Feedback: A critical factor for personal growth
Companies are doing away with annual performance reviews. It’s a good thing since we all suck at giving feedback. But what’s the alternative? [Day 9 of “One Day, One Blog” — a challenge I set for myself for the month of January 2019.]
A while back, I was working in an MNC. I had an awesome Boss. As I was based in India and he was located abroad, he would often call me to discuss monthly targets (ours was a sales operation in India), fights I had picked up with logistic personnel across the globe( ever dealt with shipping companies, CNF agents and your own logistics team — especially when the company operated in 123 countries? Then you know what I am talking about), or to tell me that he is traveling for the next 25 days (not exaggerating) and will not be reachable for some time.
Every now and then I would initiate and fix a call, a bit of a “me-time” with the Boss. I can claim that I was being proactive and growth oriented but that would be a lie. I usually did it when I felt a bit overwhelmed and lost. It was a survival technique I discovered by accident as I was a newbie and had limited access to my boss.
During these calls, I would have 2 questions for him:
“How am I doing”
“What can I do better?”
To his credit, he never once mocked these questions or took them lightly. Looking back, a lot of the things I learned from him came because I asked him this repeatedly for 5 years.
The annual performance review was always a breeze for me thanks to this practice. Again, I admit that I did not know the reason back then.
Feedback and Performance Reviews
Across organisations performance reviews have come to be viewed as something associated with pay raise and a tool to penalize someone if they have offended the manager in some manner (or so the employee believes).
Is it any wonder that people have to be tortured to do this?
What does this say about our growth mindset?
No one wants to stand still. Everyone wants to go forward, to improve. But how do you improve, correct your course if you do not know what you are doing right and what is being done wrong?
Employees in MNCs believe that Performance Reviews are conjured up by HR teams to justify their existence. Startups think they have way too much to do to be bothered with something as trivial as performance review.
Why is this the dominant perception?
Simple — because it has become a farce.
What is the point in telling someone once a year that they have been good or bad? It is more than likely that the manager has completely forgotten what happened in the first 3 quarters and is only looking at the last quarter.
Ditch “Performance Review” & Welcome “Check-in”
Adobe was perhaps the first big company to kick out Annual Performance Reviews.
Under the “Check-in” system, feedback is an ongoing process where priorities are discussed and adjusted with the manager regularly.
Some of the lessons we need to take away from Adobe are:
When Donna Morris (Chief HR Officer now) jumped neck deep into investigating a replacement for annual performance reviews, one of the best things she did was to open up the dialogue for all the employees to contribute to.
Donna says, “ “Everyone suggested their alternate ideas, areas of concern and appreciation for being included in the dialogue before a decision was made”.
Instead of beating down another system down their throat, this Head of HR set the right tone by involving people in the creation of the system.
The “Check-in” system may or may not work for another organisation. The way to proceed is to take the core principles and adapt and grow the system for your needs.
The importance of effective communication is lost in our organizations. If people do not feel that they are heard, why would they participate when you ask for their opinion?
Why would they believe anything constructive can happen via open communication?
To allow this to happen, the managers need to be taught the lessons of communication when it comes to giving feedback.
From my personal experience 9 out of 10 managers SUCK at telling someone that they need to change or improve on an attribute. We confuse it with being rude.
More often than not, we just do not know how to provide constructive feedback without (a) beating around the bush,(b) without sugarcoating it with empty platitudes or (c) the sandwich mechanism(where you say one good thing, then bad thing and then another good thing making the other person wonder what the hell you are driving at).
Managers need to be given training to overcome this problem.
Giving feedback is a reciprocal system. That means, the manager should also be open to receiving feedback. Can anyone of us imagine telling the Boss, “Bro , you screwed up!”?
Ok, may be in more polite, less casual language? No, right?
That is because there is no trust in the manager or the system of hierarchy. This will come when the manager behaves more like a coach. After all, the manager’s key responsibility is to manage, right? But we all forget that managing is less about criticizing and more about enabling the team member to grow.
The onus of converting the manager to a great coach should lie with the HR team and it should be a priority for the top management.
Take care of your people, and the people will take care of your business.
The rest of the companies (especially the ones in India) should take a leaf out of Adobe’s playbook. Take an honest look within your organization. Performance review mechanism stopped working long back.
Even the creator of Bell Curve has thrown it out. At GE’s legendary Crotonville management training center, instead of drills in Six Sigma employees can take courses in mindfulness now.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — —
I would love to know if your organization employs any innovative feedback mechanism.