Company Culture

Performance Enablement is the New Performance Management

Vanessa Kahn
December 19, 2023
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Why you should enable, not manage, performance

Have you ever walked away from a performance review feeling frustrated, surprised, and unmotivated? If the answer is “yes,” then you have fallen victim to the typical pitfalls of performance management. According to SHRM, only one in four companies in North America said their performance management processes were effective. 🤨  

So, if we know performance reviews are broken, then why do we keep approaching them in the same way? The truth is: it’s complicated. 

Let’s address this simple truth to get to the root of the problem: employees don’t want their performance to be managed. The term itself implies that someone else has control over their growth. Traditional performance management is often reactive, meaning employees typically only hear from managers when they have done something wrong—eroding employees' confidence. Moreover, this system focuses largely on annual reviews that can stagnate year-round employee development. 

Traditional performance management often leaves employees feeling controlled rather than empowered. There is a solution, but it will take work from every company employee, and an organizational paradigm shift from once per year performance assessment to always-on performance empowerment. 

--> See how Mindbody uses Bonusly to empower managers and cultivate high-performing teams

measuring performance

Defining performance enablement

Performance enablement is a people-centric practice that decentralizes feedback and allows employees to take ownership of their growth while empowering managers to inspire top performance. Employees are enabled to learn, make mistakes, and grow in their roles through consistent, real-time feedback. Timely feedback is coupled with meaningful resources, manager-led coaching, and regular goal check-ins: equipping employees to reach their full potential on their terms. 

Feedback: the catalyst for enablement

We’re here to tell you that feedback is not a four letter word—at least it doesn’t have to be. 😁Consistent feedback creates the conditions needed to enable performance. Here’s how consistent feedback (both positive and constructive) can impact your team: 

  1. Improve motivation: Workplace recognition motivates employees to keep showing up to do good work. 
  2. Increase psychological safety: When employees are regularly recognized for their contributions and reminded of their value, they feel safer to take risks and learn from mistakes. Regular recognition also makes constructive conversations easier.
  3. Improves performance: Feedback, both positive and constructive, is a form of clarity for employees. Employees are made aware of the behaviors they need to start, stop, and continue in order to be successful at work. This investment in feedback pays dividends for your company too. According to Gallup, “employees are 3.6 times more likely to strongly agree that they are motivated to do outstanding work when their manager provides daily (vs. annual) feedback.”
  4. Strengthen connections: Public recognition programs highlight accomplishments and wins, helping teams feel aligned in their purpose and priorities.
  5. Empowers employees: With traditional performance reviews, only 21% of employees feel like their performance metrics are within their control. Moreover, when surveyed, 96% of employees said they wanted timely feedback. By enabling a culture of continuous feedback, employees get helpful and future-facing feedback that they are empowered to implement immediately. Plus, businesses benefit by seeing immediate rectifications of unproductive behaviors instead of waiting for annual performance reviews.  
smiley rating scale

How to enable performance: 9 ingredients of  effective feedback

In order to enable performance you’ll need to build a culture of trust and transparency that allows for both positive recognition and constructive feedback. We’ve covered how to give effective recognition; Let’s walk through the main ingredients of effective employee feedback. 

mixing ingredients

Ingredient 1: Continuous

Feedback should be immediate, highlighting strengths before addressing areas for improvement. This is essential to create opportunities for the recipient to implement feedback to promote motivation and growth.

Let’s illustrate this idea through a scenario: 

An individual contributor has just presented an update to the entire leadership team. Their presentation is thorough, well-prepared, and data-backed. However, they sped through the presentation, making it difficult for the audience to react to and ask questions. 

  • For the feedback giver: Ensure your feedback is immediate and leads with all of the things the recipient did well in the presentation. Then, be direct about the things they could have done better. In order for this feedback to be motivational, ensure the recipient is given opportunities to enact the feedback they received. In this case, give them another opportunity to present to the leadership team, allowing them to take more time with their presentation and pause for questions and comments. Then, ensure that you’re paying attention to the next presentation and recognizing them for any improvements they’re implementing. 
  • For the feedback receiver: The feedback described in the scenario above is motivating because it is digestible, straightforward, and implementable. This feedback also allows the recipient to take control of their growth and decide how to implement the behavior change.  

This scenario also avoids the typical pitfalls of performance management, which is that it’s once per year and a surprise to the recipient. By enabling feedback in real-time, the receiver has time to make improvements and even cite those improvements in their performance reviews. 

Ingredient 2: Future-facing

Feedback should be future-oriented, emphasizing improvement rather than dwelling on past mistakes. As we mentioned in ingredient one, ensure the recipient feels like they will have opportunities to implement the feedback you’re sharing with them. This growth mindset will increase employee ownership over their development and improve trust between the direct report and manager. 

Ingredient 3: Effective coaching, training, and tools

Equipping employees with the right resources is vital for their success. Providing coaching, training, and tools ensures they have the support needed to thrive. Of course, employees should be empowered to find tools on their own, but it’s also important for your organization to provide resources to all employees and managers. The resources provided should be linked to skills the employee is looking to develop based on past feedback. 

Ingredient 4: Balanced

If all your employees hear from you is constructive feedback, they’ll be less motivated to improve their performance. Imagine each employee has a feedback bank:positive feedback is to deposits as constructive feedback is to withdrawals. Though both are a gift to the recipient, they have different impacts on the employee’s emotional balance (pun intended).🤑Constructive feedback will be more effective and better received if it is balanced with consistent “deposits” of positive recognition

💡Pro tip: Train your organization on the 5:1 rule when building a culture of feedback at your company, meaning employees should receive five pieces of positive recognition for every piece of constructive feedback.

Ingredient 5: Objective and fair

Feedback should be impartial and fair, fostering a sense of trust among employees. In order to avoid bias in performance enablement, it’s important to understand typical ways we aren’t assessing performance fairly. So, let’s talk about a few of the key biases to avoid when giving feedback: 

  • Recency bias: Recency bias is the idea that managers more heavily weigh the recent accomplishments (or shortcomings) of employees when assessing performance. Instead of considering the whole review period, perhaps six months, our brains tend to focus on what has most recently occurred, skewing our perception of performance. Using an always-on recognition tool, like Bonusly, can help combat recency bias by allowing managers to review feedback for the entire review period, instead of just what’s available in recent memory. 
  • Identity bias: Often reviews are biased based on employee attributes like race, age, gender, and more. According to a study conducted by Textio
“Women get 22% more personality feedback than men. Black and Latinx people receive 2.4 times more feedback that is not actionable than white and Asian people do. People over 40 are three times more likely to be described as unselfish than younger workers.”

Two key ways to mitigate identity bias in feedback are to:

  • Train employees, managers, and leaders on how to avoid unconscious bias. We like this one
  • Ensure feedback prompts are objective and evidence-based. 

Though performance enablement doesn’t solve all biases, it does reduce the frequency of bias by forcing managers and employees alike to react to performance in real-time and focus on positive ideas for future improvement instead of forced retroactive assessment. 

Ingredient 6: Clear

As the ever-wise Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind.” Clear, straightforward feedback allows recipients to interpret and apply the guidance to their advantage. Don’t waste a learning opportunity on unclear feedback, because bad feedback can be just as damaging as no feedback at all. Be specific with ways you think the individual could improve and how it would impact you or the team if they were to implement the behavioral change. 

Ingredient 7: 360°

A single perspective of an individual’s performance will inherently be biased. By gathering multiple perspectives, employees can look for patterns on what’s most important for them to spend their time on improving as well as the behaviors they should continue. 

Ingredient 8: The right time with appropriate context

This ingredient is pretty self explanatory. Make sure the feedback recipient is in the right headspace to receive constructive feedback. One way to find out? Ask them! The question can be simple and doesn’t have to be scary, go with something like: “Hey, I loved how you approached the new messaging project and used data to guide your decisions. I have a few ideas for how you would structure the user interviews next time around; would you be open to hearing my feedback in a 15-minute call today?” 

This works because you’re asking the receiver to opt-in to receive feedback and avoiding blindsiding them with a calendar invite with no context. This way, they have time to gather their thoughts and they have the context they need to be receptive to what you have to say. The end of a project or initiative is also a natural time to provide feedback and employees expect it. Take advantage of the existing workplace cadences instead of reinventing the wheel. 

Ingredient 9: Emotional intelligence

Giving great feedback and having it land with the recipient takes emotional intelligence. Though the idea of emotional intelligence is a soft skill, and therefore hard to teach, here are a few questions you and your employees can ask before giving feedback: 

  • Is the feedback I am giving about a recent situation? 
  • Is the feedback recipient in a headspace to review my feedback? 
  • Am I in a headspace to respectfully deliver feedback? 
  • Is this an appropriate setting for constructive feedback? (Remember, positive feedback should be given publicly, and constructive feedback should be given privately.)
  • When was the last time I gave the feedback recipient positive recognition? 
  • Do I have a trusting relationship with the feedback recipient? 
  • Am I emotional or upset? Can I temper my emotions while delivering feedback? 
employees holding up hearts and keys

The Takeaway

There you have it, the nine ingredients that make up effective feedback. We hope you’ve learned that performance enablement is the antidote to the frustrations of traditional performance management. When done right, your employees will be empowered, you’ll foster a culture of continuous feedback, and your teams will be performing at levels you’ve never seen. By recognizing achievements, providing effective feedback, and promoting a future-focused mindset, you can unlock the full potential of your employees and create an environment where performance blooms. 

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