companies are gravitating toward setting goals twice annually or even more frequently. Employees who set their goals in private, during a single annual review, are less likely to remain engaged long enough to follow through on those goals.
Replacing Micromanagement With Something More Valuable
One of the problems with an always-on “helicopter boss” is that, as good as their intentions can be, they often find themselves dispensing feedback on an area or process they’re not that familiar with. There’s a fine line to walk between micromanaging and providing ongoing feedback, but navigating the difference becomes more intuitive in time. With practice, managers will be able to spot coachable moments and know how to deliver impactful, high-quality feedback in the moment.
This skill is one that requires practice and cultivation like any other, but putting in the effort is well worth it. A workplace with this kind of leader won’t feel micromanaged. Instead, it will feel open and collaborative in the very best way.