Recently, more and more companies have shifted towards agile, real-time ongoing feedback. In doing so, they approach performance management as an ongoing activity instead of a once-yearly event (i.e., the annual appraisal). Many reasons have compelled forward-thinking organizations to make the switch: the annual review is too focused on past events versus future improvement, allows manager biases (even unintentional ones) to skew ratings, and is simply too time-intensive. More importantly, however, it doesn’t achieve its very purpose, which is to support better employee performance.

The reason it doesn’t work is because employees need more feedback to understand how they can improve. To solve the issue, high-performance organizations are implementing tactics to support an ongoing feedback loop between managers and their teams. Here, we share some best practices you can implement to do the same in your company:

  • Start With Goals

In order to give relevant feedback, managers need something against which they can gauge employee performance. Without knowing what’s expected of them, neither managers nor employees can tell how well teams are performing. Thus, you must adopt goal setting principles (such as Objectives and Key Results (OKR)) to help teams identify exactly what they need to do to achieve results. Once goals are set, managers can begin to assess performance regularly and give feedback based on their findings.

  • Use Weekly 1:1 Check-Ins

Use weekly one-on-one meetings with each direct report as a high-level overview to discuss progress. These concise meetings, often called “check-ins,” should be no longer than a half hour and can be as short as 10 minutes. It may sound time-consuming, but when managers and employees meet and exchange feedback, they both get clarity and free up a tremendous amount of time as a result. Managers communicate exactly what employees need to do to improve performance or stay on track, which frees up time they’d otherwise spend on drawn-out meetings and indirect communication, like emails.

  • Stay Future-Focused

Feedback shouldn’t be used as a punishment for past shortcomings. Instead, it should always be future-focused. If an employee made a mistake, coach them on what they can do differently moving forward instead of just telling them what they did wrong. This is the very reason ongoing feedback loops were developed: to make performance management more focused on future improvement, instead of past assessment. Yearly appraisals tend to look in the rearview mirror, but to develop your teams, you need to look forward. In other words, feedback should always be given with the intention of driving progress.

  • Be Specific, Timely, & Actionable

When you coach an employee on what they need to do better, explain how they can improve – not just where they’re falling short. Feedback should be specific, meaning that it pinpoints an identifiable performance issue. “Poor time management” may be too vague for an employee – but explaining to them that they’ve missed their three most recent deadlines is specific. Give feedback in a timely manner, too. Don’t wait days or weeks after the behavior has occurred; instead, address it when it happens so the employee has the chance to correct it promptly. Lastly, provide actionable suggestions on what the employee can do to perform better in the future (i.e., break OKR down into more manageable tasks and tactics and use a tool like Trello to stay on track).

  • Balance Positive & Negative Feedback

While constructive feedback is important to help employees perform better, praise is equally critical – if not more so – to morale, engagement, and productivity. Like constructive feedback, praise should be given in a timely manner, shortly after the employee achieves a small or significant win. Managers can make an even more powerful impact by identifying how the employee best responds to praise (i.e., via a public announcement or in a private memo), and choosing that method of recognition. A general rule of thumb to follow is to praise roughly three times as often as you provide constructive feedback. This can strengthen the employee/manager relationship by building trust, which is essential to maintaining strong communication. 

Maintaining an ongoing feedback loop with your employees is a powerful way to drive performance, but it’s only one aspect of a comprehensive ongoing performance management system. In order to provide the feedback employees want and need to improve, you must always start with clear, measurable goals. Having clear goals against which managers can measure employee performance will allow both parties to partake in insightful conversations where timely, relevant, and effective feedback is exchanged. When this happens on a continual basis, performance can improve exponentially.