October 21, 2021 Kasia Kubiak

Changes in employee assessment – constant feedback is the new normal

Is traditional employee assessment slowly becoming a thing of the past? And will it really be replaced by a process in which feedback is given to the employee on an ongoing basis? In this article you will find out what is behind this approach and how to implement it effectively.

In the traditional sense, performance management is a system of employee assessment based on one-sided observation by the superior (90-degree assessment), scoring, giving feedback and setting new goals for the employee. Unfortunately, this approach is ineffective in the new reality. And it is hardly surprising that many companies are abandoning it, offering their employees a solution for new times – constant feedback. Is it more effective than existing performance management?

Why are companies resigning from employee assessment?

Some sources report that as many as one third of American companies no longer conduct employee assessments. And while abandoning the process altogether is still not an option in many organizations, the traditional (90-degree) approach has been supplanted by 180, 270 and 360 assessments. Why are some abandoning it altogether?

The main arguments are:

  1. A rapid pace of change that quarterly reviews cannot keep up with. Talking about a project that ended 2–3 months ago is often not relevant to the current state of the company.
  2. Focusing on the past instead of growth – by definition, assessment is about what has already happened. Research confirms that employees are more likely to reject negative feedback if the conversation with their manager focuses on the mistakes they have made, rather than on how to avoid them in the future.
  3. High risk of error – this is especially true for errors made by the superior, who often draws conclusions based on limited information and evaluates through the lens of his or her experiences, likes and dislikes.
  4. Ambiguous impact on improving performance results – research shows that in one third of cases, the employee assessment process has a negative impact on the performance of assessed employees.
  5. Negative perceptions of employee assessment among employees as biased, inadequate and hurtful, and the process itself as stressful and even humiliating. The employee assessment system perpetuates a traditional organizational culture based on the subordinate-supervisor relationship, or the assumption that someone is better or worse or has more or fewer rights.
  6. Linking the assessment process to a pay raise or promotion that employees want, rather than allowing employees to take responsibility for their own development.
  7. A time-consuming process – CEB calculated that managers spend on average 210 hours per year on assessment processes, with as many as 58% of HR directors estimating that this time was not used effectively.

What do today's employees need?

There is another important reason why companies are increasingly abandoning employee assessment: cultural changes and related employee expectations. Generations X (Millenials) and Z, which are beginning to numerically dominate the labor market are characterized by high economic awareness and distrust of authority. They want to work in partnership with their superiors and expect open discussions and deeper relationships. They like to see the effects of their work, which is why it is so important for them to receive immediate feedback. This is a result of constant access to modern technologies and social media. Introducing a culture of constant feedback is a response to their needs, which along with external circumstances may change more often than once a quarter.

Ongoing (constant) feedback – for the benefit of both parties

Ongoing feedback means providing feedback to an employee as soon as a given task or project is completed. Some companies hope to modify their corporate culture to such an extent that the employee himself/herself requests it, seeing great value in this for the employee’s development and greater effectiveness. Both parties benefit – the employee, who receives valuable information about his or her work and realization of the set goal, and the organization, which can constantly monitor and modify the competencies of its people, updating them in accordance with the changing needs of the market.

Introducing constant feedback in an organization

The prerequisite for making the process effective is, first and foremost:

  • Introducing changes throughout the entire organization – involving all employees in changing the organizational culture. A proper understanding of the process and the benefits that employees and managers can derive from it is essential.
  • Leaders’ skills in providing feedback – supported by HR and training departments, managers constantly improve their skills, learning to provide feedback based on facts (specific behaviors) and reinforcing an employee’s strengths.
  • An effective system for not only monitoring and updating goals, but controlling the link between individual goals and the organization’s strategic goals.
  • Process simplicity, quality and immediate added value for the employee – providing feedback should not take too much time, but substantive value is also important.
  • Empathy and two-sidedness of the process – regular feedback is not an assessment, but a mutual discussion. What is important here is the leader’s willingness to get to know the employee. In this way, he or she provides information very precisely. Based on history and observed behaviors, the leader can better support the employee in the process of changing attitudes or behaviors.

Replacing periodic assessments with ongoing feedback will gain popularity, gradually displacing the traditional approach to performance management. This is an inevitable change that fosters an organizational structure based on trust and respect for employees. However, like any change, it requires time and proper preparation to implement, especially in the area of leadership competence development.

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