Feedback in Practice

High definition feedback

Personal development in times of exponential change

The rate of change is increasing along with the rising complexity of employees' individual tasks. As a result, employees and managers are forced to consistently reconsider their own actions and to evaluate whether it is possible to replicate yesterday’s success tomorrow. The inability to react quickly enough to these individual and organizational change demands can lead to disorientation and discouragement in the workforce.

What is the foundation for effective personal development?

Organizations are trying to align rapidly changing development requirements with an increasing complexity of training, but the result is frequently inadequate. Such gaps will create discrepancies in learning transfers and overall results will be a low return on training. 

Simple, intuitive, and effective tools are necessary in order to obtain high-quality, i.e. "high definition (HD) data". This is imperative for an organization that is looking to create the highest possible value-add for their users.

How can the findings be used in the long term?

"Realtime Learning Experience" promotes the right behavior of the right people at the right time. Armed with frequent, structured feedback and a differentiated development catalog human resource development in close to real-time is achievable.

surround-view offers "High Definition Feedback" based on very regular feedback processes using an intuitive app along with links to the increasingly effective training programs of the Corporate University.

See also: Forbes: Interview with Kotter, J (2011): Can You Handle on Exponential Rate of Change?

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What makes feedback meaningful?

We are living in a feedback economy. Good examples to prove the case are online shops, restaurants, travel agents and many others.

No wonder that the Corporate world has been affected by this situation. Employees who experience the feedback culture as consumers for a long time already, expect to receive feedback from their employers.

Not all feedback is created equal. Companies invest too little time and effort to make sure that feedback given to their people (if any) is meaningful to them and thus becomes more than a lip service. Meaningful feedback supports employees in their personal and professional development. If so, it does have a very positive impact, ranging from individual motivation, retention, organizational culture up to achievement of Corporate goals. But what makes feedback meaningful?

Future-oriented

While past behavior is an ingredient of any feedback, its essence should be future oriented. It does little good to an employee to just dissect what was good or bad in the past. The benefit comes from deriving the right lessons for the future. In other words, what was good and should continue, what specifically needs improvement and what should simply stop.

Specific and actionable

This leads to another component of meaningful feedback. People must be able to “run with it”. Meaningful feedback tells employees what specifically should be done and what action will lead to the desired improvement.

Multi-source

We know from statistics that their validity grows with the amount of data they are based on. Meaningful feedback is no different. Getting it from one person makes it just an opinion.  Getting it from defined groups of people - like peers, superiors, subordinates –allows employees and Corporations to see behavioral patterns.

Enabling

Meaningful feedback comes with the guidance and the opportunity to take action. Telling your employees they have to improve and not supporting them to do so will result in a frustrating experience. Companies will have to complement feedback with a set of supported, recommended actions that are logically derived from a person’s feedback results.

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Regular Feedback vs. Annual Performance Reviews

Increasingly more companies are no longer relying on the annual performance review where bonuses, salaries, career progression and other HR related topics are discussed and determined. Traditionally these reviews require superiors and employees to exchange constructive feedback based on a relevant time period, usually six months or a year. The preparation and execution often require many forms and protocols that ensure a company-wide comparability and fairness. The results aim to support the employee’s personal and professional development and provide the company with a foundation for succession planning. A couple key challenges are; how can a boss and their employees conjunctively recall a whole year? Also, another requirement of annual reviews is to motivate employees for the following year until the next review, which often proves very difficult.

Meanwhile, companies such as Accenture, General Electric, IBM and Microsoft have announced that they want to give more frequent feedback in the future instead of annual meetings. Interestingly, it is not only Generation Y that expects regular feedback. Older generations are also demanding more frequent feedback. Previously there was often little to no feedback exchange and executives would receive feedback for the first time during their exit interview. Introducing annual performance reviews was a positive step in the right direction.

Strong leaders, however, have always been characterized by the fact that they regularly communicate with their employees and gave constructive, ad hoc, instructions. That unfortunately was and is not always the case.

Due to further globalization and the increasing organization requirements of complicated projects, team compositions and objectives often change on a regular basis.

We have noticed this trend even more so in international service companies for many years and will continue to prevail in other industries as well.

Rigid departmental structures and cemented hierarchies belong in the past. Increasing digitalization has changed the cooperation and in particular communication significantly. This trends will continue to prevail in the future.

According to a study carried out in 2015 about 60% of younger employees between ages 18 and 34 consider the annual appraisal interview as unfair and flawed. Almost one-third felt demotivated afterward and began looking for a new job. The objective to predetermine goals at the beginning of a year and to draw the balance at the end appear to be outdated. Companies that want to remain attractive to future generations should emphasize and focus on innovative means of talent management. This means providing feedback more often, at least every quarter, and more constructively.

Qualified and highly-motivated employees can only be successfully retained by means of a modern corporate culture and an inspiring work environment within the company. A mobile application that allows employees to receive regular anonymous feedback on the basis of important competencies for the company via work relationships is a value added support. Such feedback could synchronize their internal and external views and provide valuable insight for the organization as a whole.

Middle and upper management are constantly competing for top talent. Demotivating them after acquisition with annual performance reviews is grossly negligent. Instead, employees should receive feedback on a regular basis – both in personal conversations and through simple feedback tools such as HRDigital’s surround-view platform.

See also: Reuters.com (Feb 2016, Patricia Reaney: “Millennials expected to hasten switch away from annual job reviews”) 

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Comparing Self-Perception with the View of Others: is it Important?

Employees often spend more time on business matters than with family and friends. We try to be perceived as competent, professional and successful among colleagues and superiors, but in the end we are hired and paid based on our capabilities and experience. By observing our colleagues we can see which competencies lead to successful careers. On the other hand, it is difficult to objectively assess our own skills, talents and characteristics.

Business psychologists confirm that people have a tendency to perceive themselves positively. We consider ourselves in regard to certain topics as more competent than what would be average, but others may think just the opposite. A Cornell University study has shown that people consider themselves as quite strong in areas where they are rather weak in reality. This might result in overestimations of self worth in terms of things like skills, abilities and salary.

Our self-perception differs from that of others because we rely on different information to asses ourselves than our peers. Only people that examine themselves without bias are able to learn from their mistakes. Feedback from colleagues, subordinates and superiors is important, but it’s not that easy to extract such feedback. Especially since executives quite often don’t receive feedback themselves. Still it is very constructive to receive objective and fair feedback. Especially since people tend to work with us based on how they perceive us, which might be quite different from how we see ourselves.

Based on a survey from the research institute Forsa, about 95% of all managers think that they are good and well-accepted leaders. This conflicts with research compiled by the Gallup Institute who found, based on a survey,  that 85% of all employees are not really happy in their job. The main reason, according to the research, a poor supervisor. Self-perception and perception by others often don’t correspond with each other.

Comparing self- and interpersonal perception regularly helps getting to know and understanding oneself better. It is quite interesting to compare ones self-perception with the view of others. Are there similarities? Are there areas of great difference? Are there competencies that are so strong that one should even concentrate more on these strengths in the future? Are there areas with a strong need for improvement because it is really important for future success?

Others’ advice regarding our strengths can help us select the right job. How others see and perceive us is very important for our own effectiveness and acceptance. If others don’t see nor accept your strengths chances are high that you won’t be successful there and you won’t have a happy business life.

See also: Organisational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2008, Dunning et al: “Why the unskilled are unaware: Further explorations of (absent) self-insight among the incompetent.”). Wirtschaftswoche wiwo.de (Dez 2015, Lin Freitag: "Selbstwahrnehmung: Manager halten sich für toller, als sie sind.“). 

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Comparing Self-Perception with the View of Others: how should one do it?

Bosses, colleagues, subordinates and others within our professional organization constantly observe our preferences, aversions, strengths and weaknesses every day. Unfortunately, we don’t receive constructive and open feedback regularly based off so much on-going observation. The reason is most people don’t feel comfortable providing constructive feedback – especially with regards to weaknesses or "room for improvement.“ Many feedback receivers react defensively, which does not help either.

Comparing self-perceptions with those of others helps recognize the reality of how one should be improving themselves. It is also quite helpful to analyze the feedback from different groups of feedback providers since people have a tendency to act differently depending on the situation. Their roles and their dialog partners will depend largely on whether the situation is, for example, a project or dealing with an issue.

In order to receive helpful insight from feedback analysis based on self- and interpersonal input from others, it is important to proceed in a structured way. Ideally, using criteria that can be measured regularly over a longer period of time will be most constructive. It helps managers concentrate on the most important issues. This makes it easier for our valuable feedback providers and reduces their time investment. Feedback providers are generous with their time and are highly appreciated. It should be as easy as possible for them to give us their valuable feedback. Since it is difficult for many people to give feedback, setting up a clear structure and providing an anonymous process really helps to get realistic, open and helpful feedback.

According to E. Prewitt the following is important for a successful comparison of self- and interpersonal perception:

  • Feedback providers should stay anonymous
  • Used competencies should refer to the success of the company
  • Results of the received feedback should be discussed with superiors and team members
  • Based on the results of the feedback one should develop and implement a personal development plan
  • In the beginning, feedback results should have a focus on personal development. At a later stage in can also be used for incentive processes

By using surround-view you have the chance to systematically and regularly compare your self-perception with that of others based on a definable competence model set by the organization. Since surround-view is designed so that feedback-providers only need to invest a few minutes and stay anonymous, it supports collecting and analyzing valuable feedback which then can be used to start personal development activities. Surround-view will disclose differences between self and interpersonal perception, show one’s status-quo and is a great basis to start with individual development programs as well as with the advancement of the overall organization.

See also: Harvard Management Update (1999, E. Prewitt: „Should you use 360° feedback for performance reviews?“)

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