Feedback Apps are Great, but a Feedback Mindset is Essential to Make Them Work!
Updated: Nov 4
There have been some breathtaking changes recently in the world of workplace performance management. Major companies such as GE, Adobe, Accenture, Deloitte, Medtronic and many others have completely dropped annual performance reviews. Twitter, Facebook, Google and others have dropped at least the most onerous parts of it. And all of these have instituted programs of frequent feedback check-ins and/or quarterly or monthly reviews for the purpose of speedier feedback loops between leaders and employees.
A huge chunk of talent in these companies are feedback-starved millennials, who are not only impatient with the old slow feedback but are also willing to leave companies and bosses unwilling to provide faster, better feedback to help them learn and grow on the job.
The latest new thing–some of it still in beta or even earlier stages of development–is feedback apps. Major enterprise systems and other HR-specialized software companies that formerly offered robust performance management systems (culminating in a documented annual review and development plan) have embraced a faster feedback philosophy. The new apps appear as software tools embedded in a company’s intranet/HR system, programs that individual managers or groups can adopt as they choose, instant messaging apps, prompts you can use over email, and a number other formats.
Some are encouraging feedback over their real-time messaging system (e.g. Slack) and others are asking managers to apply training formats available in training (e.g. Profilor) to send over email. GE has developed its own app, PD@GE, which equips employees to gain instant feedback on their performance 24/7. Workday’s Anytime Feedback, Impraise, and others offer real-time performance reviews as well. There are many others, but I’ll leave reviewing them for future posts.
These apps can be extremely helpful to employees and bosses. When they’re used well, employees’ won’t feel so frustrated when they’re wanting to know how they’re doing and how they can improve. Bosses will be reminded to get that feedback out faster and they receive prompts and shortcuts to make it logistically easier. Most of these apps also enable peer-to-peer feedback, upward feedback, and anyone-to-anyone feedback. Most offer settings for collecting anonymous feedback (one area I do have some reservations about–which I’ll explain in #4 below.
Most of this is really, truly great. And it’s sending a loud message that frequent feedback is important–Yay! But, and this is a big but: Human beings–bosses especially–are pretty bad at giving feedback. We avoid it, postpone it, and water it down. We fuss over the forms and tools we’re given. We are very uncomfortable giving corrective feedback–even when its crucial for getting work done. Some of us give feedback only when we’re angry and others are ready to fire someone before ever giving them feedback. My research in hundreds of companies over several decades has borne this out.
These apps can only work when leaders shift their mindset and commit to fast feedback loops all the time. I call it “everyday feedback.” A few principles I recommend here:
1. Explain to your people what you are doing and how you will be stepping up feedback to each of them
2. Get comfortable giving feedback in person and over the phone to develop trust. Start now. After you feel you have a good feedback relationship, you can move to emails, IMs, and software tools–but make sure to have some calls or meetings in between
3. Encourage feedback back to you and show them you are listening
4. Try to avoid anonymous feedback. (It has the potential of backfiring–as you may have read about in recent stories about Amazon culture). Occasional upward feedback to you, in a 360 degree format, may be the exception. But in general, the encouragement of anonymous feedback sends a negative message—that feedback is inherently dangerous and needs to be protected–an idea I disagree with
5. Calm your fearful brain down. Breathe. Reframe feedback as a positive way to coach your team members and the best way to help them grow
6. Get over your fears, do it often, and start loving how great feedback is for people and for business results!