Cultivate high-performing teams with these feedback tips

Employees want regular feedback that’s personal, specific, and in tune with company goals

high-performing teams
Image Credit: Wenting Li

If you’re a manager looking to build high-performing teams, you likely rely on annual performance reviews to measure and improve employee performance. But are they really all they’re cracked up to be?

According to Gallup, only two in every 10 employees feel that their annual performance reviews actually inspire them to improve. While yearly reviews aren’t entirely useless, it’s clear leaders should consider more effective ways of providing feedback.

Rather than thinking of employee assessments as big, once-a-year events, consider them ongoing, collaborative projects. By abandoning traditional feedback frameworks and focusing on individual goals and strengths, leaders can cultivate and maintain high-performing teams that feel engaged in their roles and invested in the organization.

Use these four feedback tips to maintain high-performing teams

Here are four steps every manager can take to help their team members reach that next level of success.

1. Provide frequent feedback, not just annual reviews

According to a study by Wakefield Research, more than half of office professionals want performance check-ins at least once a month. Also, the vast majority (94%) prefer real-time feedback.

But that’s not what’s happening. Of the employees surveyed by Gallup, 26% say their performance reviews occur less than once a year, and 48% say they happen annually.

Traditionally, managers take notes during 1:1 meetings with employees and compile discussion points throughout the year, only to reach the annual review phase and realize that much of the feedback they’ve prepared has lost its relevance. Frequent, informal check-ins, on the other hand, are more likely to accurately track an employee’s performance—something that’s more useful for both team members and managers in the long run.

Even a consulting firm as large as Accenture, which has to measure and manage the performance of its 300,000 employees across the globe, recently eliminated its review and ranking processes in favor of instant performance management: specific feedback for individuals in real time.

“Performance is an ongoing activity,” says chairman and CEO Pierre Nanterme. “It’s every day, after any client interaction or business interaction or corporate interaction. It’s much more fluid.”

Regular reviews are beneficial because they result in the sort of feedback—concrete, personal, and in tune with company goals—that’s more likely to make an impact. That, in turn, helps employees set clear goals and make measurable improvements.

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2. Stay positive (and specific!)

There are two important things to consider when providing feedback in the workplace.

First, ensure that it’s focused. Feedback should be relevant to employees’ roles and the work they do.

Second, remember that feedback doesn’t have to be negative. Giving employees praise and positive feedback is just as important as providing them with constructive criticism. But it’s important to be mindful of your delivery.

Try communicating exactly what team members did well (“Thanks for the thorough, well-formatted report”) and provide details about what resulted from this work (“It really helped the executive team understand the project and feel invested in the next phase”). It’s feedback like this that helps employees coach themselves more effectively.

3. Make sure feedback is personalized

Like casual feedback, formal employee reviews also need to be specific.

But in addition to measuring and rewarding successes quantitatively—e.g., scores and rankings, financial compensation—managers should also consider evaluating employees in a qualitative sense.

Research shows that uncoupling performance and compensation can increase motivation in the workplace. It shifts the focus away from the employees’ contributions to the organization and onto the organization’s contributions to them.

Employees also need to feel that leaders care about their personal development, something many formal review processes fail to do. Again, the Wakefield Research survey revealed that 22% of employees feel that their reviews are too generic, and 62% think that they are incomplete in some way.

So, rather than reviewing all of your employees with the same templated process, try personalizing your approach. What’s important to each team member, and how can your feedback help them improve? Making time to have these more meaningful and thoughtful discussions can help drive results.

After all, high-performing teams and individuals have an innate desire to succeed—and that will no doubt be energized when they have clear, regular feedback from leadership.

4. Measure employee performance holistically

You can’t get too caught up on individual assessments, though. Leaders should also think of employee performance holistically.

Forbes contributor Lisa Bodell says feedback should be closely related to an organization’s overall strategy. This helps employees better understand how their individual performance affects the business as a whole and makes them feel more invested in the company and its success.

If you’re managing a large team, try a three-tiered approach:

  1. Help individuals understand their roles and responsibilities.
  2. Communicate how individual efforts contribute to the team’s performance.
  3. Ensure teams understand how their work affects the organization.

Transparency is essential here—individuals deserve to know how their team is performing, and what they can do to contribute to the success of the group.

Remember to keep your feedback channels separate, though. Some shared channels and collaboration tools are great for recognizing accomplishments, while constructive feedback is best delivered in private settings.

In order to give better feedback in the workplace, leaders should make time for open, frequent discussions with colleagues rather than relying on annual reviews. Giving useful, timely, and ongoing feedback will help employees perform better—and benefit the company too.

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