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How Often Should You Give Performance Feedback?

November 13, 2015

For most companies, the overwhelming answer is annually. But as Paul Falcone pointed out in his book 2600 Phrases for Setting Effective Performance Goals (AMACOM 2012) and Paul and Winston Tan recommended in The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit (AMACOM 2013), reviewing performance and attainment of goals once a year probably isn’t enough for most workers under most circumstances. Too many things change too quickly in business these days, and plans have to be tweaked and rearranged on a fairly regular basis. So, if reviewing performance and providing feedback against pre-established goals is the launching pad for effective performance-related communication, then determining appropriate followup intervals is the logical next step in this yearlong trajectory.

In the seminal book, First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon & Schuster, 1999), authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman gathered data from the Gallup Organization that resulted from interviews with 80,000 managers in 400 organizations, looking for the talents that made individual leaders stand out among their peers. Their research found that, according to the Gallup study, the strongest leaders formally spent on average four hours per employee per year discussing performance, style, and goals compared to most organizations’ one hour. That’s a four-fold increase in formal feedback based on four quarterly reviews plus the annual performance review process.

And that would only make horse sense: In a knowledge economy marked by high levels of disruptive and shifting technology and intense global competition, more formal feedback—not less—would benefit both leadership and staff. Ask your staffers at the time of the appraisal meeting when they’d like to meet with you again to determine progress against their goals and performance benchmarks. The ideal answer is quarterly: three-month review intervals are healthy in terms of reviewing annual goals. So, if your subordinates suggests a quarterly follow-up, simply ask them to send you a calendar meeting marker for quarterly meetings spread over the next twelve months.

Notice, however, that it’s important that they send you the calendar invitation. This is their career and you’re offering to help, but always treat adults like adults and allow them to take the lead in seeking out your guidance, not vice versa. That being said, don’t be swayed by supervisors who say, “I don’t need to formally meet with my employees regarding their performance throughout the year because I provide them with feedback every day.” That’s a bit of a cop out . . . The goal is to create a performance culture—one in which performance and goals become part of the fabric that connects everyone to everything, that allows the company’s senior leadership team to measure and manage the “muscle” known as human capital. Exercised correctly, a renewed focus on performance excellence can yield outstanding results in terms of company turnarounds and driving company performance and productivity. But it has to be uniformly implemented with senior leadership support. Otherwise, one-off supervisors who unilaterally opt out of the program will kill its effectiveness and value.

What if someone only wants to meet in six months to review their goals and progress? That could be okay too. Depending on the individual’s level of independence, role knowledge, and tenure in position, quarterly meetings may not be necessary. Our best recommendation, though, is not to allow an entire year to slip by without discussing performance feedback and progression toward goals, challenges, blind spots, and the like. That’s because the goal statement is in many ways the glue that binds the leader and subordinate together throughout the evaluation period. That individual development plan helps you both keep your eye on the ball, bond together in overcoming unforeseen obstacles and challenges, and celebrate intermittent achievements that can be “bulleted” on a resume or on next year’s annual self-evaluation form.

If this sounds to you like the annual performance feedback and goal-setting processes are really more of a verb than a noun, you’re getting the picture. Too many companies and organizational leaders see the annual performance appraisal as a form rather than an ongoing process of engagement, interaction, achievement, and celebration. “Performance appraisal” becomes a one-size-fits-all mandatory annual “paper chase” that is endured so that you could justify giving a subordinate a particular merit increase or bonus. And then all that paperwork goes into the individual’s personnel file, never to see the light of day again until the following year. What a lost opportunity—The process is the point of it all! What gets measured gets managed, and measuring and managing the human capital asset will be the primary differentiator between successful and mediocre companies in a knowledge-based economy.

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About The Author

Paul Falcone is a human resources executive in Los Angeles and has held senior-level positions with Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, and Time Warner. He is the author of a number of AMACOM and SHRM bestselling books, four of which made SHRM's prestigious "Great 8" list: 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire, 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems, 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, and 2,600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews. His latest AMACOM book, 75 Ways for Managers to Hire, Develop, and Keep Great Employees, was released in the spring of 2016. Follow Paul on Twitter at @PaulFalconeHR and his website and blog at www.PaulFalconeHR.com.

4 Comments »

  1. avatar

    […] feedback is not constructive. Suggesting that someone is argumentative or uninterested in her work is […]

  2. avatar

    […] you should provide your team members with the information they need to do a good job, give them regular feedback, and say “thank you.” You also should involve your employees in decisions that affect their […]

  3. avatar

    Points well taken, but despite all the hype, I believe I read that only about 5% of companies surveyed are actually doing away with their annual performance reviews. I don’t think it’s an “either-or” proposition” — it’s more of a “both -and” . . . In other words, companies should be providing live, real-time feedback AND capturing the full year’s performance at the end of the performance year.

    True, companies were getting lazy and avoiding confrontation by only providing formal feedback once per year. But doing away with the annual performance review doesn’t fix that problem as much as employers would like to think. In a worst case scenario, employees may receive no feedback whatsoever without the annual review.

    I always recommend reinventing your annual performance review template to match your company’s stage of growth and current goals / challenges. If the template isn’t changing at least every two years, the program will likely become stale. Therefore, encourage your frontline leaders to provide at least quarterly feedback, where the employees are responsible for reviewing themselves and presenting their findings to their supervisor, who can then coach them to course-correct or recognize their achievements. Those quarterly meetings can then culminate in the annual review, which reflects the entire year’s contributions.

    Abolishing the annual “report card” or “scorecard” isn’t the answer. Ensuring a higher level of supervisor-employee engagement on an ongoing basis is critical for both sides. Combined with a renewed performance appraisal template that raises the bar in terms of performance management and measurement, your performance management program will yield a much stronger return on your people investment. — Paul Falcone, co-author of “The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit” (AMACOM Books)

  4. avatar

    […] performance management. Some companies are moving away from annual performance reviews, and towards more regular feedback processes throughout the year. Others are eliminating hierarchical management models and going with ad-hoc […]

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