When Performance Reviews Simply Aren’t Enough

So, performance reviews aren’t enough?

Performance reviews are slow feedback, as they only occur once a year. Most employees do not want to wait 51 weeks to hear how they need to improve.

More than 65 percent of all employees said that the feedback they received in their annual performance review contained “surprises” not mentioned by their manager before the review. Unsurprisingly, employees become very upset when this happens, and it can be a factor in higher turnover.

Although more and more companies now require semiannual or quarterly reviews, this feedback schedule is still too stingy and falls ridiculously short of transparency.

Where fast feedback happens

In companies considered to be the most popular places to work, feedback is far more forthcoming. Young employees are calling for feedback on a weekly or even daily basis, and the most innovative employers are delivering it.

For example, I interviewed a young manager at Twitter in San Francisco who, like his colleagues, schedules a feedback meeting with each direct report once a week. The feedback is two-way, with both the manager and employee suggesting behaviors they would like the other to “start, stop, or continue.”

Impatient with the annual review process, Twitter leads a culture of fast feedback, where no one is forced to guess what others are thinking.

Great feedback gives you a recruiting advantage

People want to work in places where their managers care about their development and coach them frequently, and where they will not be left to fail. In fact, a manager’s willingness to give frequent feedback — both positive and corrective — is one of the greatest differentiators between companies where younger workers want to stay and those they want to get away from as fast as possible.

Companies that merely provide an annual performance review will not work for Info Babies, who require real-time feedback and frequently scheduled face-to-face meetings about their performance. “For the average Millennial,” write Joanne Sujansky and Jan Ferri-Reed in Keeping the Millennials, “feedback is indeed ‘the breakfast of champions.’ ”

So, why isn’t feedback happening in most offices?

This all sounds good and, by now, you’re convinced that workers want feedback and aren’t getting it. So, you’re probably wondering, “What’s going wrong?”

There are many reasons given for why managers don’t give honest, frequent feedback. Among them:

  • Managers don’t have time.
  • Managers aren’t trained in how to give feedback.
  • Managers focus on their required once-a-year performance reviews.
  • Companies are afraid that feedback will lead to lawsuits.
  • Great employees are self-directed and can develop themselves.

While there may be some truth in each of these statements, the core of the problem is an emotional one: Managers are simply reluctant to speak the truth to their employees.

The pain of inflicting pain

Managers are human beings, and as human beings, they are loath to inflict pain on others. They assume that giving honest, corrective feedback is going to cause hurt feelings, low self-esteem, poor team morale, or, at the very least, it will be a distraction from the manager’s efficiency.

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Offering feedback frequently is even more painful, the logic goes. A few managers have candidly told me that they are simply incapable of giving people honest feedback and they would rather quit their jobs than do so. Other managers put it out of their minds and never even consider saying anything until they decide to fire the person.

Still others have no problem giving corrective feedback, and they do it promptly and bluntly. But they may have avoided making the overall emotional connection needed to acknowledge an employee’s strengths and help them develop from the feedback. The pain being avoided here is the personal relationship: “Hey, I don’t want to get close to employees. I’m sure they can see my weaknesses, too.”

Getting up the nerve to walk into an employee’s office or call her on the phone may be excruciating. But the most interesting fact about feedback is that the one way to ensure that feedback is painful is to avoid giving it! What’s more, the longer we wait to give feedback, the more it hurts both the employee and the manager.

The promise of feedback transparency

No matter what your generation, there is a huge upside to giving and receiving everyday feedback. In addition to keeping people happier on the job, feedback loops stimulate improvements and better results for the company. Referring to feedback and development of employees, Glenn Llopis lists the five most powerful things about transparency:

  1. Problems are solved faster.
  2. Teams are built easier.
  3. Relationships grow authentically.
  4. People begin to promote trust in their leader.
  5. Higher levels of performance emerge.

We are living in a critical moment in relationship to feedback. The information that a leader can provide by giving feedback has never been more sought after by today’s employees, and yet most leaders and most companies have not fully awakened to this reality.

Because you are interested in ramping up your understanding of both the emotional and business dynamics of feedback, you have a unique opportunity to steer the future for your team members, for your organization, and for your own personal development.

The remainder of the book is a guide for how you can realize the wonderful benefits of everyday feedback. After gaining even more insight into why most leaders aren’t automatically giving feedback and how to get past those barriers, you will have an opportunity to try it for yourself and evaluate to what extent the leadership adjustments you make within your own feedback loop build the exciting future you envision for your group.

Excerpted from The Feedback Imperative, by Anna Carroll. Reprinted with permission from The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success © 2014 by Anna Carroll, River Grove Books.

Anna Carroll, MSSW, is an executive coach and organizational consultant specializing in workplace feedback, leadership development, and facilitation of groups. Through her consulting practice at Interaction Design, Inc., she works with AmerisourceBergen, Applied Materials, Austin Regional Clinic, Doosan (Korea), Ebay, GE, Oracle, Singapore Airlines, Starwood Hotels, University of Texas, TECO-Westinghouse, Zimmer and other global corporations.

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