It is generally known that annual or semi-annual performance feedback is not very effective. When feedback is provided at shorter intervals and the corresponding conversation about how to do better also occurs frequently then the effectiveness improves.
With the systems prevalent these days, such as ratings on ride-sharing apps and grocery deliveries, or buttons for satisfaction with gyms and restrooms, we all have a comfort level with providing frequent feedback. So, how should we structure and utilize continuous performance appraisals?
The aim of the performance appraisal is to provide feedback to an individual so that they may understand where they are and how they can improve. If work is done as a team, then the appraisal should be for the team. If there is a clear team leader then the appraisal can be of the team leader but then the feedback should be, in turn, be given by the team leader to the individual team members.
Feedback should be for specific work items – at the end of the work or at specific milestones. The work or milestones has certain Objectives, so those should be stated clearly. It is often stated that Objectives must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) but we need to understand that in some cases an Objective may not be very specific and measurable. It is more important that the Objective is aligned with the concept of improvement than to spend time convincing everyone about the exact measure.
The feedback should be from the customers. If external customers provide frequent feedback that is excellent. Most of us do not directly work with external customers, but we do have internal customers, so the internal customers should provide the feedback. The internal customers should evaluate from the viewpoint of how well the other person’s work helped attain my own objectives.
If people are working as a team, then team members should evaluate one another. A general criterion such as “Team Player” does not help unless everyone is very clear on what constitutes a team player for that team for that work. Specific criteria should be used such as whether the inputs and discussions were useful, or, the lack of inputs or delayed deliverables caused issues, or, whether the others respectfully listened to my inputs.
Some companies focus on “true employees” but as the workforce includes more and more contingent workers, the feedback should be provided to the contingent workers too.
Some organizations encourage department to department feedback; this can be, quite simply, too general. It may have some limited benefit as a baseline. It would be hard to say on what criteria Accounts evaluates R&D. Departments do feed into other departments but it is better to organize as specific work units and deliverables than general “department inputs”.
For learning objectives such as a new skill there would not be immediate customers. The supervisor should evaluate, on a periodic basis such as three months, to ascertain how often and how well the new learning is being utilized in the completion of tasks.
Ratings and Remarks
The feedback should consist of both quantitative ratings (such as 1 to 5 scale) as well as remarks. Whereas the quantitative number can provide a quick idea of the performance, it is the remarks that help in improvement. Remarks should, as far as possible, be expressed as positive actions and suggestions – if X is done, then the goal Y is better attained.
A person should always carry out self-evaluation. And then compare the self-evaluation with the feedback from the others.
Sometimes people provide higher ratings and remarks in order to motivate future performance. We all must keep this tendency in check as it may lull the receiver into complacency.
Should the ratings and remarks be private or public? The remarks should definitely be private to the recipient and their supervisor. Whereas there is the merit of transparency in keeping quantitative ratings public, the fact that ratings can move down can act as a negative factor in the future. I prefer ratings to be private too — to the recipient and their supervisor.
The Supervisor Conversations
The Supervisor should regularly discuss the ratings and remarks with the individual. They should recognize good work. They should discuss gaps and improvement areas and thus guide the individual to better performance.
The Supervisor should also provide continuous motivation and tie the individual’s work to the bigger picture of the organization.
We have the opportunity now to do the right thing for our people. The elements of continuous performance management are simple and can be incorporated into your organization. What has been your experience? Please let us know.