Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Often Do You Receive Performance Feedback?

In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review Lori Goler, Janelle Gale and Adam Grant mention how “performance reviews are awkward. They’re biased. They stick us in boxes and leave us waiting far too long for feedback. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2015, at least 30 of the Fortune 500 companies had ditched performance evaluations altogether,” (p.92).
I don’t fully agree with their comment about the link between feedback and performance reviews – as I think they are mutually exclusive and that whatever your approach to performance reviews, feedback shouldn’t be something you have to wait ‘far too long for’ and should be a regular event occurring on a weekly/monthly basis where the employee sits with their immediate boss on an one-on-one basis for a honest and forthright discussion about what’s going well; what isn’t (if anything); areas where improvement could be made (which might lead to development needs) and what’s going to happen in the next ‘period’ of time.
Feedback is different to ‘acknowledgement’ where acknowledgement is or should be immediate following a ‘job well done’ and where feedback is a more formal regular event. Feedback isn’t just the responsibility of leaders, it’s also the responsibility of employees to seek feedback – so if you aren’t getting feedback on a regular basis it’s your responsibility to ask for it.
What’s true is where Goler, Gale and Grant highlight how “as researchers pointed out in a recent debate in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, ‘Performance is always rated in some manner.’ If you don’t have formal evaluations, ratings will be hidden in a black box.” In today’s world we are rating ‘things’ all the time, virtually instantly, and ‘performance’ isn’t any different. But how we ‘rate’ and what we do with this ‘rating’ defines good leaders, from poor leaders (and good organisations from bad ones). If you don’t have formal evaluations then you shouldn’t be hiding your ‘tendency’ to rate in a black box – you should be totally transparent with your ‘black box’ and this is done through regular transparent feedback. ‘Black box’ mentalities lead to distrust and demotivation within the team, where there is no chance of honest feedback taking place and employees find themselves in a ‘toxic’ environment.
Goler, Gale and Grant mention how “we all want performance evaluations to be fair. That isn’t always the outcome, but as more than 9,000 managers and employees reported in a global survey by CEB, not having evaluations is worse. Every organization has people who are unhappy with their bonuses or disappointed that they weren’t promoted. But research has long shown that when the process is fair, employees are more willing to accept undesirable outcomes. A fair process exists when evaluators are credible and motivated to get it right, and employees have a voice. Without evaluations, people are left in the dark about who is gauging their contributions and how.”
The reality is that performance evaluations simply aren’t ‘genuine’ performance evaluations if they aren’t honest and transparent. All the talk about ‘black boxes’ etc doesn’t belong in the same sentence as performance evaluations; and it’s because they now seem to appear in the same sentence that performance reviews have become misunderstood and gained a bad reputation – but it isn’t the concept of performance reviews that is bad, it’s the people that have misused them for decades that have made them bad.
Goler, Gale and Grant highlight how “at Facebook, to mitigate bias and to do things systematically, we start by having peers write evaluations. They share them not just with managers but also, in most cases, with one another – which reflects the company’s core values of openness and transparency. Then decisions are made about performance: Managers sit together and discuss their reports face-to-face, defending and championing, debating and deliberating, and incorporating peer feedback. Here the goal is to minimize the ‘idiosyncratic rater effect’ – also known as personal opinion. People aren’t unduly punished when individual managers are hard graders or unfairly rewarded when they’re easy graders.”
Two of the authors of the article are from Facebook, Lori Goler and Janelle Gale and though it’s good that they are trying to use performance reviews effectively, it’s sad that they think they need their own ‘theory’ to mitigate ‘bias’ – as there have been tips and tricks on how to mitigate performance review bias for decades. One of the simplest, wasn’t to rate performance on an annual basis in the first place it was to give regular reviews based on a ‘management by objectives’ approach. This professional approach meant that ‘performance reviews’ linked with regular ‘feedback sessions’ to form a constant review of performance that didn’t leave employees in any doubt about how they were doing; and became a seamless ‘performance review’ that left employees motivated, engaged and inspired to over-achieve against their objectives on a continuous basis.
Goler, Gale and Grant state that “many companies that are abandoning performance evaluations are moving to real-time feedback systems. That is an excellent way to help people repeat their successes and learn from their failures. But it doesn’t help them – or the organization – gauge how they’re doing overall.” Again I have to totally disagree with their statement that ‘it doesn’t help them gauge how they’re doing overall’ and to me the statement sadly shows a misunderstanding about managing performance, reviewing performance and the art of ‘feedback’. Done correctly there is no doubt in the employees mind about ‘how they’re doing overall’ – and it’s scary that a company like Facebook could be so confused and misinformed about what regular performance feedback is all about.
The most important aspects of ‘great’ performance feedback is that;
It should be a regular, formal process.
Leaders and employees should be ‘trained’ in how to give and receive feedback – a skill that is rarely taught and hence where many of the problems start;
Feedback is specific, constructive and makes a real impact;
Feedback is genuine and honest, discussed in a ‘safe’ environment - which only exists in great organisations, with great leadership and a strong culture of transparency;
Feedback is based on specific objectives that leads to performance improvement and development needs as and when necessary;
The employee learns how to receive feedback in a constructive and not a defensive way; and to seek clarification from the feedback in a positive way, that makes a difference to their performance.
If you give regular feedback in the right way, you won’t need to only ‘rate’ your employees once a year; as through regular, honest feedback all your employees will be performing at their optimal level of performance balanced between the organisations ‘present and future needs’ – it’s a genuine win-win for everyone. So let’s take this opportunity to go back to basics; teach our leaders and employee’s how to give and receive feedback; and get back to giving regular, honest feedback to our employees – it will make a huge difference to the employees and the organisation.
Goler, L., Gale, J. and Grant, A. (2016). Let’s Not Kill Performance Evaluations Yet. HBR, November, p.90-94.