Changing the way people experience “feedback”

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Recently, I’ve been talking with associates of mine who work in Human Resources and Organizational Development. The hot topic in organizations and at HR conferences is “changing the way organizations provide feedback.” Articles pose, “Is the Annual Performance Review Dead?” and point out that GE, Accenture, Microsoft, Adobe, Gap, Medtronic, and some 10% of Fortune 500 companies have eliminated performance reviews or ranking systems altogether. [i]  

Why is this? Because they don’t achieve what they are intended to achieve. As an HR leader, I remember crafting performance review systems, compensation programs, promotional guidelines, talent planning “nine-box” systems, and many others. As a coach, I’ve used many online and narrative stakeholder 360 tools. The intention was always admirable – to help employees/clients develop, grow and flourish at work and home; to increase engagement. Unfortunately, the systems often had the opposite effect. They are time consuming, biased (unconsciously), create stress, do not correlate with actual results, and are too infrequent to impact behavior. [i]

We need to change the way people experience feedback. Feedback can be useful when:

  1. You trust the intention of the person sharing it with you – truly for your benefit.
  2. There is context to the feedback – you understand the circumstances.
  3. You understand what to do rather than what not to do (weaknesses).
  4. It is timely.
  5. You have social support going forward to help reinforce improvement.

For example, imagine I sit down with you right after a meeting and say, “I love how you facilitated that meeting. You were concise, engaging, made eye contact, paused when you noticed questions on peoples’ faces, and summarized at the conclusion. I’d love to see you do one more thing. Ask if people have any reservations about moving ahead or find some way to uncover resistance before we leave the meeting. What do you think? Can you try that next time? I’d be happy to watch and have a debrief again after our meeting next week.”

Unfortunately, feedback that comes from a performance review or 360-feedback system can fail in these respects. Not intentionally, but often the barriers to good feedback are design flaws. The feedback may be tied to compensation or promotion decisions (compromising intention), confidential (muddling context), focus on what didn’t work (rather than clearly identifying what to do), be delayed, or lack ongoing reinforcement (social support).

So, I encourage you to challenge your approach to feedback. Consider the design of your feedback systems and search for ways to create greater trust, context, clarity, timeliness, and social support. See how the work we are doing with the Shift Positive 360 can help you create an environment of effective feedback in your organization or coaching practice (


[i] Wilkie, D., (2015, August 19), Is the Annual Performance Review Dead?