How Fast Feedback Fuels Performance
BY DENISE MCLAIN
“How am I doing?” “Did that go well?” “What could I do differently next time?”
Employees are hungry for feedback from their leaders, managers and peers. They want to gain insights that advance their abilities and future potential. And more than ever, feedback is pivotal for engaging employees: Gallup data show that when employees strongly agree they received “meaningful feedback” in the past week, they are almost four times more likely than other employees to be engaged.
Yet with business moving at warp speed, it’s tempting to move on to the next task or objective after a client presentation or a busy shift. But meaningful feedback doesn’t hinder performance — it fuels it.
The operative word here is meaningful: Not all feedback is equal. In Gallup’s experience with clients, feedback is often a lengthy employee-manager discussion that requires pre-work for managers to rate the employee’s performance over recent months. In today’s fast-paced world, this scenario is impractical, ineffective and difficult to execute.
A more meaningful — and approachable — way to give feedback is quickly and frequently, which is why organizations might find it helpful to rebrand their approach to “Fast Feedback.”
The Fast Feedback approach makes giving feedback easier and more straightforward for managers, who often find the activity intimidating and overwhelming. When feedback is easy and commonplace, everyone can feel at ease and walk away knowing what and how to improve. And as Fast Feedback becomes part of the norm, a culture of meaningful feedback — the ultimate goal — will emerge.
The benefits of a culture of meaningful feedback are numerous. A work environment where feedback is fast and frequent:
- Supports agility: Fast Feedback energizes employees and enables teams to make real-time, on-the-fly performance adjustments that create a competitive edge.
- Inspires excellence: Employees are 3.6 times more likely to strongly agree that they are motivated to do outstanding work when their manager provides daily (vs. annual) feedback.
- Retains talent: Employees today are looking for purpose-driven work and a manager who acknowledges and accelerates their progress.
In our experience, many organizations know continuous feedback is best but struggle with activating the ongoing behaviors needed to achieve it at scale. So, they stick to traditional approaches (like annual reviews) in which managers delay feedback until they find the “right time.”
Leaders can address this problem by cultivating a culture where feedback is frequently and effectively exchanged. Our work with clients reveals the smartest first step: empowering your managers to give inspiring feedback.
The Manager’s Central Role in a Feedback Culture
Managers who continually listen, ask questions, gain context and promote dialogue have progressed to a coaching mindset. These best-in-class managers use ongoing conversations to deliver energizing feedback that celebrates successes and calibrates performance.
How Managers Can Give Meaningful and Fast Feedback
Based on Gallup’s science, here’s what distinguishes feedback that’s time-consuming from Fast Feedback that drives outcomes.
Meaningful feedback is frequent.
Effective feedback has an expiration date. Feedback should be a common occurrence — for most jobs, a few times per week. People remember their most recent experiences best, so feedback is most valuable when it occurs immediately after an action.
Managers should maintain an ongoing dialogue with employees — using conversations that offer timely, in-the-moment feedback that’s inspiring, instructive and actionable. For example, a manager might conclude a team meeting with a comment about how much they appreciated the team coming to the meeting with well-thought-out ideas on the new initiative. The manager’s comment highlights the benefits of the team’s preparation and suggests strategies for making the next meeting even more efficient.
Best-in-class managers use ongoing conversations to deliver energizing feedback that celebrates successes and calibrates performance.
Managers can address shortcomings in a constructive manner by focusing on discernable behaviors rather than employees’ characteristics. They must keep employee development as their goal.
Here’s an example:
- Unhelpful feedback: “That client presentation you gave last quarter really hurt us … honestly, I’m not sure we can recover the relationship.”
- Meaningful feedback (right after the presentation or later that day): “How do you think the presentation went? I noticed that the client had a few questions that seemed to indicate they were not following along. What can we do next time to overcome that?”
Leaders Need to Create a Development-Focused, Performance-Oriented Culture
Here are three actions leaders should take today to create an atmosphere in which meaningful feedback resounds:
1. Transform your managers into coaches.
Coaching is a unique skill set that managers need to cultivate. Fortunately, the right manager development demystifies coaching and evolves a manager’s mindset — giving them exactly what they need to become coaching aficionados who provide excellent feedback.
2. Adjust your management practices and performance metrics.
It’s time to abandon annual reviews in favor of the five coaching conversations that are scientifically shown to improve performance. Leaders should assess their current performance management approach, then implement the necessary changes to shift to feedback-rich performance development.
3. Become a feedback evangelist.
In a development-focused work culture, feedback isn’t a one-way, top-down event. Individuals, managers and leaders should all give and receive feedback — showing appreciation for one another’s efforts through an honest, open, ongoing dialogue. Peer-to-peer feedback strengthens relationships and cross-departmental collaboration.
Leaders should take the first step: Model the behaviors you want your managers to display by sharing “Fast Feedback” with them. Help your managers provide meaningful feedback by prioritizing manager development. Then watch as your feedback culture accelerates workplace productivity and engagement.
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