From Feedback to Feed Forward

“There’s less of a focus on the score,” said Stacia Sherman Garr of Bersin & Associates. “If you’re given a 4.3 and I’m given a 3.9 on a five-point scale, the message in a coaching and development organization, to each of us, is you’re about a 4. Now, let’s talk about what you can do in the future.”

Garr said the increase in the number of companies that subscribe to the coaching and development model of performance management is a direct result of the current business climate. In a poor economy when companies cannot always afford merit-based compensation, coaching is a strong alternative.

“For managers, coaching is a relatively cheap way to say you still matter to us as an employee and we want you to make a future here,” Garr said. “We just can’t compensate you at the level we have in the past.”

Coaching also has implications for other facets of talent management such as recruiting. For instance, as companies continue to grow globally, coaching can add weight to the employee value proposition and sway prospective talent to choose one company over another in competitive international markets.

There are also generational implications. Domestically, the growing millennial workforce expects regular coaching as part of day-to-day business, Garr said.

Yet, managers struggle to provide effective feedback. A survey by Cornerstone OnDemand and Harris Interactive from December 2011 found just 37 percent of the more than 2,000 adults surveyed said they had been given useful feedback as part of a performance review.

“It’s not just managers who don’t like giving feedback,” said Marc Effron, president of the Talent Strategy Group. “People don’t like giving feedback. It goes against the fundamental nature of who we are as human beings. We are generally conflict avoidant, and because of the way we have typically thought of feedback as a form of conflict, the average manager avoids it.”

Effron said managers need to look at performance not as feedback, but rather as “feed forward,” a term coined by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith. In a feed forward approach, managers give guidance about what needs to be changed in the future, rather than harping on past problems.

Talent leaders also should make an effort to give managers feedback. Managers will give stronger feedback only after they fully understand their own tendencies and the way their company functions.

“Managers need to understand where they are today, what their underlying beliefs are, their personality,” Garr said. “It’s also critical that employees are taught what techniques [for coaching and development] worked here, versus somewhere else” (See sidebar).

While each company develops nuances to its coaching and development program, most subscribe to the idea that coaching is only effective if it happens constantly.

“We are moving from the annual review to a collaborative, ongoing business process where people are constantly talking to each other about their goals and how they’re doing,” Garr said.

Maintain a Constant Feedback Loop