Continuous feedback is a substitute for annual appraisals; it’s dialogue between employees and managers which is ongoing and focused on results rather than rankings

Continuous feedback is feedback which is ongoing, but it’s also much more than that. It’s feedback which builds towards pragmatic and actionable next steps and development objectives, rather than a form-filling exercise which focuses on retrospective ratings. In short, it’s what every business should be adopted instead of the traditional annual appraisal.

How does continuous feedback work?

The way continuous feedback works depends on the company, but it has several features which make it the ideal replacement for outdated annual appraisals. Firstly, continuous feedback means that employees don’t have to wait until an arbitrary date to get feedback or discuss an issue, concern or idea with their manager. An effective continuous feedback system will allow for that kind of dialogue on a regular basis.

Second, continuous feedback uses employees’ strengths, areas for improvement, concerns, and passions as tools for discussion, rather than ways to judge or rank employees. If an employee is struggling in a particular area, continuous feedback focuses on how they can improve. If an employee is strong at something, continuous feedback focuses on how they can leverage that strength for the benefit of the team or the organisation. What’s more, because the feedback isn’t once or twice a year, it can focus on what an employee can do right now to improve.

Finally, the most important aspect of performance feedback is that it goes both ways. An employee should be allowed to talk frankly to a manager about how a company can improve just as a manager talks to an employee about how they can improve. If you have a proper continuous feedback system in place, this can be done without manager or employee offending each other.

What’s a continuous feedback system?

A continuous feedback system is a necessary part of implementing continuous feedback. Because the nature of continuous feedback encourages the free expression of ideas, it needs a system to provide a framework for giving and requesting feedback. Without such a framework, managers and employees can lack the confidence to give feedback regularly and can struggle with how to frame their feedback.

For a continuous feedback system to be effective, it needs performance management tools such as a purpose-built performance management software app. For managers, keeping track of continuous conversations and feedback with their team members is incredibly hard to do manually. Software removes this difficulty by reminding the manager when they are due to give feedback and to whom and keeping all the notes and action points from their feedback conversations in one place. It also gives HR visibility of who is and isn’t giving continuous feedback across the organisation.

Technology also enables feedback to be given and requested in-the-moment from a smartphone or computer which is essential for teams who are frequently in different locations. Without this ability, managers withhold their feedback until the next time they are face-to-face with the team member and then frequently forget.

Whilst continuous feedback should be about effective conversations, it’s extremely hard to build new feedback habits without technology underpinning and reinforcing the behaviours. So whilst it might be tempting to introduce a continuous feedback process without supporting technology, this is usually a false economy.

Why should I adopt continuous feedback?

Despite the fact that 65% of businesses are still using annual appraisals, it’s well established that they don’t work. They’re inconsistent, demotivating and expensive in terms of time. Above all, there is no evidence that they improve employee performance, which after all should be the whole point. It’s time for a step change in performance management.

At their core, annual appraisals are about past looking measurements – often a numerical ranking or a surrogate for numbers such as “good” or “needs to improve”. Evidence has shown that these ratings tell us very little about the employee’s performance due to manager bias and other factors at play such as bonus expectation and risk of the employee leaving.

Appraisals also fail to tackle underperformance. Managers frequently give all of their employees a good rating to avoid upsetting them. One HR expert remembers how a company she worked for gave 96% of staff the highest possible rating after an annual appraisal. This alone reveals the absurdity of annual appraisals. They are a ritual which labels employees rather than rewards or motivates them.

It’s for this reason that so many employees and HR experts dislike them. One 2012 study revealed that 98% of employees thought annual appraisals were unnecessary. When only 2% of employees think something works, it’s time to adopt a new strategy. That’s exactly what continuous feedback is all about.

If you want to find out how your business could benefit from a proven continuous feedback system, contact Clear Review today for a FREE demo of our innovative performance management software system.