Annual performance reviews, quarterly checkins, and even monthly or weekly one-on-ones are great, but they cannot replace the impact and importance of continuos, ad hoc feedback.
Too many managers and leaders wait until scheduled appointments with employees to deliver feedback. If you aspire to create a workplace that values empowerment and growth, these scheduled time slots should be reserved for checking in with employees on their goals, career development, and wellbeing, and serve as an opportunity for them to bring up any issues, solutions or ideas they want to share.
Positive and constructive feedback, on the other hand, should be given pro-actively and as close to in-the-moment as possible. Not only is it the best way for learning to take place, but it also ensures issues don't snowball, and that employees don't start to feel resentful or taken for granted.
A compassionate 3-part monthly check-in formula
Once you've committed to giving feedback as you go, your scheduled checkins can become a lot more effective. One company that does an excellent job at this is Quietly, a Vancouver-based content marketing company. Once a month, their co-founder, Sean Tyson, sits down with every person at the company.
"Young people want more frequent touch points, so every month, I do a 1-hour coffee with every employee," Tyson explains. "They’re called 'Professional Development chats' and we always go off-site because it needs to feel safe for them.
"This is all about me listening, and about them being honest, candid, and critical. Basically, I’m giving them an opportunity to 'empty their cup' so it doesn’t fill up and boil over when they’re stressed. They need to be able to vent—albeit constructively—so we can manage to the issue instead of the rule. We’re a fast-paced, growing company so it’s important that we talk about the changes and challenges we face. After all, it’s 'growing pains' not 'growing pleasures.'
Before each meeting, each employee needs to email answers that address the following:
- Current roles and responsibilities
- Career path and aspirations
- Life, love, rock 'n’ roll
"The first section is all about identifying things we can improve on a day-to-day level," Tyson says. "They have to come with solutions, options, and recommendations for how they would fix it themselves. I then add my ideas to the mix and we net out with an agreed upon next step.
"The second section is more aspirational. Here we remind each other about the goals we’ve set out in our (formal) semi-annual reviews. We see how we’re tracking, what things they need in order to be successful, and what things are blockers (and how we can remove them). Basically I’m saying 'what career do you want?' and we discuss how I can help them get there.
"The third is more about their personal life. At Quietly we’re extremely good at separating the personal from the professional, but I do also want to know how things are going outside of work. Are they happy, healthy, etc. Is their family all good? I expect them to deliver as a professional regardless, but we’re very sensitive to our employee's lives outside of work. If someone’s personal life is out of whack, I need to know. As we say, family is always first and if someone’s work starts to compromise their personal life, then we need to talk."
Regular feedback & check-ins build trust
As you can imagine, having a boss who sits down with you over coffee once a month contributes to a huge level of mutual trust and respect. If an employee feels heard, and like the company genuinely cares about their personal and professional development, they'll be more inclined to bring their best to the company as well.
Regular feedback fortifies this further, and alleviates the stress of more formal reviews. If feedback is ongoing, there's less anxiety around any impending negative feedback. If done effectively, regular feedback gives employees a barometer so they always know how they're doing, and gives them the opportunity to course-correct as they go.
Not only is it the most compassionate way to give feedback, but it's also the most effective.