Providing employees with regular feedback on their performance and career progress can help reduce turnover, according to business owners and management experts.
Compared to conventional, less-frequent feedback, such as annual or quarterly performance reviews, experts say providing regular check-ins can also help increase productivity and lower levels of stress.
“When you don't have that feedback, especially in your first two years on a job, you're kind of guessing at what your goals should be," explains Claire Bissot, managing director of human resources services for CBIZ, a national provider of financial, benefits and insurance services.
“You don't want to be misaligned to the business and you don't want to find out if you are if the business only does reviews one time a year," she continues. "You should know all the time."
Joe Phelps, founder of Los Angeles-based integrated marketing agency Phelps, says several mechanisms provide employees at his company with regular assessments.
“There's feedback on the work, there's feedback on the individual's performance and there's feedback on how the individual's doing in their career," Phelps says.
—Claire Bissot, managing director of human resources services, CBIZ
Phelps says these regular evaluations at his company help improve work quality. And, equally important, they help keep Phelps' average employee tenure at over five years, which he says is above average for the industry.
“It's a great stress reliever," he adds. “When I was working for a multinational corporation, they'd have annual reviews and if something happened in February, people would carry it around for 10 months and finally bring it up in an annual review. They've suffered 10 months of stress and wasted 10 months of time."
Mechanisms for Giving Regular Feedback
Companies employ a number of ways to deliver employee reviews.
In weekly open gatherings, Phelps employees present current projects for collaboration and critique from other employees. Comments are recorded, transcribed and sent to the project team. There's also a wall at the company where people post concepts they are working on, again looking for thoughts.
Along with this steady stream of feedback from peers, Phelps employees participate in monthly reviews with team leaders or coaches to make sure they are on track with career goals and to see if they have earned a pay hike.
“We don't have annual reviews, period," Phelps says.
At Roar Media, a Coral Gables, Florida-based public relations and digital marketing agency, co-founder Jolie Balido fosters an open, informal environment that encourages instant, candid assessments.
“If someone drafts a press release and we don't understand parts of what they wrote, we'll ask, 'What the heck do you mean?'" she says. "We talk about it openly and find a better way to write it, or if the author proves us wrong, then we leave it as is."
Roar still does annual reviews, Balido says. But she regards the constant reviews as central to her management style.
Yet the feedback can be two-way. For example, employees are invited to bang a large gong in the Roar office to celebrate their notable successes.
“We also have learning moments," Balido says. “At our weekly staff meetings, I invite team members to share when they could have done something better. That way people understand there's nothing wrong with making a mistake as long as you own it and we can learn from each other's experiences."
Bissot likes using monthly scorecards to provide employees with frequent, concise responses for completing audits, having conversations with clients and other work objectives.
“Scorecards are more personalized than a performance review," she says. “That's very corporate."
The Limits of Frequent Check-Ins
Ideally, employees will take feedback as a well-intentioned attempt to help them succeed. The hope is that they'll use it to improve their performance and stay on track for career objectives.
But that doesn't always happen, fans of regular feedback concede.
“There are some people who reach out and grab feedback and apply it and learn from it," Phelps says. “There are other people who [are] very defensive about feedback on their work and their general performance."
“Some people are very open to feedback and constructive criticism, and some people aren't," agrees Balido.
Both these business owners say that when employees don't like their regular-feedback work environments, the employees either change or leave.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
“Retention has two sides," says Bissot. “It's getting rid of the ones that aren't going to work out, while also keeping the ones that are. Constant feedback is a way to hold yourself accountable to not invest the time in the employees who aren't going to work out."
Another potential problem with regular feedback is the difficulty of getting it to flow uphill.
“The person who has the hardest time getting clear feedback is the person at the top of the organization," says Phelps. “You have to set up a robust and anonymous structure for getting that to them."
Many believe frequent feedback is a company tactic embraced by millennials and less accepted among older workers. Phelps, however, says that age isn't a factor in deciding who will fare well with regular feedback.
“It's more about the type of personality," he says. “Can they take feedback or do they reject it? It's on an individual-by-individual basis."
Read more articles on motivating employees.