Why Frequent Feedback Conversations Are Thriving (and Annual Reviews Are Dying)

fierce feedback conversations

How often do you receive feedback at work? How often do you give it?

“Not often” is a common answer. And I’m here to tell you that “not often” is not often enough.

I used to work for an organization where employees received bi-yearly reviews. During these 30-minute meetings, my supervisor and I would go over the review forms and determine what was going well and where there was room for growth. The reviews were helpful when they occurred, but I wonder—if I had received this feedback months ago, or as issues were occurring, what difference would it have made for my own growth, the quality of my work, and the company? I’d bet money that it would’ve made a significant difference.

The Case for Frequent Feedback

Feedback (and how often it’s delivered) directly impacts performance and employee engagement. Hands down, employees perform better with more frequent feedback.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, the lack of ongoing feedback within performance management is costing organizations in big and varying ways: “Creating a holistic approach to the employee experience demands better tools and programs to capture employee feedback continuously...[t]he neglect of regular employee feedback helps explain other challenges companies face today, including shortcomings in driving culture and purpose and providing a healthy work-life balance.”

Whether reviews are yearly, bi-yearly, or quarterly, one thing is for certain: there’s a lot of time in-between these reviews, time that’s full of precious opportunity. We’re missing out on opportunities to grow professionally, strengthen workplace culture, and drive results.

Professional development—especially with recently-graduated millennials now making up the largest percentage of the current workforce—is becoming the central intention behind feedback. Many organizations are thankfully catching on and moving away from the mentality that you either make the cut or you don’t. The truth is that skills can be learned, knowledge can be acquired, and if an employee has a desire to grow, they can. Frequent feedback can nurture and support this growth.

One of many downsides to infrequent reviews is that we may lose a degree of authenticity when we don’t express ourselves and instead think, I see an issue, but it’s not time for a formal review yet, so I’ll pretend there isn’t anything wrong for now. We’re also limiting rather than expanding the other person’s awareness of their own performance. They may not know what’s going on if you don’t tell them.

Frequent feedback can do much to strengthen relationships. Personal and workplace relationships are often considered different in nature, but at Fierce, our mindset is that relationships are relationships, regardless of the external circumstances that surround them. And the stronger our relationships, the richer our lives.

That said, if you’re having an issue with a spouse or friend, it’s ideal to discuss the behavior sooner rather than later. It wouldn’t make sense to wait for a bi-yearly or yearly conversation to say, “hey babe, when you put your dirty socks on the floor a few months ago, it really bothered me.” It makes far more sense, both for the health and sustainability of our relationships, to nurture them in the now rather than the later.

What Holds Us Back

Organizational policies and old systems in place are often the culprits of infrequent feedback. The transition out of this old yearly system will largely depend on whether an organization intends to improve employee performance. But policies aside…if we know frequent feedback nurtures success, what prevents us from following through?

In most cases, fear is the culprit. The idea of giving feedback in the moment makes us nervous. We fear the reactions of others, we fear hurting their feelings, we fear that they will misinterpret our intention, and we fear that our direct feedback will rupture the relationship. But here’s a thought that may help put these natural human fears in perspective: what we are fearing is their fear. And we can’t control what other people fear. To remedy, consider what we lose when we stay silent (authenticity and opportunity for growth) and what we stand to gain if we choose to supply more immediate feedback. Also keep in mind that giving feedback effectively is a skill set, and one that can be learned.

Realistically, infrequent feedback can actually heighten fear. Consider the anxiety that often goes along with formal reviews. I recall my hands feeling clammy and my heart racing before every bi-yearly review. Why? Because very little communication about my performance had taken place before the review, which created an unwanted air of mystery about whether my performance was up to par.

Another form of resistance that holds us back is the belief that we don’t have enough time. Let’s tear that excuse to shreds, shall we? Giving feedback in the moment can save time (and money) by creating immediate, rather than eventual, improvements. A few moments of feedback could potentially save months of mistakes, poor-quality work, or misunderstandings.

Another reservation that often occurs is that we may want to process what’s taking place in our environment before we communicate our thoughts or feelings to another person. If this is you, cut yourself some slack. Is it better to receive feedback the day after an incident, or six months from when it occurred? Go easy on yourself and give yourself what you need, even if it’s a bit of time to process.

If You Think Your Organization Needs More Frequent Feedback, Here’s What You Can Do

Plain and simple: have a conversation with your fellow leaders and propose changes to your organization’s feedback approach. Build your case and bring a list of solutions to the table, which might include leadership training intended to strengthen skills around feedback conversations and tool-based solutions such as feedback technology.

The same recommendations apply if you’re in a non-leadership role. And don’t wait for leadership to approach you with feedback. Ask for it, give it, and request that it occur more frequently.

What experiences have you had with the quality and frequency of feedback? How would you rate yourself and others? Share with us.

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