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Unlocking the true value of effective feedback conversations

Much of the fairness of a performance-management process rests on managers’ ability to coach effectively.
Sabrin Chowdhury

Supports organizations on a range of strategy and talent topics and is an expert on redesigning performance management, linking talent to value, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion

Bryan Hancock

Supports private, public, and social sector clients through expertise in talent management, organizational design, and workforce development

Serves financial institutions on organization, people and strategy topics to increase their efficiency and effectiveness

In our previous post on “Individual performance management in the COVID-19 world,” we addressed fairness as the foundation for effective performance management and highlighted the unique opportunity for organizations to redefine their approach to be more flexible, continuous, and development oriented.

In the current environment, as people juggle work pressures with countless personal errands and tasks, the key to successful performance management is to also focus on quality, not just quantity, of regular feedback discussions and check-ins. Best practices indicate managers should have ongoing development discussions with their employees at least monthly, or even more frequently. But the value of these discussions only happens if they are development focused and actionable. Unlocking the true value of effective feedback conversations lies in equipping managers with the right tools to help them build their own capabilities.

For instance, at a leading ratings agency, a cohort of global leaders participated in a leadership program focused on shifting their mindset and behaviors around coaching and feedback. The leaders gained significantly higher confidence in their ability to coach. The program also created a focus on giving compassionate, strengths-based feedback and coaching throughout the year.

Ongoing development discussions are a crucial way to truly listen to employees and put people back in the idea of “people development.” Based on our research, of participants who said their organizations had effective performance-management systems, 71 percent stated that managers were trained in providing feedback and coaching. Indeed, much of the fairness of a performance-management process rests on managers’ ability to coach effectively.

Our research and experience in transforming major organizations’ performance management highlights three methods to build manager capabilities in hybrid or virtual environments:

  1. Short digital courses focused on specific skills. Many organizations share short digital training sessions as just-in-time resources alongside performance-management processes. For instance, managers might receive a short training on goal setting before their one-on-one conversations with direct reports to discuss performance goals for the year ahead. Or managers can get quick tips and guidelines on how to deliver actionable and strengths-based feedback by watching a short clip before they head into a difficult coaching conversation.

    A leading e-commerce organization, after identifying development conversations as “the moment of truth” in their performance-management process, developed a hybrid physical-digital toolkit that included a foldable card reflecting the employee’s growth journey and short videos to support managers in the discussions. These can be effective methods to build capabilities at scale across business units and geographies.

  2. Just-in-time training guides. Another effective tool is to share short infographics or emails highlighting 3-5 tips managers should keep in mind as they connect with their employees. At a leading boutique investment bank, leaders were given coaching tips to structure development discussions with team members after closing a deal. This helped leaders give actionable feedback in a timely manner.
  3. Virtual office hours. Some feedback discussions are much harder than others and require more preparation. At one global bank, HR leaders have offered virtual office hours or Zoom sessions to help managers prep for upcoming development discussions. The sessions include role-playing conversations, guidance on how to ask difficult questions, and best practices for supporting and developing employees with unique circumstances.

It is important to note that ongoing development also helps ease employee anxiety around performance appraisals amid a time already filled with turmoil. Frequent discussions give managers a clearer understanding of what employees are working on, their strengths, and their areas of development. Moreover, employees themselves won’t feel blindsided by feedback. And most importantly, it encourages employees to feel heard while helping managers understand how to develop and motivate during this especially tumultuous time.

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