The art of giving feedback continues to challenge many professionals and organizations.  The root cause remains simple.  Giving constructive feedback is hard; receiving it is even more difficult.

Most companies rely on traditional performance evaluation practices that are viewed by employees as a tool for management and human resources and not necessarily for the true betterment of individual employees.  Forced compliance and the potential for conflicts of interest weaken the quality of feedback received during review sessions.  The status quo of conducting performance evaluation is irrelevant in today’s fast-changing work environment.  Feedback provided to the employee is often viewed as low-impact and nonactionable.

Feedback systems fail for many reasons.  However, by following a few simple rules, managers can make feedback relevant.

Frequency bias.  The data collected can often be based on aged feedback or vulnerable to the recency effect, the behavioral principle that the most recent information is likely to be recalled and shared during reviews. To overcome this bias, the organization should encourage persistent touch points.  Collect micro feedback constantly throughout the year and share it immediately with your employees. There shouldn’t be any surprises at year end.  Identify development opportunities early and give employees the time, tools and resources to make improvements.

Quality bias. Most people view feedback as low-impact because recipients don’t trust the source.  Even if the feedback is genuine and accurate, employees often dismiss it.  We generally view feedback provided by someone you don’t typically get along with as a comment made out of spite. However, we also tend to regard feedback provided by a friendly coworker as an attaboy.  To overcome this bias, the organization should embrace a culture of feedback.  Set it as a priority and not as a “check the block.”  The firm should collect both structured and unstructured feedback.  It should be top down and also bottom up.

Additional problems exist with most feedback techniques.

Lack of accountability – Managers are often the single input into the employee review, thus providing feedback through a single lens. 

Individual scores exceed team performance – The feedback suffers from a natural “grade inflation,” which not only makes it difficult to compare employees but minimizes the value of the feedback to the recipient.

Lack comprehensive team assessment – Organizations struggle to understand why teams fail and why teams succeed. 

Gaming the system.  Often, managers rate employees to meet short-term goals such as to meet budget requirements while correlating performance to bonus/wage increase. 

Time consuming process – Traditional 360° reviews are too time consuming and hinder employees from completing core tasks. 


Case Study

April, a midlevel manager, thinks that her greatest strength is as an active communicator.  During her latest performance evaluation, an annual event at her company, she learned that her peers identify communication as her largest weakness and thus her greatest opportunity for improvement.  They did, however, view her as a strategic thinker, though she was unaware of her teammates’ perception on this soft skill.  She has a clear gap in self-perception versus peer perception on these two competencies.

Management conducted interviews to figure out why these gaps exist.  They discovered that although April talks a great deal during meetings, her peers didn’t view her comments as value added.  They felt she was long winded and often off-topic.  They did, however, think she was a strong strategic thinker.  Specifically, in small group settings, her teammates would witness her, again and again, identifying solutions to problems from previously unthought-of approaches. 

April received the feedback immediately. A supervisor she trusted shared the review with her in a private setting. The feedback was direct, and the supervisor played the role of a good coach by asking a series of questions. Together, through teamwork, they were able to devise a plan for improvement.  Management also highlighted where she was performing strongly, specifically in her strategic thinking skills.

 April’s behavior immediately changed upon receiving this feedback.  Her comments during meetings were better structured, more concise and on topic.  Knowing that her peers viewed her as a strategic thinker, her confidence grew, and she began to take on a more significant leadership role within the group.  This change in behavior was evident within her team. She matured, and moving forward, sought input from her colleagues to ensure she continued to communicate effectively.