As a manager, how do you feel when performance review season rolls around? How do you think your staff feel?
For them, perhaps there’s a sinking feeling of looming judgment for a year’s worth of faults and failings. For you, it may be the drudgery of going through the same check-the-box process with all your staff.
Performance management is a perennial challenge, and annual reviews may not be the best way of improving performance. While it might feel counterintuitive, more frequent feedback can decrease the pressure on employees and managers — and improve performance.
Enter the continuous feedback cycle, which acts as a complement to annual or mid-year performance reviews. This ongoing practice of course correction helps to build and sustain a high-performance workplace culture.
But how do you go about changing your performance management system? Here, we’ll explain the benefits of a continuous feedback cycle and how you can nurture a culture of continuous feedback. We’ll also suggest a step-by-step process for establishing a continuous feedback cycle in your business.
What is a continuous feedback cycle?
A continuous feedback cycle, or continuous feedback loop, is an ongoing process where regular communication between employees, peers, and managers helps to drive high performance. Rather than waiting for an isolated review once or twice a year, managers provide regular feedback through quarterly reviews, with weekly casual one-on-ones, and in the flow of work. This ongoing feedback enables employees to make adjustments to their objectives and their behaviors throughout the year and continually improve their performance.
Importantly, feedback is not one-way. Employees can also offer feedback to managers via one-on-ones, team meetings, or employee surveys. Managers then take the feedback on board and either implement changes or provide responses.
This two-way cycle of giving and receiving feedback helps to cultivate and foster a self-sustaining culture of feedback that maximizes individual, team, and company performance.
A continuous feedback cycle doesn’t mean HR abandons structure and clear progress markers around employee performance and feedback. Rather, continuous feedback supplements the annual and quarterly review cycle, which can be susceptible to recency bias, where the review is overly focused on an employee’s most recent successes or shortcomings. Combining regimented performance reviews with continuous feedback allows people teams and employees to reap the benefits of both.
What are the benefits of continuous feedback?
The continuous feedback approach has major advantages for employees and employers alike, including:
Real-Time Insights and Problem-Solving
When there is a long time span between reviews, the risk is that performance will sag after the initial impetus. Regular communication and reciprocal feedback keep suggestions relevant. A continuous feedback cycle helps flag and address issues as they arise, rather than storing them up for a far-removed one-on-one.
Managers can make use of real-time insights to stay up to speed with employee performance and have more productive one-on-ones. This helps keep performance on track. Employees keep learning and improving, and they remain focused on their performance toward their objectives — not just in response to an annual dressing-down but as an ongoing practice.
Increased Employee Development
The University of Phoenix’s 2022 Career Optimism Index™ found that, of nearly 5,000 surveyed US workers, 46% feel they are “not as skilled as they need to be” in their career. When it comes to filling in those skill gaps, 29% of those surveyed said they don’t feel optimistic about their development opportunities.
Employees need to know how they’re doing. They want confirmation that they are achieving what’s expected of them. And they want to make progress and develop in their roles.
Continual feedback addresses this lack of clarity and helps managers and HR teams keep employees’ development needs front and center. This gives more opportunity to identify and implement the development steps to support career progression.
Improved Employee Engagement
Timely feedback is crucial for employee engagement, and it can be demotivating to wait 6 months or a year to hear how you’ve been performing. However, employees who’ve received meaningful feedback in the past week are nearly four times as likely to feel engaged as those who haven’t, according to Gallup data.
This makes sense: Constructive feedback can push employees who’ve fallen short of expectations to improve and keep top performers motivated and proud of their work.
A Calmer Work Environment and Better Relationships
With regular feedback, action points will tend to be smaller and more manageable, making them less demanding to achieve. The result is a less stressful, more productive employee experience — a metric that is closely linked with employee retention.
Moreover, by creating regular, constructive conversations between employees and managers, a continuous feedback cycle can help develop stronger relationships between employees and managers. And, as a 2022 research paper found, an employee’s “positive relationship with a manager is closely linked with motivation, performance, and productivity.”
How to Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Here are some key steps to implementing a continuous feedback cycle that works for your business:
Add informal feedback routines.
Building a feedback culture means making space for natural feedback. Feedback does not always have to be given in formal settings. Informal one-on-one meetings and check-ins are a fundamental part of the cycle. Make five minutes a week (or every day) to check in with each of your team members. Offer recognition of employee achievements and high performance as they happen.
Stay aligned on key objectives.
Employees need to be clear on performance expectations if they are to stay on track to meet their goals. While informal feedback has its place, it’s also important to have a structured feedback process for reviewing and updating objectives and key results (OKRs) to keep the process on track and consistent for everyone.
Schedule regular “official” one-on-ones on a biweekly or monthly basis, so everyone remains focused on high performance. An integrated goals platform like Lattice can help you stay on track.
Treat employees as individuals.
Don’t simply follow the same approach for each employee. Employee feedback should be centered on each person’s specific needs, goals, skills, and experiences.
Link your feedback to individual, team, and business goals. The feedback your employees receive should be meaningful, specific, and encouraging. Even if an employee’s performance has been falling short, they should leave the session feeling motivated toward improvement.
Protect psychological safety.
Feedback and reviews can make people feel vulnerable. Be considerate of each employee’s circumstances, personality, and preferences when it comes to giving feedback. Feedback that is given at the wrong time or in the wrong way, without taking the employee’s psychological safety into account can backfire — actively demotivating them or leading to conflict.
In the same way, employees should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts openly, without worrying about judgment or punishment. Be constructive with your feedback and listen and respond without judgment to theirs.
Implementing a Continuous Feedback Cycle
There’s no one way to run a continuous feedback cycle. You have to decide what will work best for your business and your employees. Here, we’ll give an example of how you can add continuous feedback to your performance review process.
Step 1: Explain the continuous feedback cycle.
Setting expectations and boundaries helps lay the groundwork and ensure everybody understands how feedback will be conducted and that it is focused on their improvement.
- Inform staff how and why a continuous feedback system is being implemented.
- Introduce the different methods you’ll be using, like one-on-ones, check-ins, and annual reviews.
- Establish clearly which behaviors and performance markers might require coaching and positive feedback, and which might warrant negative feedback or even disciplinary action.
- Emphasize that you welcome employee feedback.
Step 2: Establish your baselines.
- Hold initial one-on-ones to get the ball rolling.
- Work with each employee to identify and establish OKRs or SMART goals and record these in your people management platform.
- Use survey tools to gather employee comments and suggestions, or to find out their preferences for feedback.
Step 3: Train employees and managers on how to request and receive feedback.
Use your learning platform, or consider in-person practical workshops on best practices for sharing effective feedback. This could include:
- Responding to the feedback we disagree with
- Positive communication
- Listening before reacting
- Following up on feedback
Step 4: Structure your feedback procedures.
- Use Lattice to set the dates for weekly, monthly, or quarterly one-on-ones and team reviews.
- Use templates to help structure and ensure consistency for one-on-ones.
- Schedule annual reviews.
Step 5: Conduct scheduled one-on-one meetings.
- Use one-on-ones as an open forum to assess what worked, what didn’t, and what can be learned.
- Constructive feedback should be considerate and work-focused, and it should encourage employee growth — even when addressing shortcomings or failings.
- Reflect on past performance, but maintain a future-facing focus for feedback.
- Use Lattice to update goals or OKRs so that both you and your employees can keep track of progress.
Step 6: Establish a practice of check-ins to support one-on-ones.
- Make a point of catching up with employees weekly (or even daily) to ensure everything is going smoothly and to address any immediate issues.
- Make it a two-way conversation. Ask for feedback. This can be as simple as asking, “Is there anything you’d like to raise?”
- Encourage employees to actively seek out feedback — for example, before or after a project.
Step 7: Recognize great work.
- Be sure to offer genuine praise for jobs well done.
- Consider using a rewards system to recognize employees’ achievements throughout the year.
- As with verbal feedback, ensure praise is always based on work achievements, rather than making personal remarks.
- Use Lattice’s Slack integration to communicate or publicize achievements. Add reminders to ensure praise is balanced across your team.
- Make sure recognition is done in a positive and fair way to avoid the potential for any embarrassment or resentment.
Step 8: Assess, adjust, and repeat.
- Ensure feedback, whether from one-on-ones, annual reviews, or casual check-ins, always offers practical opportunities for growth and improvement.
- Ask employees to offer feedback, and use those insights to inform decisions.
- Incorporate feedback into personal development plans.
- Update goals and set new objectives and action plans for the next period.
- Keep the feedback flowing!
Check out our downloadable workbook for a step-by-step guide on how to request, give, and follow up on feedback, including customizable templates and sample questions and responses.
Make continuous feedback cycles better with Lattice.
A continuous feedback model helps create a feedback culture and encourages consistent high performance. When you move beyond the traditional annual review and begin embedding continual feedback in the day-to-day of your teams, it’s important to have processes, systems, and tools to keep everything on track.
A people success platform like Lattice helps managers, employees, and people teams capture and act on feedback in one place.
- Lattice Feedback makes creating and managing a continuous feedback cycle a part of the workflows that employees use daily.
- Real-time insights make trends and recurring issues easier to identify and respond to.
- Integrations with Slack and email make on-the-spot feedback accessible for employees, wherever they are.