Until the 2010’s, companies relied heavily on evaluations for performance management. Linked to financial rewards and personal advancement, the evaluation was characteristic of accountability approach and standardized objective metrics. The whole appraisal process was loathed by employees and managers hated doing reviews considering it as a ineffective use of supervisors’ time. Many review systems were under stress because employees harbored doubts that the core elements are equitable.
Toward talent nurturing and the democratization of the feedback culture
Recently, organizations started to progressively turn down these processes for an approach more oriented toward talent development giving prominence to feedbacks and individualised assessments. These new, less formal, more personalized and transparent kind of appraisals contrast with previous processes in place as they focused developing people (forward-oriented) instead of systematically sanctioning a past performance (backward-oriented).
The progressive use of feedbacks loops for instance is becoming strongly anchored in the anglo-saxon culture, especially in the US while it is still emergent in the more formal and conservative European culture. However, there is now a global push toward feedbacks with the Millenials (generation Y), which are more “vocational” than their previous generations. Increasing talent competition for highly skilled jobs, especially in technology sector have reinforced the necessity to care and grow talent in the organisation. Actually, all renowned management reviews (HBR, MIT Sloan...) are praising in their articles the use of regular feedback as a powerful management tool and associate it with higher team and individual performance.
Don’t get it wrong with feedback loops: Post-mortem is good, pre-mortem is better!
Providing feedback, coaching and developing people means taking time to reflect - understanding and interpreting information (in the form of results, observations, and data) to evolve our actions to get more impact for the project team in case of group reflection, or for the appraiser and the appraisee in its individualized version. A critical component is its timing and frequency as the objective is to enable future performance improvement and generate impact on the ongoing initiatives.
One common mistake about feedback is that, it is often provided at the end of the collaboration while it should be a continuous process, in both internal and external working relationships. When, it is too late to change the trajectory of a project, for example, acknowledging that things could have been done differently is, in itself positive, but might be frustrating as it is not actionable. In other words: post-mortem is good, but pre-mortem is even better!
Indeed when performance has already been delivered, feedback is only relevant for the “next time”, but “When will be the next time?”. Performance follow-ups between two successive initiatives are an exception, not the norm and most of the time, they occur in critical situation for the employee (e.g. when performance is insufficient and the job position is at stake). Additionally, from one project to another, the context changes: topic, role, team etc. Therefore, it is often difficult to leverage the feedback we received.
Be aware of potential bias when providing feedback and coaching talents
Last but not least, feedbacks, when assimilated as reviews are often biased, as performance objectives are not tailor-made and have not often been agree on. As a consequence, feedbacks are more reviews including subjective elements from the appraiser: the process appears being static and fluffy rather than dynamic and actionable, losing its pertinence.
Strategize feedback: continuous feedback to unlock value for organisations
Continuous feedback loops unlock value for organisation in three major ways: talent-based strategy, agility increase in the organisation and effective trajectory adjustment in project work in a changing world.
Implementing continuous feedback loops, means adopting a forward oriented approach aiming at developing talents (inside and outside the organisation). Given the current edge that high-skilled talents have on the job-market, it is critical for companies to nurture the development of their collaborators and to widen their evolution perspectives. McKinsey, a consultancy, analyzed that the 2% of talents are responsible for an exponential part of companies' value generation process. Accordingly, HR becomes a strategic role where human-based capability development has to be at the top of the management’s agenda.
Global and digitized competition has made agility a necessary surviving condition for organisations at the structural, process and human level. The democratization of “Agile” approaches, inherited from software development, highlight the importance of real-time trajectory adjustment and short feedback loops in order to maximise the performance of project teams as well as those of individuals.
It is all about creating a moment dedicated to reflection and mutual development
Taking the time for continuous feedback creates a valuable moment for reflection for teams and individuals (managers and talents). Yes, speed matters nowadays. But we can’t focus too much on speed. Otherwise there’s no time for reflection, and reflection is critical for learning. For workgroups, part of the learning process should be to continually step back and ask how refining our view of the destination might help us progress even faster and develop ourselves.
Takeaway: business leaders are now coach whom main responsibility is to grow and shape their organisation to achieve the mission
To be successful, organisations, and business leaders, should adopt the coaching approach for their organisation and promote a culture of transparent and continuous feedback. What is at stake is clear: winning the war for talent, nurture their dynamic capabilities and develop unique competitive advantage in a fast-changing world.