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Why continuous feedback is making a comeback in performance appraisals

Feedback, what is it good for? Perhaps too often, the answer might feel like ‘absolutely nothing’ – but does that mean feedback isn’t as useful as it’s cracked up to be? The problem might be the frequency, rather than the substance, of feedback.

According to the Performance Management That Delivers (gated) report from Gartner, some performance management processes are frequently not fit-for-purpose, with 82% of HR leaders surveyed saying their performance management initiatives were ‘not effective’.

But why?

The report shows that most initiatives require too much effort for too little payoff. We think this issue has a lot to do with how most performance management initiatives tend to revolve around the annual performance review.

Although an annual review certainly has its uses, there are a lot of benefits to complementing this once-per-year activity with continuous processes – especially a ‘little and often’ approach. Like many other trends accelerated by the coronavirus crisis, continuous feedback is likely to become an embedded staple of modern working in firms, even after remote working has faded from a necessity to a choice.

Here are our musings on why frequent feedback should become the ‘new norm’.

It prevents ‘final exam stress’

It’s not much fun for anyone, no matter their experience or seniority, to think that a whole year’s performance will be reviewed in one make-or-break sitting. Weighting everything against an annual review can potentially create a self-defeating performance management strategy. Continuous feedback, by contrast, offers everyone the chance to take a more considered approach to their performance, incorporates a blend of information sources and, most importantly, offers reviewees the chance to reflect and improve, continuously. The result is likely to be greater job satisfaction, better performance across the year and, ultimately, better results for the firm.

It’s time better spent

For a time-poor professional, there’s a risk that preparation for an annual review gets de-prioritised in favour of ‘real work’ – meaning fee earning. Client matters and winning new business will nearly always seem more urgent and more important than concentrating a large amount of time once a year on preparing to explain those efforts. But, in this instance, you can have your cake and eat it too! Continuous feedback and reviews make updating progress a minor, routine task, therefore making it more likely it’ll get done – and get done properly.

Whether the overall amount of time spent on requesting, receiving and acting on feedback is more or less than the time taken preparing for an annual review is really neither here nor there: if done regularly and effectively, a continuous review approach will mean everyone gets more out of the time they put in. That’s a good thing all around and should foster more support for the process too.

It rewards the right behaviours

No good deed goes unpunished, so they say – and ignoring positive behaviours is just as bad as punishing them. Recognition, praise and validation are much more than just ‘nice-to-haves’: motivating your people and making them feel valued is a key part of retaining the best talent.

  • With a younger generation taking up the mantle of partnership and demanding more from their careers than just financial rewards, it’s more important than ever to think about ways to retain top talent.
  • Ongoing feedback and praise are also an opportunity to reinforce and embed positive behaviours in your firm.
  • And, when it comes to discouraging the wrong behaviours in employees or partners, early intervention is a lot cheaper than long-delayed performance management programmes.

Feedback should always be timely

Prompt feedback, whether positive or negative, on work recently completed has a much bigger positive impact on performance than delayed feedback – we all know this, but it bears saying out loud.

  • People disengage if feedback comes late after the event – surely, if it really mattered, feedback would have come at the time?
  • Frequent, timely feedback, on the other hand, is going to make your people feel like you care about their development and their successes – and more likely to stay with the firm and complete their objectives, as a result.

So, what now?

Realistically, even the most innovative law firms will still use some form of annual appraisal as part of their performance review process – and that’s a good thing. The concept is ingrained in most firms and it has its place as a yardstick for pay reviews and partner remuneration.

But continuous feedback – however you achieve it within your own firm’s processes – can help to make feedback something your people eat, sleep and breathe, rather than a once-per-year chore.

And if you don’t agree, we love getting feedback. Continuously. Get in touch with us to find out more.

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