Performance reviews evaluate employee progress on established goals and serve as a benchmark for compensation and promotion decisions. On the other hand, continuous feedback is an ongoing mode of communication that includes praise and constructive suggestions.
Each offers strengths. While performance reviews bring the benefits of structure, planning, and methodical evaluation, continuous feedback provides real-time insight, supports engagement and growth, and helps build relationships between colleagues. Neither is better than the other — instead, they work best in combination.
We’ll take a focused look at the continuous feedback component of performance management. The strategies shared below will help you implement formalized processes for delivering regular, real-time feedback to your employees to serve a variety of purposes, ranging from goal setting to recognition and more. With these in place, you’ll be well-positioned to develop a culture of continuous feedback that equips employees to do their best work.
4 Ways to Provide Continuous Feedback
Positive or constructive, formal or casual, solicited or spontaneous, feedback is a key element of any collaborative workplace. Successful leaders understand how imperative it is to helping employees thrive, but finding effective ways to regularly make it happen can still be a challenge. Below we share four ways you can make continuous feedback a cultural norm for your company:
1. Make regular one-on-ones the norm.
If this isn’t something your company is doing already, it should be. One-on-one meetings are an opportunity for managers and direct reports to meet—one-on-one, as the name implies — and check in with one another about how things are going.
They’ve become increasingly popular in recent years, probably because they have such a favorable impact on performance: one study found that employees who have regular one-on-one meetings with their managers are three times more likely to be engaged. Other companies have reported reductions in turnover, productivity increases, and all-around improvements to communication as additional benefits of implementing one-on-one meetings.
It’s best to prepare an agenda ahead of time, but keep it flexible and open — this is the employee’s chance to chat with their manager about anything and everything that’s on their mind. By carving out time for these check-ins, you’ll create space for a two-way exchange of feedback that’s critical to constructing strong manager-employee relationships.
2. Practice employee recognition.
Employee recognition is an incredible continuous feedback tool that supports increased engagement, improved relationships between colleagues, and other benefits contributing to a positive employee experience. Implementing a recognition program gives employees an easy way to celebrate their colleagues for outstanding work and big wins, and helps make gratitude among peers a regular cultural norm.
Experts recommend making your praise timely, specific, and (where appropriate) public. You should recognize employees in real-time and describe what behaviors or results inspired you to recognize them. If the recipient is comfortable with it, it’s also best to deliver the recognition in a public setting, whether that’s a team meeting or an inclusive social feed. This makes the recognition even more meaningful and inspires others to recognize peers.
3. Set goals and track progress.
Setting and tracking goals is a whole science in and of itself, and we’ve dedicated a comprehensive guide to help get leaders up to speed. It’s an important way to let employees know that not only are they growing, but your company is also there to support them in doing so.
There are many effective approaches to goal setting, including:
- OKRs: OKRs, also known as objectives and key results, are all about keeping teams aligned and focused on what you can measure. They recommend pursuing goals (or objectives) that are ambitious and measurable, with an eye towards the major milestones (key results) you’ll pass along the way to get there.
- SMART Goals: SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, and these are the criteria prescribed when outlining goals under the SMART goals methodology. This approach to goal setting encourages employees to think carefully about the actionable steps that will lead them to their intended destination.
- 30-60-90 Day Plans: The name mostly gives this approach away. 30-60-90 day plans require employees to create a three-tiered action plan toward their goals, with major milestones every thirty days.
4. Conduct project retrospectives.
Scheduling project retrospectives after your team wraps up a major initiative is a great way to reflect on performance collectively. Taking a moment to consider what you learned can provide a critical opportunity for feedback and subsequent growth.
In its most essential form, a project retrospective should address three questions:
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
- What actions should we take moving forward?
Simple as they may seem, answering these three questions can generate loads of valuable feedback to inform your team’s performance in the future.
That said, talking openly about how a group project unfolded, and especially about areas that could improve, can be tricky. To lead a productive project retrospective, you should establish the expectation that team members avoid assigning individual blame whenever possible, and constructive feedback not be taken as a personal affront. Laying out these expectations upfront will allow for much smoother communication and give team members their best chance to learn and improve.
Thoughtful feedback delivered in the right context can be one of the most powerful tools of all to support employee growth. These ideas should help you carve out opportunities to communicate with employees about their performance, strengths, and weaknesses in a way that benefits all parties involved.
By making continuous feedback a central part of your performance management process, you’ll give everyone the gift of real-time growth — empowering individuals, your team, and your company to perform at their best.