How to Amp Up Quality Performance Reviews by Teaching Managers the Art of Continuous Feedback (i4cp login required)


Performance management is no longer limited to formal, infrequent reviews and rigid structures; it’s about fostering a culture of growth and development that emphasizes a collaborative approach.

A cornerstone of modern performance management is continuous feedback, a dynamic process proven to be a game-changer that fosters ongoing, interactive dialogue between employees and their managers.

A group of industry leaders from Thrivent, Ecolab, ServiceNow, and Target were recently convened by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) to discuss the importance of developing a culture that embraces feedback and uses it to drive strategic growth.

“Feedback truly is a gift. And while sometimes it may not seem like it, often times feedback turns out to be extremely valuable,” said Roz Tsai, vice president of talent, learning and organizational effectiveness at Thrivent, a Fortune 500 financial services organization. Tsai also is a leader of i4cp’s Performance Management Exchange (PME).

This article reflects the application of multiple next practices identified by i4cp. Among them:

  • Holding organizational leaders accountable for employee outcomes (e.g., retention, engagement, career development, etc.) — a next practice that contributes to healthy cultures
  • Including opportunities to discuss well-being issues in performance conversations — a performance management next practice that supports workforce well-being
  • Developing talent — a next practice in leader behavior that contributes to better employee experience
  • Demonstrating empathy as an expectation of managers in their interactions with their teams — a next practice that supports productivity

Research by i4cp and University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations found that companies that share continuous feedback well are more likely to have higher net profit margins and higher returns on assets, investment and equity, compared to those that do not. A continuous feedback culture helps to address issues or undesirable behaviors promptly, recognizes achievements more frequently, and leads to a more reliable formal performance review, as the manager has more data to rely on from such regular check-ins.

How to incorporate empathy and productivity into feedback conversations

Emerging from the pandemic, many leaders have focused less on empathy in employee conversations and more on organizational goals, i4cp’s research shows. But the two are not mutually exclusive.

To do both effectively, leaders must connect with employees and focus on their well-being first, Tsai said.

“Productive performance feedback conversations require trust, which begins with empathy. The impacts from the pandemic are far from over, and many employees are still experiencing lingering consequences from the three years of continuous disruption. Without putting empathy first, managers are at risk of creating an environment where people feel pressure or stress—or continue to experience residual effects from the pandemic—resulting in lower performance and engagement,” she said.

Paul LangloisTo achieve genuine connection and top performance from employees, leaders need to double down on empathy, said Paul Langlois,  VP of enterprise learning, careers, and engagement at Ecolab, and one of the panelists at the PME meeting. 

“It’s always been the leaders who knew me best, the ones who really took the time to get to know me personally and understand my situation. Those are the leaders that I’m going to walk through walls for.”

Train for trust and skill

Effective continuous feedback requires psychological safety, which is foundational to enabling employees to comfortably share thoughts and experiences and close the feedback loop. Trust-rich organizations are 3X to 5X more likely to train managers in these skills, impacting performance, according to i4cp’s research.

Leadership training in high-trust organizationsEcolab’s first-line manager training covers coaching for development, change management, and performance—the focus is on fostering an open environment, so employees feel comfortable asking questions.

“Thrivent is committed to equipping newly hired and promoted people leaders with the tools and resources needed to lead high-performing teams while creating an engaged work environment that’s focused on employee satisfaction. Our goal is to build leaders’ skill fluency and managerial habits through training that’s scenario-based and anchored in role play so that they can lead more effectively in real life,” said Tsai. “By offering these types of practical trainings and workshops, Thrivent’s people leaders are maintaining a culture where all team members feel a sense of belonging and can thrive.”

Natalie BodusLeaders at ServiceNow offer a manager community for sharing feedback strategies, providing a secure space for skill-building and learning from experienced leaders, said Natalie Bodus, VP of performance development and a PME leader who served on the panel. “Managers also need a safe space to learn from each other,” she said.

How to build feedback culture into performance systems

Technology can help embed feedback into routines. For example, ServiceNow’s feedback module allows leaders to solicit information from stakeholders during quarterly growth conversations. The tool guides managers through the process and provides prompts. Bodus said they aim to expand the tool to enable a real-time system to document the more frequent one-on-one coaching conversations.

Thrivent’s performance management platform is configured to gather and integrate performance feedback from peers and stakeholders throughout the year.

Thrivent’s Leadership Competency model is integrated in the platform and throughout the company’s talent management, recognition, and recruitment processes. The model reinforces the importance of leaders’ commitment to developing talent through ongoing feedback and coaching. Thrivent also deploys a workforce engagement survey, which includes a specific question measuring how useful employees find the performance feedback they receive from their direct leader.

Ecolab’s platform distributes surveys to help employees understand their strengths and opportunities. Every other week, it suggests new learning strategies and resources. The nudges give managers ideas to lead more effectively. Leaders are encouraged to discuss nudges with their teams. This builds an environment where they’re more focusing on listening and improving employee engagement.

Where to start?

Start at the top and make sure senior leaders reinforce messaging and action around this new endeavor, Bodus suggested. Then look at employee touch points and assess where new policies and practices might encourage people to seek feedback and give it. Then, she emphasized, it’s important to measure frequency and quality of feedback and hold leaders accountable for their follow through.

“If we really want to create this environment, it won’t happen because we wish it into existence. It’ll happen because we’ve systematically thought about where to embed these things and how to equip and engage our managers as part of this journey and transformation.”

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