Annual Performance Reviews versus Continuous Feedback – Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater!
My husband and I fulfilled our parental duty this week and attended school interviews for our youngest daughter. The feedback was constant across every single teacher: smart kid, talks too much in class (way too much)! What differed however was message delivery and the impact that had on us as the recipients of the message.
One teacher lectured us intensely to the point I wanted to crawl under a nearby table to escape. Another pretended to be something she wasn’t so we just sat there weighing up the value of calling her out. Yet another clearly wanted to be somewhere else. But a number of teachers were refreshingly different and interestingly were my daughter’s favourite teachers. They were candid, yet understanding. They were respectful yet demanded more from a teenager who most definitely needed to lift her game. You could tell they cared, but they didn’t hold back on delivering the hard message.
My daughter’s response: She was accepting and appreciative of the feedback from the teachers she respected and further alienated by those who she lacked connection with.
It very much felt like a workplace annual review: the good, the bad and the disappointing. Too often the annual review is a perfunctory activity of little consequence and minimal value. So why bother? In the US it is estimated at least a third of companies have done away with the formal yearly check-in and replaced it with frequent informal catch-ups. I believe both approaches used together is the way to go. Timeliness and regularity of feedback is important. However, of greater importance is the intent and message delivery underpinned by the level of mutual respect the giver and receiver hold for each other.
I am of the firm opinion Annual Reviews have a poor reputation for three reasons:
managers avoid the candid conversations
frequent informal catch-ups either don’t happen or are only task-focused
managers don’t know how to coach
In order to tackle points 1 and 2 leaders need to take on point 3 and learn basic coaching skills and apply them. I have had the privilege of coaching 100s of senior leaders and invariably their people leadership approach is telling rather than listening, assuming rather than enquiring and posturing rather than conceding. Leaders also tend to have an inflated sense of how they are managing their people and are poorly resourced to modify their behaviours. My advice is always the same:
apply the basic tenants of coaching to your leadership approach (see my eBook Mini360 Management Tool),
get your people to hold you to account with your newly intended approach and
seek feedback regularly
Just as we expect our teachers to ensure our children are best prepared for successful futures, leaders have a duty of care to ensure their people are supported in being the best they can be.