When is the right time to give feedback? Is this something I should only do in the quarterly performance review, or should I communicate concerns or praise at all times? This question is particularly aimed at negative comments I sometimes have to pass on. I don’t want to bombard particular employees – who have a mountain to climb in terms of achieving their goals – with a constant stream of negative prose; but saving it all up for the review seems harsh too. JI, Abu Dhabi
There has been a lot of talk about companies such as GE, Adobe, Deloitte and Accenture getting rid of performance reviews and replacing them with regular one-to-one conversations, or ‘dialogues’. The idea is that traditional reviews are a poor use of time, alienating employees and de-prioritising performance for discussion only once or twice a year. In fact, 6 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have already replaced traditional annual review performance rankings, and the number is growing.
It is interesting that you are questioning when the best time is to give feedback, as in the past organisations would have saved all feedback like money in the bank for that lengthy performance review. Now people like yourself from organisations across the globe are asking whether regular feedback should become part of the manager’s day-to-day toolkit. From my perspective as a business psychologist this is fantastic, as feedback, learning and personal development are critical parts of everyday work conversations in healthy organisations.
Thinking about your own situation, I am not sure if it is as simple as either giving feedback regularly or just in the performance review; they are ultimately connected. Consistent patterns of behaviour are often best discussed in formal performance meetings, while regular ‘catch-ups’ are an invaluable opportunity to provide “in the moment” feedback and simply a chance for you to listen. Keep your finger on the pulse with a mix of the two, allowing you to remain in touch regularly so that future performance reviews become as relevant and productive as possible. Provide feedback when good work deserves to be recognised or when it has a strong likelihood of improving a person’s confidence, knowledge or skills. Equally there are occasions when it may be needed as the behaviour needs to change.
Remember feedback can be a manager’s greatest gift. Everyone likes to know how they are doing, especially if the messages are delivered in the right way. Having shorter, more frequent conversations will help employees move forward with their careers and they apply your advice more directly, rather than looking back on past accomplishments or failures from afar.
Do bear in mind my ‘health warning’ though; feedback must be delivered in the right way. Delivering feedback well is a complex art, and requires a manager to accurately tune into the needs of each employee. There are no right or wrong answers but it does require you to pick up the paintbrush with some confidence.
If you struggle to give difficult feedback, you could try the BOFF technique. This involves first focusing on behaviour, providing a specific and factual description of what the person receiving the feedback has done. Follow this up by describing the outcome and the impact the behaviour had on you, colleagues, customers or performance. Then, describe the feelings of those involved resulting from this behaviour, and finish off with the future behaviour you would like to see in this situation. This should help you describe the situation, raise awareness of the impact, and most importantly keep the focus on how team members make the changes you want to see.
Feedback is something that doesn’t have to be limited by a regimented structure. There is no reason your feedback shouldn’t be given on a more frequent basis, and you may even find that your team appreciates the new format. Performance reviews have their uses, but regular and skilled dialogue helps an individual think to the future and make small adjustments day to day. Negative feedback served in small doses, especially if praise is also something on the menu, is much easier to stomach than a huge serving of criticism.
Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice on any work issues.