Are the BBC right to scrap appraisals? The future of feedback

Receiving feedback and acting upon it is a vital ingredient in the development of both employees and leaders in business today, Marielena Sabatier says

The BBC has recently announced that it has replaced staff appraisals with performance development reviews. Instead of employees being appraised by their managers, the reviews will enable staff and managers to have an honest two-way conversation with each other.

The idea behind the move is that these conversations should not just be about one person appraising the other’s performance but an opportunity to discuss their role, their career ambitions and development, as well as receive feedback on their work over the past year.

While some critics have mocked this change, focusing on feedback and development is important – and not every company gets it right.

Performance reviews often have negative associations with the vast majority of people dreading them. A CIPD[1] survey carried out in Autumn 2014 found that almost a third described their performance management systems as unfair, while one in five felt that managers didn’t effectively communicate objectives and expectations.

However, everyone needs feedback in a business – from the leaders to the most junior members of the team. Receiving feedback and acting upon it is a vital ingredient in the development of both employees and leaders in business today.

Deloitte is another company that has recently announced changes to its appraisal system. Last year it conducted a survey and found that more than half of executives (58 per cent) believe their current performance management approach drives neither employee engagement nor high performance.[2]

Deloitte worked out how much time it spent on the appraisal process and discovered the whole process cost the organisation two million hours a year. In a radical overhaul, Deloitte decided to do away with the traditional annual review and replace it with a three-step process:

  • Variable compensation to recognise performance
  • Four simple questions for each team leader about each of their team members focusing on what they would do with them rather than what they think of them, for example, ‘Is this person ready for promotion, yes or no?’
  • Every team leader to ‘check in’ with each team member once a week

Deloitte’s research also found that its best team leaders conducted regular check-ins with each team member and that these brief conversations allowed leaders to set expectations for the upcoming week, comment on recent work and provide coaching and feedback.

The company recognised that regular feedback is an essential ingredient in their best performing teams. Receiving and acting on feedback can ensure greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of how people can improve their performance.

To benefit from feedback, people need to learn how to react to it. Understandably, most are nervous of feedback – no one wants to hear anything negative about their performance.

However, so-called negative feedback is just as important as positive feedback. If executives find out where they went wrong they can use the information to do better next time.

When receiving feedback, it’s important that people aren’t defensive about it. Instead, they should be curious about how others perceive them and see the exercise as an opportunity to learn – even if the feedback doesn’t resonate with their own views. Second opinions can always be sought to determine if something is a universal perspective or the opinion of an individual.

Being open to feedback, whether it is positive or negative, will enable a person to improve their self-awareness and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

People should never be afraid to ask for feedback even when it is not offered. In fact the more senior a person is, the more important it is for them to ask for feedback, from their staff as well as their own managers, because people don’t tend to offer it to them freely. Senior executives need to ask the person providing the feedback what they could have done differently.

It is worth bearing in mind that asking for feedback is only useful if the recipient plans to work on any areas for improvement highlighted. Further feedback sessions are recommended too, to ensure the self-improvement measures put in place have been successful a few months further down the line.

With large organisations such as Adobe, Expedia, Motorola and Microsoft all scrapping their traditional appraisal systems in recent months it seems the BBC is just the latest in a long line of companies looking to adopt a more informal approach to performance management.

As we move into this new era of giving and receiving feedback informally, and whether it is termed a ‘check-in’ or a ‘conversation’, it is worth remembering the words of William Hazlitt, who wrote in the 1800s “The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”





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