Here’s a nice deep dive on feedback and performance reviews — two inherently messy issues in most companies — from MIT. The actual title of the article is “Is HR missing the point on performance feedback?” The answer to that question would be a definitive “yes.” Maybe even bold it like so: yes.
Here’s a quote of importance I’d like you to pay attention to:
Yet if there is lack of trust in the manager-employee relationship, the weight of the feedback decreases dramatically. We learned from a study of bank workers that source credibility — trust in the person giving feedback — strongly correlates with perceived accuracy and with a desire to respond, both of which have an impact on performance. 12 When trust and engagement with managers are low, feedback won’t drive the desired outcomes.
Seems logical so far. Now I want you to understand an “outcome” mentioned later in this same article:
One of the most influential meta-analytical studies on feedback demonstrated that only about a third of feedback interventions result in improved performance. 13 That is, the remaining two-thirds do not.
Read the first statement, then the second. Then do it again. Would you see a correlation between the two? I would.
Feedback is important, and I think we all know that, and …
But we frequently don’t do it right — and, in fact, many companies are abandoning performance reviews and replacing them with essentially nothing.
So if it’s important but we don’t do it/outright remove it, why is that?
Largely incentive structures
There is only so much time in a white-collar work day, and most of that is jacked up by ridiculous crap like meetings and conference calls.
Most people — that I’ve known or ever worked with, plus research galore says this — focus on their specific silo/area/what they know, and they focus on the things that can eventually get them more incentives and perks.
No executive in a company has his/her bonus tied to “feedback” or “giving more organic feedback” or anything like that.
It’s tied to numbers, plain and simple. Margins. CAGR. Output. Units. We know the drill.
That’s why some offices become soul-draining — all the human elements you need (communication, context, respect, clarity, feedback, priority, etc.) are gone because everyone is trying to hit the numbers. That’s why “feedback” isn’t a bigger deal.
The low credibility problem
Now back to the issue at the top.
If you have a manager who barely ever speaks to you except to yell at you (we’ve all been there), or a generally “absentee” manager, then ultimately why would you care what their feedback even is?
Sure, they’re your boss. I get that.
But if they never really speak to you, it’s easy to get their feedback and say “Well, he or she doesn’t even know what I do!”
That’s probably the moment a lot of people start updating their LinkedIn, ya know what I mean?
So if your manager sucks, does the feedback even matter? Like, who cares what this moron who tries to avoid eye contact with me every Wednesday morning even thinks?
That’s a lot of low-credibility feedback. Maybe that’s why only about 30 percent of feedback seems to be doing anything.
How do we get more credible feedback, then?
- Hire and promote for soft skills
- Stop promoting assholes up the chain
- Don’t advance the “numbers-hitters”
- Teach managers how to provide context on projects and ideas
- Understand the different ways people want to be communicated with
- Strategize how to organize people into projects
- Talk to your people and try to care about them
There are ways to do this. It’s not as hard as we make it.
Be better. Be credible.