Your Execs Are Fooling Themselves When It Comes to the Feedback Office Workers Want

Think your office workers are satisfied with the level of performance feedback they receive? Think again. New data suggests that if you’re still conducting the traditional annual or semi-annual performance reviews, there’s a good chance your employees are not happy with the frequency or quality of the feedback they receive.

In fact, while 94% of company executives — including HR managers and leaders — say they’re confident employees are satisfied with their current performance review process, 61% of the office admins, clerical workers and similar office support staff say the process is outdated, too generic or too infrequent, and often incomplete.

These office workers crave real-time feedback from managers. They want managers to address mistakes and development opportunities in real time, yet nearly 70% of the 500 surveyed executives say they learn about employees’ concerns for the first time during a performance evaluation. Worse yet, nearly 60% frequently reschedule or delay employee reviews, further extending the time between performance and feedback. That’s all despite the fact that 86% of executives admit that more frequent check-ins would be beneficial to the company.

Gap between execs and workers

This paradox underscores the tremendous gap between perception and reality and it can have a direct, negative impact on employee and company growth. When employees feel unappreciated, unrecognized or ignored until they do something wrong, their level of engagement in their work plummets, and soon, they just don’t care. Their poor attitude spills over into less-than-stellar customer interactions and a lack of creativity or innovative thinking that can help to advance the company’s goals.

Seeking the satisfaction, recognition and growth opportunities they desire, they’ll soon be on the hunt for a better opportunity with a company that appreciates them and offers career development programs that help them grow personally and professionally. As a result, your company will be left with a talent deficit, scrambling to fill vacancies with warm bodies as word gets around that your hands-off approach is a bit too distant.

Overcoming the gap

The problem here is two-fold: not only do most executives fail to realize that their current review process isn’t working, but they also many not know how to change. Creating a culture of real-time feedback can seem difficult when you’ve been stuck in a traditional rut for so long.

But, it’s certainly not impossible. With a smart strategy, effective tools and a clear purpose, any company can overcome the performance review paradox and create a culture of feedback that cultivates both employee and company growth. Here are some tips:

Understand the issues — Before you make a change, it’s important to understand exactly why and what kind of change you should make. Start with a benchmark survey on employee and managerial satisfaction with the current performance program. Find out what the biggest issues are that are causing conflict, dissatisfaction and stress. Ask employees and managers what they would like to see instead. This data-driven perspective will not only give you definitive evidence to work from, but also provide a baseline with which to compare progress.

Learn best practices — Explore available resources about what other companies are doing in terms of neuroscience and performance management. What are some best practices in terms of creating a coaching atmosphere, conducting check-ins and gathering and using 360-degree feedback? Educate managers and employees on how to provide constructive feedback (don’t assume everyone knows how), how to align individual goals with company goals and how to set measurable standards. Also, investigate how implementing people analytics might inform and enhance your performance management process.

Ensure executive alignment — While implementing a new performance management approach might be an HR-driven process, getting buy-in from leadership across the organization will be critical in changing the culture. Just like any change-management function, you must start by making sure that leaders, first and foremost, and staff are aligned on the need for the change. By securing buy-in from key people and champions throughout the organization — not only executives, but influential employees as well — you’ll build excitement and participation from all levels because they’ll want to be a part of the new process.

Define your purpose — In order to secure buy-in at all levels, you’ll need to clearly envision and be able to articulate the purpose of your performance management program. What pain points do you aim to solve? What opportunities will a new approach provide? How will you measure results? When you start off with a clearly defined future state in mind, and clearly communicate that to all of the stakeholders, it turns an otherwise abstract concept into a concrete, logical and actionable process, which drives engagement and participation.

Article Continues Below

Create the architecture and strategy of your new program — Here’s where the rubber meets the road. You’ll want to define how the program will work: How will feedback be provided and/or solicited; How will goals be set and monitored; How will check-ins be conducted, etc. Annual performance reviews are traumatic and stress-inducing, and you’ll want to make it clear that this new approach will NOT merely duplicate that nightmare on a quarterly or monthly basis. This means it’s important to talk about the purpose of the check-ins, and what topics to discuss in them.  Employees and managers will want to know how much time this will take, the types of tools they’ll be using and exactly how the day-to-day process will work.

Evaluate — Just as you’d check-in to evaluate your employees’ performance, you’ll want to do the same with your performance management program. Set a timeline for evaluation and repeat that benchmark survey that kicked off and gave you the direction for the program. How does employee and manager satisfaction, sentiment and efficiency compare to before the new program began? What are some areas of improvement or changes that can be made to better fit your real-world application? Remember that this process will be ongoing, and it’s OK to make adjustments when needed. Repeat this evaluation process regularly to make sure you’re continuing to work toward or achieve that vision you established in the beginning.

In every business, change is inevitable, constant and can be complex. Actively cultivating employee success alongside company success closes the performance gap and provides the most sustainable path to growth. Creating a culture of ongoing, real-time feedback is the most effective way to maintain trust and loyalty among employees.

Rachel Ernst

Rachel Ernst is director of employee success at Reflektive, focusing both on internal employee development, as well as building knowledge for Reflektive’s customers on change management, goal management, check-ins, real-time feedback and employee engagement polling. 

Her decade-plus background in HR spans compensation, learning and development, leadership coaching, people analytics and organizational design. She is passionate about evolving the performance management ecosystem to fulfill its ultimate goal of inspiring high performance through ongoing, real-time feedback.