More and more, companies turn to web- and mobile-based technologies to give employees frequent information about their performance. By streamlining the feedback process, companies can keep performance top of mind, identify issues in a timely fashion, and avoid dependence on traditional annual reviews. However, more data points do not necessarily mean better results.
Without deliberate guidance from HR, over-relying on technology can lead to unexpected negative consequences. Without context, data can detract from productivity. Rather than boosting performance, information coming in fast can create additional pressure and distraction for employees. As John Naisbitt put it,
“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”
To ensure a feedback process is productive, consider these four best practices.
Establish the Purpose for Collecting Data
First, start with “why.” If the purpose is to invest in the professional growth of employees, say so. Clear expectations about how data will be used can reduce anxiety and increase participation. A well-established purpose frames data collection as a tool for improvement, rather than a popularity contest or an inquisition.
Ask Raters the Right Questions
Remember: Garbage In, Garbage Out; Quality Questions, Quality Data. To get useful information, invest in developing and evaluating the questions in your tool:
- Check questions against the purpose of the process and company needs.
- Involve subject matter experts with survey design experience.
- Review questions with stakeholders, including key executives.
- Pilot with employees and note their reactions.
- Analyze pilot data to check reliability, validity, and skipped questions.
- Revise the survey based on the above.
Also, if you include open-ended questions, guide raters to give actionable feedback. For example, instead of “what are the weaknesses of this person,” you might ask, “what would you ask this person to do to be a better leader?”
Help Employees Interpret Feedback
Few of us can interpret feedback about ourselves objectively. Using a coach or manager to debrief feedback offers multiple benefits by:
- Putting feedback into context.
- Asking questions to deepen thinking.
- Working through mixed messages and blind spots.
- Offering perspective and guidance.
- Challenging in a safe environment.
- Serving as a sounding board for next steps.
Set Expectations for Feedback Follow-Up
A common misstep is not defining ownership for next steps. Now that an employee has increased awareness thanks to the data, what is the plan for action? Without clear accountability, people go back to work and continue ineffective habits. Follow-up is a key differentiator between feedback that is forgotten and feedback that strengthens performance.
Combined with action plans, one-on-one discussions every few months create momentum. Additionally, knowing when the next survey is motivates progress.
In summary, you can make the technology work for you and create tremendous value for your company and the leaders who work there. Technology offers tremendous advantages in collecting and delivering feedback. However, it requires understanding psychology and the human element. HOW we use a feedback tool makes the difference in its return on investment.