Performance Feedback Improves Employee Engagement

Performance feedback improves employee engagement when done right. Historically an organization’s handling of performance feedback has never been a top of mind consideration in the context of employee engagement. Key drivers of engagement have tended to revolve around career and professional growth, around a culture of innovation and organizational vision. Even when it’s been an irritant, it’s been relegated to the back burner in employee feedback survey responses. But that’s changing – rapidly. Performance feedback is trending more and more as an important driver of engagement, and mounting research is turning traditional HR notions of employee evaluation on its head.

TalentMap first became aware of this shift when it noticed one of the highest engaged organizations in its benchmark, surprisingly, receiving significantly higher favorable scores than the average organization in terms of how it delivers feedback, suggesting that when done right, performance feedback improves employee engagement.

Peeling back the layers of evaluation

Performance feedback is one of those things that gets left behind in the math. But when you peel back the layers of the onion you start to see the connection between employee evaluations and employee engagement. A couple of candid employee comments spell it out:

  • The performance appraisal process can be improved by bringing back the 5-tiered measurement. No additional pay increase but it really changes the morale of appraisals. As it stands now, you are either in the 90% of workers or the 10% exceptional. If you bring back the middle zone, it will help the morale of those that do work hard.”
  • “Less negative feedback, balance it with positive feedback. “
  • “Performance evaluation / feedback is done at the very last minute, right at the deadline. The process has little value.  Continuous, less formal feedback would be much better”

Annual evaluations just don’t do it anymore, if they ever did

Most employees don’t like annual performance reviews and nothing much has been done to change the process – until now. In an extensive analysis of open-ended employee commentary TalentMap sees two central issues surfacing time and again.

  1. Objectives keep changing.
    Within a given year what we expect from our employees shifts, changes and evolves, yet the annual performance appraisal is only done once a year. It doesn’t keep up with those changes.
  2. People want more frequent feedback.
    If you run annual employee evaluations you know how much (negative) anticipation there is. You can almost hear the collective groan. Trepidation from managers because the onus to give these evaluations is theirs. And trepidation from employees who thirst for feedback but are edgy about a performance review that comes once a year, determines their compensation and gives sparse feedback in terms of promotion.

Dissatisfaction with performance reviews are further exasperated by:

  • Annual cycles with few in between check-in conversations
  • Conversations focused on past performance rather than the future
  • Emphasis on “strengths” and “weaknesses”
    • We’ve all been in conversations about how everyone has at least one weakness – but all that does is disengage and discourage. Yes, we all have areas where we can improve; it’s a question of how we communicate and nuance those conversations.
  • Rating scales that reflect the evaluator/supervisor more than the employee
    • Research by Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 2000 shows that performance ratings say more about the rater than the ratee. Think back to high school. Everyone knew the reputations of teachers – some as hard markers, others as easy grade types. It’s all about how those teachers (read supervisors) view themselves and reflect themselves in their ratings of others.
  • Ranking and percentile methods and compensation
    • Anytime we pit employees against each other in this way it creates competition instead of collaboration. It causes a whole lot of bad feelings because of a lack of transparency. And essentially it contributes to disengagement.

Lessons learned

Organizations with high employee engagement “get it” and have intuitively shifted or augmented their approach, evolving performance feedback towards:

  • Greater frequency
  • Informal conversations (it’s not about sitting together in a back office filling out documents)
  • Greater emphasis on future development, rather than past performance
  • Understanding that rating scales say more about the rater than the employee and changing how rating is done – if not dispensing with it entirely.

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