Continuous Feedback is Vital for High Performance

I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better”.Elon Musk

How does anyone know whether they are making a difference by what they are doing or not doing? This is true of companies and also the people that work with them. Amongst the many ways to motivation and encouraging high performance is continuous feedback. This must be an inherent part of the company’s culture. With continuous feedback there are no unpleasant surprises and the leaders of teams and the company are able to sustain a smooth flow of work given that expectations compared to performance are clearly laid out. Consistently letting the workforce know how their work is affecting the company will ensure that they remain mindful of the effort required and also encourage those who are doing a great job to continue in the same manner.

Continuous feedback is essential and crucial. It is important that team leaders, managers and even top management are well-equipped to provide feedback in a manner that is not derogatory but rather serves to support, guide and motivate the workforce and keep the performance and work output at the optimum levels. Companies are responsible for providing the requisite training to each person working with them to master the ‘art’ of giving (and receiving) feedback.  Very often managers and leaders only point out mistakes or provide feedback to employees when something is ‘not right’ and forget to compliment them when they do a good job – continuous feedback is about balancing both kinds of comments and communicating them in a manner that will encourage change.

Without continuous feedback employees who believe they are doing a great job would have no motivation to strive harder and ultimately would feel neglected by their manager and leave the company. No one is a mind-reader and hence it is critical for the success of a company that its workforce is encouraged, supported and led to high performance through continuous feedback, amongst the many other techniques. Continuous feedback that is effective will address issues immediately and serve to ‘nip them in the bud’ so that they don’t become unmanageable and reach a point where employees decide to leave. We have discussed earlier the repercussions of employee attrition and the high costs and negative consequences of the same.

While talking about continuous feedback we are not referring to the annual or bi-annual structured and formal feedback given to employees. Rather continuous feedback by definition means letting the employees know how they are faring, on a ‘regular, timely and specific’ manner and the feedback should help the person receiving it. Employees need to know how their performance is affecting the team and the organization, know whether they are being able to achieve the standards and goals set for them, what they need to do to improve in areas that require improvement and how they can enhance what they are doing well. Each one knows that their job roles do not exist in a silo and whatever they do will impact others around them – both directly and indirectly.

Many companies have a robust annual appraisal system, using the 360 degree method of acquiring feedback for the employee. This system includes not just the person’s manager and co-workers but also vendors and other ‘customers’ of the employee. The feedback received provides the person with a well-rounded perspective and clear picture of how their performance is viewed by those that work with them. Since this is a lengthy and onerous activity, it is only done once a year. However, continuous feedback is required to bring to the fore any big and small issues, mistakes and as a means to recognize achievements and good behaviour and performance. In fact, receiving feedback in a respectful and supportive manner is one of the reasons that employees join and stay with a company. A respected and valued workforce is a happy one, who in turn will treat the company’s external customers in the same way. If the employees can see that the company is committed to helping them to reach their goals – both professional and personal – employees tend to put in more hard work and remain loyal to the company.

Continuous feedback is obviously important and yet many managers shy away from providing it – could be because they are ill-equipped or they would rather the problem went away on its own or some other reason. The fact is that feedback is perhaps the single most important tool that managers have for ready use and its proper implementation would serve as a guide and support to know where their performance stands in relation to the company’s expectation and goals. Just like a company needs the feedback of its customers to make them feel valued and important, in the same way employees also feel like they are being noticed and their efforts are contributing to the success of the team and the company as a whole. Hence, continuous feedback is one of those methods that increases employee satisfaction and lowers stress levels.

The most effective managers and leaders are those who are able to motivate their teams and show by their actions that they are genuinely interested in their welfare. Such managers not only encourage their team members to undergo training and coaching and solicit feedback but do the same for themselves. With such effectiveness and clarity of vision, employees are more than happy to follow the example set by their leaders, which in turn strengthens teams and energizes the work environment and takes everyone in the organization closer to their goals and those of the company.

It seems inconceivable to expect an employee to get better or even perform at the same level of efficiency without being regularly informed of the direction they are going. To draw an analogy – it would be impossible to reach a destination without a set of directions or a route to follow. Without continuous feedback it is very plausible that employees believe that they are either performing very badly or extremely well. In both cases there will be no attempt to improve – the first set would feel that nothing they do will change the negative opinion about them and the second set would consider their contribution to be greater than others and would be disillusioned when their salary increase does not match their expectation or the coveted promotion goes to someone else. In many cases, another repercussion on little or no feedback is that employees tend to rely on and believe office gossip and ‘murmurs’, which most of the time is skewed and incorrect and leads to people to insecurity and bitterness.

Training and coaching on self-awareness is crucial too – it helps people to genuinely accept both, their flaws and strengths. However, receiving continuous feedback is a very effective method of understanding oneself and can rid a person of any false beliefs. For companies that value open and candid communication, continuous feedback is an absolute essential – it removes ambiguity, doubt and insecurities.

To ensure that continuous feedback is effective and does not lose its sheen, it must be timely and specific, which means that proper planning is required for it and managers must weave this important activity in their on-going job responsibilities. Good companies become great when their workforce is energized, happy, low on stress and can see that their company cares for them and values their role in its development – continuous feedback is a method (among others) that will help achieve employee all-round satisfaction.

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