Microfeedback: Quick and Easy Performance Management

Alexandra Levit, Managing Partner, PeopleResults
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A few months ago, I attended an employee engagement workshop. The facilitator suggested that millennials require performance feedback more than once a year. “Maybe once a quarter,” she said.

More like once a day!” I couldn’t resist calling out.

I wasn’t kidding. For the 80 million millennials who now make up a majority of the workforce, no news is bad news. If they don’t hear from their managers frequently, they think they’re doing something wrong and quickly grow disillusioned.

Nevertheless, an open door policy in which employees are invited to stop by a manager’s office for extended feedback sessions multiple times a day simply isn’t practical. So what’s the solution?

The innovative concept of microfeedback originated in the consumer space and consisted of collecting a small amount of information from customers at key moments in their shopping experience. The goal was to gather relevant customer feedback for a more accurate assessment of their satisfaction.

Think about this, though. Why can’t the idea of microfeedback be extended to performance management? We certainly have the technology. Intra-company messaging systems like Yammer, Skype for business, and Slack are growing exponentially and with some groups (like millennials), are even  more popular than email.

Imagine that your direct report gives a status update in the departmental meeting for the first time. You think she did an exceptional job, but instead of noting it in her file to be reviewed in six months (or worse, forgetting about it completely), you send her a “thumbs up” emoticon via Slack. The action takes you less than 30 seconds, and yet your employee has a piece of encouraging feedback that will make her day.

This type of engagement can be even more beneficial if you and your report don’t work in the same physical location or don’t have many opportunities to speak one-on-one. You can think of microfeedback as a virtual “pat on the back,” similar to what might happen naturally if you were in closer proximity.

Microfeedback can also be used efficiently by groups of managers. Using the scenario above, suppose you and several other supervisors witness this employee’s performance in the meeting. All of you can shoot over brief feedback bursts, both positive and constructive, so that the employee has a well-rounded, real-time coaching experience.

Applications like Yammer, Skype for business, and Slack have existed for several years now, so why haven’t more organizations institutionalized microfeedback? I believe the answer lies in culture. Baby boomer managers in particular are accustomed to giving “official” feedback via the carefully constructed annual performance review process. It simply doesn’t occur to them to do it another way.

In 2016, many organizations are watching bold companies like Accenture and Adobe and wringing their hands. They realize that annual performance reviews and rankings are inherently flawed, and yet throwing them out entirely is risky and frightening. If managers and employees are taught to embrace it and make it a part of everyday life, microfeedback can be a viable, intermediary step as you seek to bring your performance review systems up to modern standards.


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