Darren was waiting for his annual performance review. His goal was to move from marketing to sales, but he didn’t know if his manager would recommend him. He felt like he’d done a pretty good job this year; he hadn’t heard otherwise. He hadn’t really heard anything — not since a midyear catchup in which his manager confirmed he was meeting his lead-generation targets. This scenario plays out across organizations everywhere, and it is a classic case of checking the box on performance management.
Annual conversations about past accomplishments are not sufficient to motivate performance
“Annual conversations about past accomplishments are not sufficient to motivate performance, support development and identify top performers,” says Jessica Knight, research director at Gartner. “Effective performance feedback looks backward and forward, and is provided on an ongoing basis throughout the year.”
Research by CEB, now Gartner, shows organizations that make performance reviews forward-looking, not backward-looking, can expect to improve employee performance by as much as 13%. Those that provide ongoing, not episodic, feedback could get a boost of as much as 12%. The third key plank of performance management is peer feedback, which can enhance performance by as much as 14%.
Read more: Peer Feedback Boosts Employee Performance
Review future performance, not just past accomplishments
Although managers and employees obviously need to recognize and acknowledge past accomplishments, it’s also important to look forward so employees get a holistic sense of their performance — and the opportunities available to them — given how the organization is evolving.
These conversations, which should be two-way, not just driven by the manager, should evaluate which capabilities employees will need to be successful. Capabilities doesn’t just mean skills; it means career interests and network-building/relationships.
Determine when it’s appropriate to give performance feedback
This approach is also more effective for accurately identifying high performers — “enterprise contributors” who contribute through their individual tasks and their networks (i.e., they contribute to the performance of others and use others’ contributions to improve their own performance).
Our research shows 67% of enterprise contributors are correctly identified by the performance management system when it assesses both past accomplishments and capabilities for the future, versus 22% correctly identified when it only assesses past accomplishments.
Make feedback ongoing, not episodic
Annual performance reviews are the classic form of episodic feedback. It is far more productive to encourage frequent, informal performance conversations that enable managers to provide more timely feedback to employees and adjust expectations based on organizational changes or past performance.
Many organizations are working toward more frequent and agile goal-setting methods, according to the 2018 Performance Management Trends and Innovations Survey by CEB, now Gartner. The survey shows that 48% of organizations now set goals at least twice per year.
It’s important to note that ongoing doesn’t mean constant, the type of nonstop feedback that is typical of an “Always-On” manager. Although delivering constant feedback may seem to be ongoing and thus more helpful, it actually degrades employee performance to provide always-on coaching and feedback.
Constant feedback can be indiscriminate, overwhelming and misplaced. It is also often irrelevant and inaccurate, as Always-On managers tend to focus on developing their employees across a breadth of experience, even in areas they don’t know well enough to coach.
The difference between always-on or constant feedback and ongoing feedback may seem nuanced, but there is a clear and easy-to-follow distinction. Managers need to recognize they should coach on an ongoing basis, but must use judgment to determine when it’s appropriate to give performance feedback and to ensure feedback is high quality and impactful. This more discerning approach is consistent with the Connector manager approach.
If managers want their performance management strategies to actually motivate employees to perform, they need to build a deep understanding of their direct reports to understand when they might be more receptive to feedback or need it most. If they can also pair that understanding with self-awareness, they can effectively match employee needs with their own ability to coach and provide feedback, filling in any critical gaps with support from the broader network through enterprise connections.