Overcoming Fear of Continuous Feedback
Most organizations give performance reviews once a year, rather than creating a culture of continuous feedback based around their day-to-day operations. Performance reviews can be useful for big corporations, to ensure everyone’s performance is assessed under the same framework. However, corporations can also build a continuous feedback environment, where everyone knows how they are performing on a daily basis.
Continuous feedback is key for top-performing teams, especially when it comes to fast-paced environments. It allows everyone to understand how they can improve and work on honing their skills or ways of doing things. When a continuous feedback model is implemented, people can adapt quickly to the realities of the situation after they are informed of what is working well and what isn’t.
Although an honest and immediate feedback culture has countless benefits, companies often face one main setback when they decide to implement it: fear. As M. Tamra Chandler and Laura Grealish say in their book “Feedback (and other dirty words)”:
“If our marketing colleagues were to do a branding assessment on feedback, it would not score well. […] We’ve built its horrible brand one lousy experience at a time. You know what I mean: using feedback to punish, shame, or manipulate. Saving it up and then heaping a big load of it on an unsuspecting employee. Letting our biases influence our perspectives. Sharing only when we want to make it clear that something, or someone, didn’t meet our expectations.”
So after centuries of mishandling feedback, when a Human Resources team starts working on implementing a continuous feedback model, they often have to combat employee’s and management’s fear of it. Hearing that the company is going to start implementing a continuous feedback system can be good news for everybody, if the timing is right. When you have the resources you need and the expertise to define an effective process, you can successfully overcome people’s fears.
When implementing a continuous feedback model at your company, you should first, clarify what feedback is and what it is not. Make it clear to everyone (especially to managers) that feedback is not a control mechanism, but an open and honest discussion about what has happened (or not) at work. Feedback should be centered around the week’s or month’s outcomes and aimed at reaching business and career goals. Introducing feedback as a tool to improve everyone’s career is key to getting everyone involved.
Additionally, you should take some time to define and share best practices. No one is born knowing how to give feedback. Try to avoid prolonged training sessions or extensive documentation, since people won’t be able to remember the dos and don’ts. Simply provide employees with a guide and make sure it appears in your company’s feedback platform every time someone is about to write their feedback. A simple template the employee can copy and paste will help everyone give consistent feedback.
One of the most common mistakes when implementing a feedback culture is setting the whole system, making it work, and then not doing anything with the feedback you receive. The implementation of this new system is an investment that the company makes to improve employee performance and company success, so be sure to use the feedback as a tool for growth. This means that managers and HR should follow up with trainings or professional development initiatives after feedback is given.
Once the process is up and running, pay attention to fairness. Feedback shouldn’t be non-evidence-based facts and opinions about someone, but an assessment of how they are doing in relation to the expectations of their role. This is why having public job descriptions and scorecards is very important, as they will help employees assess their colleagues and justify their feedback.
You should also try not to overcomplicate it. Although continuous feedback sounds like something that would require more procedures and bureaucracy, it’s possible to make it simple and straightforward. Avoid long processes, complex questionnaires, and non-user-friendly platforms. Useful is better than perfect! Also, make sure that it doesn’t take too much time. The objective is to encourage regular feedback in routine conversations, rather than pushing employees to have long and formal once-a-year conversations about their performance.
The level of trust among coworkers also impacts the quantity and quality of their feedback. That is why you should also focus on initiatives that build trust and encourage team bonding. Natural feedback won’t happen without strong relationships. Employees need to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and be open-minded enough to receive comments about their work from colleagues.
Finally, in addition to designing and overseeing the new system, HR managers are key to guaranteeing two important aspects of implementation. First, make sure that feedback is happening top-down, bottom-up, and between peers. No continuous feedback system can be successful unless everyone is involved. Everyone’s voice must count. And second, ensure efficiency and effectiveness by following up with employees. Ask questions like, What is working? What is not? What are people’s opinions about the new system? Does something need to be improved? What can we do to increase participation and make the system more effective? Remember, HR professionals need feedback too!