5 Steps to Getting a New Employee Feedback Program to Stick

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As head of people operations at BetterWorks, it’s my job to facilitate employee feedback and ensure our managers are well equipped to coach employees to meet their goals. Surprisingly, the very concept of feedback overwhelms many organizations today. Until recently, leading companies reviewed employee performance annually. Most of these traditional feedback programs are now seen as biased and infrequent, rendering them useless for employees.

However, when used correctly, feedback is extremely valuable to every company. In fact, one study  reported a 14.9 percent reduction in turnover rates in companies that implement regular employee feedback. Not only can open and honest dialogue enhance employee performance, but it can also ensure employees feel appreciated and engaged. Fostering a company culture that thrives on frequent feedback and open manager-employee relationships also leads to better brand reputation, making it easier to recruit and retain top talent.

We recently rolled out a new feedback program at BetterWorks called “Conversations,” and I’ve learned a few lessons from being in the trenches. My No. 1 priority was to be sure the program would be beneficial to both our company and our employees. Based on my experience, here are five steps to get a new feedback program to stick:

1. Leadership Buy-In

Adoption of a new feedback process (or any new HR process) begins with your leadership team. At BetterWorks, our CEO believes in manager-employee coaching and is actively engaged in giving and receiving feedback, which noticeably impacts the rest of our leadership team and their willingness to jump on board. This enthusiasm trickles down to all employees, and they want to embrace the power of feedback, too. Empower your leadership team by teaching them how to give and willingly receive feedback – the rest of your team will learn from their cues.

2. Educate Your Team

Whether you are trading in an annual review program for weekly manager-employee check-ins or trying to open up avenues for managers to give their employees regular feedback, education is key. Like with any new HR program, failure to educate employees could result in low adoption rates.

Educate employees on the benefits of feedback as well as how to give and receive it. When we first rolled out Conversations internally, employees were reluctant to share substantial responses when prompted with questions like “What should my manager stop doing?” or “What should she start doing?” With extra education and encouragement, we’ve seen employee feedback responses improve greatly and become less vague from quarter to quarter.

waterfall3. Take It Slow

Cultural change takes time. Even leading organizations like Adobe and Deloitte have reported undergoing major change as they implement new performance management systems. In all cases, true change is slow. To create sustainable change, employees need time to adjust to new systems and processes. Remain patient and review your progress quarter over quarter so you can see the change happening over time.

4. Understand the Difference Between ‘Feedback’ and ‘Coaching’

There seems to be a common misunderstanding about “feedback” and “coaching.” Both are crucial to success in today’s workplace, and although they are two separate processes, they should remain closely intertwined.

“Feedback” can range from quick pulsing of your employees to written responses from managers to employees each quarter. “Coaching,” on the other hand, is the regular development of employees. The best managers give regular, real-time feedback, but also meet at least quarterly to coach and develop their employees. It is most effective when the two run in parallel.

5. Leverage Transparency

Feedback can happen away from managers, and peer feedback can play a starring role in the feedback process. When you find a way to make employees’ goals and progress on those goals transparent, their colleagues can see their progress and offer them encouragement, praise, or even assistance when needed.

Without a feedback system in place, you risk employees feeling undervalued, underappreciated, and disengaged at work. OfficeVibe  reports that 39 percent of employees don’t feel appreciated at work and about 40 percent are actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback. Getting a feedback program to stick takes time and commitment from your HR and leadership team, but it is well worth the effort.

Tamara Cooksey is head of people operations at BetterWorks, a company that provides enterprise software for powering performance with goals, feedback, and data,

By Tamara Cooksey