Chapter 1: The Basics of Real-Time Feedback

Happy employees in a meeting

1 The Basics of Real-Time Feedback

HR educator and analyst Josh Bersin has written about “the big shift” within performance management. The previous norm of a year-end annual review (what he calls the “competitive evaluation,” where the goal is rating and ranking your employees) has been shifting over the last two decades to what he defined as the continuous “coaching and development” model. It focuses on trying to help all employees grow and perform better, with the managers acting as coaches, rather than supervisors like they were in the old management hierarchy.

His assessment of performance management today includes check-ins and feedback as a way to manage the day-to-day work and ongoing goals that will continue to be a part of the performance measurement and review process.

Most organizations tend to go for the best of both worlds, supplementing their annual or recurring review cycles with continuous feedback. According to our legal industry surveys, 90 percent of law firms plan to retain annual reviews and enhance them with real-time feedback.

What is real-time feedback and why should we care about it?

Real-time feedback (RTF) is a performance management strategy that consists of providing and tracking continuous feedback on an employee’s work throughout the year. It’s a critical piece in any comprehensive performance management process, and can integrate with annual performance evaluations.

What are the benefits of real-time feedback for an organization and its employees?

For the organization
  • It fills the feedback gap between annual evaluations: The gap between annual reviews puts performance at risk. If an employee’s struggles go unnoticed until the end of the year, it can affect their development, as well as the quality of work the organization is putting out as a whole. For professional services organizations, this can negatively affect client engagement and the organization’s bottom line.
  • It course corrects individual performance with instantaneous feedback on work: When feedback is less frequent, there’s more time for problems or bad habits to develop. RTF is about knowing how people are doing on any given day, no matter where they are working from, and giving them quick and precise help along the way.
  • It cements and strengthens coaching and mentoring relationships: Access to feedback on an employee can educate and orient mentors, especially when it comes from multiple sources. They’ll get a holistic view of the employee’s performance so they can further understand, coach, and help them.
  • It nurtures a more engaged and higher performing workforce: Employees that are consistently recognized and told how they can improve are going to perform better and feel more satisfied at your organization.
  • It can make a huge difference in recruiting and retaining employees: When you’re competing to attract and keep top talent, a proven system of frequent recognition and guidance can set you apart from headhunters and big salaries.
For specific roles
  • Leadership
    • Improves retention, which saves money on hiring and training
    • Increases productivity and aligns performance
    • Helps build a culture of transparency and trust
    • Identifies where development and training is needed
    • Gives better visibility of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses with accurate and unbiased data
  • Partners and Managers
    • Improves management and coaching skills
    • Enables better understanding of their team’s performance and how to improve it
    • Identifies opportunities to correct performance issues and reinforce strong performance
    • Fuels a faster, easier, and more accurate year-end review processes
  • Professionals and Staff
    • Helps them plan growth and development to achieve their goals
    • Motivates them and makes them feel recognized for their accomplishments
    • Gives them ownership over their career trajectory and growth potential
    • Lets them know if they’re on the right track or need to adjust their performance
    • Younger generations, like Millennials and Gen Z, get the instant feedback they value and expect

62% of Millennials have felt “blindsided” by a performance review.

74% frequently feel “in the dark” about how their managers and peers think they’re performing at work.

85% would feel more confident in their current position if they could have more frequent performance conversations with their manager.

Source: TriNet survey

How is real-time feedback used in professional services organizations?

Though any organization can utilize RTF as a way of taking snapshots of an employee’s performance, professional services organizations such as law firms, consulting firms, and accounting firms are particularly suited to it due to the nature of their client work.

For their staff, they can base their feedback on the employee’s responsibilities as a whole, or a specific issue the employee needs guidance on. For their lawyers, consultants, or associates, who are likely billing hours on multiple client projects, they have the option of attaching feedback requests to specific projects.

RTF software that supports project feedback can import work directly from billing systems and suggest feedback requests at project checkpoints or billing thresholds. Though professional services industries and organizations can vary in their project structure and the role feedback plays, there’s always a context to set that makes sure their feedback is relevant and targeted to the work.

Continue to the next chapter