Feedback has become an inescapable part of any given workplace, and is often positioned as the primary method for employee development. Despite our reliance on it, feedback is still something that employers and employees alike tend to shy away from, given its reputation for being awkward, confrontational and a waste of time. In their article ‘The Feedback Fallacy,’ Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall show that ‘telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders learning.’ This sheds an interesting new light on this age old and widely established method.
So, if feedback is more of a hindrance than a help, a drain on resources and something that is often avoided, is it not time to explore other methods of employee performance development? Is feedback still a necessity in the modern workplace?
Traditionally, feedback happens once a year in an overheated office with the employee, weighed down by the stacks of evidence they’ve collected, trying to prove that he or she is capable of doing their job. Normally very formal and structured, feedback works in one direction; the manager giving the employee an evaluation based on subjective or opaque criteria which isn’t always easy for the employee to act on. Often the feedback can come across as irrelevant, especially if it’s being given a long time after a specific incident. The outcomes of feedback sessions — appraisals, performance management reviews, 360s — often directly affect pay raises or bonuses so there is pressure on the employee to perform, or outperform themselves. The whole process, can be demotivating for an employee who feels that they’re working hard in a system that doesn’t support them.
Companies like Netflix and Bridgewater Associates use ‘radical transparency’ — focussing on negative feedback to encourage improvement — as a development tool. But, unless the company has taken the time to cultivate a truly psychologically safe environment — one where employees feel comfortable to voice dissent to peers and seniors alike or learn through failure — then radical transparency is more likely to manifest as aggressive or unproductive disapproval. Personal criticism, however well intended, naturally puts people’s brains in a defensive mindset.
Our attitudes to the way in which we should be working are naturally evolving, as are the ways in which we think about employee growth. Employees do need to know where they stand in order to progress and move forward and part of operating in a team is to learn from one another and to share knowledge. But have we become over — reliant on feedback as the only tool for delivering on all these promises?
One-to-ones can still offer the sense of evaluation that comes from feedback but without the constraints of the traditional method. Replace one-sided lectures with open-ended, inclusive and ongoing conversations centred on employee performance and development. There’s no need to have this discussion in a cramped office; go for a walk, go for a coffee, sit in the park (weather permitting). Just make sure its a place where both parties will feel at ease and ready to share. These conversations can be as frequent and as flexible as you like and can fit in with your schedule.
Harnessing the power of technology, Saberr makes one-to-ones simple. Saberr books time in your calendar and generates thought provoking, conversation inducing questions for your one-to-ones. These conversations, are not limited to the traditional employer/employee hierarchy and can happen between any two team members. Teams are diverse and having a discussion about your development with someone other than your direct report can offer alternative perspectives and can give valuable insight into your work patterns, and how you work with your team. Taking the time to improve employee performance pays dividends in terms of time spent versus long term (or even short term) performance gain.
Traditional feedback is not a necessity but an evaluation of performance is needed for development, and this is where one-to-ones come in. The opportunities — to learn, grow and develop — that arise from regular one-to-ones are abundant, and a crucial aspect of any successful work environment. A work space that encourages one-to-ones between team members, can nurture a safe space where employees can freely express themselves.