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A Wake-Up Call on Reviews

New research finds almost half of employees aren't getting formal feedback on their work. Experts say HR needs to train managers on efficient and effective ways to deliver feedback -- both good and bad.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
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Conducting or receiving an annual performance review is like being kicked in the stomach.

Susan Zeidman believes that's how most managers and employees feel about the event.

"Most people feel a performance review is a dreaded affair," says Zeidman, a portfolio manager at the American Management Association in New York who also helped create the organization's performance management program. "They don't really enjoy this once-a-year event so they avoid it like the plague."

Her observations are more than just opinion, and are now backed by hard evidence. Ceridian recently hired Harris/Decima to poll 1,000 employed Americans across different generations and industries about their perceptions of job rewards and recognition, performance reviews and career satisfaction.

Results from Ceridian's Pulse of Talent survey are somewhat surprising. Only 59 percent of employees said they had a formal meeting with their boss in 2012 to discuss their job performance. Gen Yers, also known as millennials, and other employees who have held their job for less than five years, also preferred more performance meetings throughout the year. More unexpected news: 31 percent of those surveyed who anticipated a salary increase, promotion or a bonus in the following year stated they would search for a new position if they didn't receive one.

Performance reviews are meant to be one component of performance management, which is a constant, year-long process. But many managers are overwhelmed and lack the time to provide continuous feedback. Likewise, they can't conduct informal meetings with remote employees or simply don't know how to provide constructive feedback, so they ignore doing it. In such cases, HR needs to step in, training managers on efficient and effective ways to deliver feedback – both good and bad. Once managers develop such skills and, just as importantly, better understand the value of ongoing feedback, annual performance reviews can become a pleasant experience.

Sara Hill believes the survey's results are a wake-up call for HR.

"If we shifted our focus and energy around more constant dialogues, we would actually have a bigger bang for our buck than if we focused on 98 percent compliance on finishing performance reviews," says Hill, chief HR officer at Ceridian, a global human capital management organization based in Minneapolis. "Businesses would see a much better impact."

Another survey surprise:  88 percent -- across all generations of workers -- stated they prefer face-to-face meetings about their performance.

Hill believes if managers routinely conducted face-to-face conversations with their staff, offering guidance, constructive feedback and opportunities for skill development, annual performance reviews could be a smooth process for everyone involved. Managers would no longer worry about employee reaction and employees would not be anxious about their managers' perceptions. Besides, she says, offering feedback in real time versus annually is more impactful.

"At Ceridian, it's not just about manager-employee feedback," says Hill. "We focus a lot on peer recognition . . . which can almost be as meaningful [as manager feedback]. It's one component of our strategy. That could help companies open up that door to a cultural dialogue around performance feedback."

At Cricket Communications Inc., a subsidiary of Leap Wireless, approximately 3,000 employees receive two performance reviews each year, says John Moxley, director of leadership development at Cricket in Chicago.

Although the end-of-year review is a standard performance review, the mid-year review is a short, online process. He explains that employees complete a self-assessment and discuss it face-to-face with their bosses. No ratings are assigned. It's designed to address employee development concerns and opportunities, and ensure that both employee and manager are in sync about the employee's performance.

"Managers can give feedback so there's no surprises at the end of the year," he says, adding that, in addition to these reviews, he also conducts informal conversations with each of his 10 staff members every other week. "They're short conversations --  about 15-20 minutes," he says. "I let employees drive the conversation. It's their opportunity to tell me what they need and how I can help them."

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While providing instant feedback to employees about their performance is the best approach, he says it's unrealistic for several reasons. He points to virtual employees located around the country or world. Then there's the flattening of organizations, which has increased the number of direct reports supervisors manage. Both scenarios make informal conversations with every employee almost impossible.

Moxley says Ceridian's survey results don't surprise him. However, he suspects the different responses between generations may be due more to lack of experience than age. For example, since Gen Yers are less experienced in the workforce, he says they typically need more guidance about accomplishing work tasks or applying new skills than experienced Baby Boomers.

"Gen Yers need more feedback to confirm they're on the right path," he says, adding that managers need to frequently check in with new employees, regardless of age, to build a relationship and help them better understand boundaries regarding decision making.

Still, he refuses to lump employees into specific categories or use age to determine how often feedback should be delivered. "It's more helpful to think about the individual, what (the employee) needs," he says.

Meanwhile, he encourages HR professionals to train managers on how to conduct weekly or monthly face-to-face meetings with employees about their performance. "Having managers do one-on-one meetings with employees, where employees have the opportunity to talk about what they need, is probably the most important conversation that will drive better employee development."

So can comments on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, which enable managers to quickly deliver ongoing feedback to multiple employees. However, not everyone is familiar with these communication channels, adds Zeidman.

"If you're a manager of millennials, you have to double your efforts because they don't like to be ignored," she says, explaining that they are accustomed to receiving constant feedback throughout the day. "They feel that even once-a-week feedback…let alone once a year, [is] absurd… . You need to be a master of all the different communication channels for different generations."

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