Organizations, first and foremost, are made up of individuals, who come together with a common goal – the success of which largely depends on the engagement and performance of its employees.
Despite the weight that is placed on performance, it remains a vaguely defined term that is thrown around without much understanding of how exactly it is measured. Clearly, performance is results-oriented and driven by the set goals of an organization. Whether or not an employee meets these goals is often discussed in a formally arranged feedback session, an annual review that is either dreaded by many or dismissed as a standardized procedure that has little value for the organization. In light of this, over the past couple of decades, a lot of studies have shown that traditional employee feedback is ineffective and even damaging to overall performance and the commitment of employees.
A Few Reasons Why Feedback Doesn’t Work
Human resource management researchers have studied feedback reviews and determined that the traditional way of conducting performance reviews is susceptible to the following flaws:
One person is measured by another’s standards, which generally tends to be subjective. No matter how standardized the feedback process is, in the end, it is still a discussion between two people and their opinions.
Feedback focuses on weaknesses and discrepancies, undermining the positive qualities and strengths.
Most managers are not trained to give constructive feedback.
People are more likely to become defensive when receiving negative feedback than becoming open to change. They either choose to disqualify the feedback giver by saying or thinking something like this – “He has no room to talk, when was the last time he met a deadline!” or disqualify the standard, “It’s ridiculous to expect everyone to agree on the agenda.” In the worst case, the employee receiving the negative feedback may decide to quit if he or she feels like they can never be good enough.
Negative feedback hampers overall morale of the workplace.
Positive feedback also doesn’t improve motivation, as employees who are continuously assessed as good performers are more likely to stay at that level of performance instead of striving for even better results.
Given all of these objectionable aspects of feedback, it is a wonder that companies still use it. There is no alternative to measuring performance more systematically. However, there is one way that could supplement, if not replace, and bolster the overall effectiveness of feedback. It is called The Feedforward Interview.
Developed by two researchers from the School of Business Administration at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dina Nir, who is currently the professor of Positive Psychology here at IDC, and Avraham N. Kluger, the Feedforward Interview is a performance appraisal guideline designed to improve employee performance. It achieves this by fostering collaboration between managers and subordinates, and by focusing on the strengths and best practices an individual contributes to an organization.
As a response to the ineffectiveness of traditional appraisal performance, the protocol is rooted in recent work in Positive Psychology, taking the attention away from the problems of an organization and instead building on what already works.
In addition to annual performance reviews, the protocol can also be used as a tool for various human resource practices, such as hiring or customer satisfaction surveys.
The effectiveness of this approach is grounded in the empowerment and positive emotions which are triggered in the process of the interview, and the creation of a safe environment in which information is shared.
How to Conduct Feedforward Interviews
Feedforward interviews involve a two-way discussion of an employee’s past performance to provide a basis for administrative decisions and employee development.
Feedforward Interview Questions:
Start by asking your employee:
- Tell me about a situation or event in which you were at your best at work, were full of enthusiasm and the results were good.
2. What was the peak moment? What did you feel at that moment?
3. What were the enabling conditions?
Describe in detail what enabled you to perform at your best.
– Specifically what was there in you?
- Traits – abilities and strengths
- Practices – things you did, things you said, things you thought
- – What did others do?
– What was in the physical environment that enabled you to be at your best?
Then state the following to the employee: “The conditions you have just described represent your personal code for reaching optimal performance. Now, think of five concrete conditions you can apply this week in order to recreate optimal experience.”
Why the Feedforward Interview Works
As an example, say you are interviewing an employee who has little experience with supervisory tasks. He or she begins to tell you a story about their best day at work when one of the supervisors stayed home sick and they had to take over his position for the day. Their peak moment was being able to divide the team into groups that doubled the speed of their usual performance. They tell you that their ability to listen to employees and being empathetic helped everyone to cooperate and in the end, they really felt respected by their colleagues. Upon hearing this, you realize that this employee has much more to offer than you had previously known, and you decide to promote them to a supervisory role. Unlike the usual feedback session, where they would have felt grouped with the “rest” and blamed for their lack of efficiency, here they were given a chance to show their strengths.
Reversely, if you ask an employee to tell you about a time they gave great customer service and he or she cannot come up with a single example of when this happened, then mostly likely you will know this is not the right person for this job, and their lack of an appropriate response will be enough for the employee to realize themselves that they are not a good fit for the job – meeting the goal of appraisal without actually giving any negative feedback.
This method of performance review is far from being the standard, but it is likely to catch on as more organizations see the value in having an open and positive discussion as a means of reviewing performance.
Take a look at the great article about the Feedforward Interview published by the Chicago Tribune: