HR Insights, Talent Management

Continuous Feedback: It May Be a Better Approach Than the Annual Review

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I’ve done a lot of research and reading lately that really cemented my view that feedback delivered via the formalized annual performance review, is not very useful as a developmental tool.

To be useful (i.e. leveraged to drive development), feedback needs to be continuous. It needs to be baked into the day-to-day rhythm of work.

To help bring this point home, I am going to use two examples – athletes and software developers. What do athletes and software developers have in common? In terms of harnessing the power of continuous feedback — a lot.

What managers can learn from coaches

In any sport, individual or team, do coaches wait until the end of the match/game/season to share feedback with their athlete(s)? No way! Coaches give feedback continuously.

They give it before, during and after the event. They give it individually and to the team overall. They provide examples and specifics to help their athletes fine tune their skills. They play back what’s working, and what isn’t. And in team sports, players give feedback to each other in the same way.

Software developers do much the same thing when they leverage an agile development approach. Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin are well versed in the agile development process. As they put it:

Change something=> Find out how it went => Learn from it => Change something again. Generally speaking you want as short a feedback loop as possible, so you can adapt your process quickly.

According to Lisa Crispin: When we know right away, it’s easy to fix. Problems don’t worry us, because we know we can fix them in a timely manner and move on.

Knowledge is power

In both examples, the focus is to enable continuous improvement by addressing problems as they arise, so they never mushroom into code red issues. Because feedback is in the moment, it allows the recipient to focus on adapting quickly to changing reality – which is a critical hallmark of doing knowledge work effectively.

Whether you’re coding or coaching, specific examples and immediate feedback from multiple perspectives help to cement understanding by providing something tangible to act on. Short feedback loops work for any role where creative application of skill is required to achieve outcomes.

The beauty of a loop is that it is continuous – plan, act, assess, modify. This continuity helps facilitate a rapid increase in future capability. Short feedback cycles help build confidence because problems can be addressed when they are small, allowing for quick course correction as well as the acknowledgement and re-use of what’s working well.

Humans value collaboration, creativity and celebration. Feedback that is part of the everyday work environment, that is asked for and accepted from all directions, becomes part of the culture and helps people see their true potential as well as what they can achieve together.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Kristi Erickson is a Partner at PeopleResults, a consultancy that guides organizations and individuals to “start the wave” of change. She specializes in organizational design and talent development and has advised many clients on achieving competitive advantage through best use of their talent. Kristi was previously a Partner at Accenture, and she also serves on the board of Dallas Social Venture Partners. Contact her at kerickson@people-results.com.
  • Howard Risher

    I certainly concur with the value of continuous feedback although I also know that’s not always possible.  Consulting forms often have an evaluation at the end of each project.

    I use football team analogies.  Each position has a different set of performance criteria. When the criteria are job or occupation specific, it facilitates the feedback discussions.

    More important, however, is that every sports team also has a year-end evaluation that serves as the basis for contract terms at some point (they have multi-year contracts.)  The team coaches — as well as fans — definitely do not shy away from ratings.

    • KMErickson

      Howard – thanks for the comment.  I think a key difference in sports and corporate world is the forced ranking approach and feedback that only happens at the tail end.  And that difference is pretty significant. I also think continuous feedback as something that can and should happen, even if a company is still using the at the end retrospective evaluation – because to hold feedback until then gives the recipient no opportunity to either capitalize on whats working or adjust what isn’t.  The great news is that agile or continuous feedback can be layered on the standard annual process – doesn’t necessarily require a significant change to get started, which i hope can enable companies that are interested in this type of change to begin sooner rather than later.

  • Patti Johnson

    Great post, Kristi. Very insightful and the reality today. I think the biggest obstacle is that we have trained ourselves that the annual performance review is the one answer for all things. I think reframing how we think about improving performance is a huge opportunity and affects everything from the process, the role of the manager and the responsibility of the employee (who can’t sit and wait for the next date on the calendar). The good news is that there are some tools now that make this easier. thanks for sharing!

  • Joe Baker

    I second your thoughts, Kristi – great… Continuous feedback is more effective in developing people than just annual feedback in a performance review.  The manager needs to become more coach-like day-to-day. And that takes not only (like Patti said) process improvement and role redefinition, but also motivation and skill development for the manager. No pain, no gain.  Thanks Kristi!

  • Martha Duesterhoft

    Love your post!  Yes, that on-going feedback and catching people doing something right in the moment is huge of people really getting it.  Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • Swalker

    Great blog Kristi – if we just think about how we like to receive feedback — immediate & in the moment — give it right back to others, definitely increases the impact and learning

  • http://twitter.com/TexasTwittHR Seth McColley

    I’m bought in, Kristi! Now…how do we start changing perceptions and turning the tide? Seems the annual performance review is so deeply entrenched in our collective corporate culture we’ve got an uphill battle here. We need a performance feedback revival! 

  • Marta Steele

    Great points. Even if an organization buys-in to the continuous loops, ultimately it’s in the hands of managers and employees to do it. If they blow off and can’t have a meaningful feedback discussion once a year, what will incent them to do it continuously? Your examples help make the case. If people can see that little extra effort can yield big benefits, that should help too.

  • John Renouf

    Right on target.  We all need to coach every person every day.