How HR Leaders are Implementing Continuous Feedback Loops


Today’s HR leaders are faced with complex talent management challenges that have led them to seek new, more effective performance management techniques. From dwindling employee engagement levels (only 33% of U.S. employees were engaged as of Oct. 2017, according to Gallup) to increasing turnover rates, the issues plaguing the modern workplace can’t be solved using outdated approaches.

These challenges, among many others, are what have driven companies like Adobe, Microsoft, and even GE to oust the annual review and replace it with a continuous feedback loop. In doing so, they’ve been able to support an ongoing performance management framework while also achieving what annual performance reviews were designed for in the first place: improved employee performance.

While it’s clear that ongoing feedback is the future of performance management, it’s left many HR leaders wondering: where do we begin? Here, we’ll take an in-depth look at how top HR teams are implementing continuous feedback loops to help their organizations excel.

Create Clear, Measurable Goals

In order for feedback to be valuable, it must be based off employee performance. Yet, if there’s nothing to measure their performance against, managers won’t be able to give specific, timely feedback. This is where clear, measurable goals come in.

Like feedback, goals can’t be a “one and done” event; instead, they must be set regularly and using SMART methodology (specific, measurable, aligned, relevant, and time-bound). Forward-thinking companies such as Google have been using measureable goal setting systems like OKR (Objectives and Key Results) for years as a way to set and track goals and ensure company-wide alignment. This powerful system takes an Objective and breaks it down into measureable steps (Key Results) while also making sure all individual, team, and departmental Objectives support the most important company priorities. More importantly, they set clear expectations for employees and give managers something by which they can gauge their direct reports’ performance. As a result, OKRs open up the channels for insightful feedback exchanges driven towards improved performance.

Get Managers Involved

Gallup research indicates at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement levels are directly impacted by managers. Thus, the ongoing feedback loop must be maintained between managers and their direct reports – not HR.

While HR teams can play a critical role in structuring the performance management framework and providing managers with the training they need to support an ongoing feedback loop, it’s ultimately up to managers to maintain consistent communication with their teams. Yet, HR can also present compelling points to the C-suite and managers alike explaining the benefits of ongoing feedback. In doing so, HR teams can establish themselves as strategic partners while also securing company-wide buy-in.

Make It Continuous

While the annual appraisal is a yearly event, ongoing feedback loops must be approached as ongoing activities. Not only do employees need more feedback to understand expectations and work to improve in any areas in a timely manner, but business needs have also created a demand for more agile performance management.

As HBR points out, many organizations now have short-term projects which change rapidly as they’re completed. It’s therefore impossible to plan employees’ goals for an entire year and assess their performance over that extended timeframe. Moreover, when employees receive feedback based on how they performed months ago, it’s at best irrelevant, but at worst demotivating.

Instead of giving performance feedback only once per year during the annual appraisal, managers and their teams should establish an ongoing loop. This allows managers to praise and constructively criticize employees when the behavior happens (instead of months down the road), giving them the opportunity to correct their performance in a timely manner.

To support the ongoing feedback loop, many organizations have implemented one-on-ones, or weekly check-ins held between managers and their direct reports. While brief (even just 10 minutes), these sessions are intended to give both the manager and their direct report insights on recent wins or obstacles and clarity on approaching priorities.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Your managers are already busy, so asking them to exchange more feedback with their teams may be met with some resistance. In reality, feedback exchanges actually free up managers’ schedules, because they’ll spend less time addressing last-minute questions and putting out fires. Nonetheless, they could still benefit from some tools to make the feedback loop easier to maintain.

Pulse survey software is one option for facilitating ongoing feedback. Sent once per week, they help managers monitor team progress and proactively course correct at the first sign of any obstacles. They also supply employees with an additional outlet for feedback outside of the one-on-one meeting which can be accessed anywhere, which Millennials in particular value significantly.

In addition to using to using ongoing feedback software, you might also consider implementing OKR software if you choose to implementing OKR goals. Equipped with goals dashboards and comprehensive analytics, these tools give managers high-level performance data which can further enhance their ability to provide relevant, specific feedback to help teams excel.

Use Data to Your Advantage

Speaking of performance data, there are plenty of ways to collect it. “Big data” is certainly not new to HR. Yet, while gathering this data has been an ongoing trend within recent years, we’re only just beginning to understand the ways in which we can (and should) use it.

Without acting upon it, the performance data you retrieve is useless. So, once managers have access to performance data, they must analyze it, seeking out the information that’s most relevant to the talent management and overall organizational strategies. Then, they during their feedback sessions with their teams, they must use that data to discuss individualized developmental plans. These plans should focus on further harnessing strengths and improving any critical weaknesses.

Consider Keeping Annual Reviews

A final and perhaps surprising way many HR leaders are implementing feedback: they’re actually using regular, documented feedback exchanges to support an annual review. As SHRM points out, many companies still need a formal way to summarize performance assessments over a given time. When yearly reviews are used in conjunction with ongoing feedback, they actually begin to serve their intended purpose.

Since managers and employees will exchange feedback on an ongoing basis, the stress of meeting to discuss performance will be altogether removed leading up to the annual appraisal. Instead of being a nerve-racking and unpleasant event, the review will instead be a strategic session simply used to sum up the goals that have been achieved and progress made on developmental plans throughout the year.

Making the shift from standalone yearly appraisals to ongoing feedback can be a significant undertaking, but like anything else, it can be achieved successfully when approached using small steps. Remember that most importantly, effective feedback always starts with goals. Once your employees have clear, measureable goals in place, managers can then establish an ongoing loop through which relevant feedback is exchanged to facilitate personal growth and improved performance.

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