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5 Essential Elements of a Feedback Loop

Kirsten Maas Helvey

COO, Cornerstone OnDemand

This is the first post in our CHRO Community Series, which highlights big ideas from CHRO's working to push the boundaries of HR and transform their organization for the better. This first mini series will focus on improving systems of feedback within organizations.

Lately, it seems as though companies are going to extremes to find the most effective way to provide feedback to their employees. Microsoft, Deloitte and Accenture have made headlines with their radical decision to drop performance reviews in favor of continuous feedback methods, while some are sticking solely to ratings systems, and still others are attempting to reimagine the entire process.

But let's not overcomplicate things here. The truth is, the concept of feedback has been around for over 2,000 years—and in that time a lot has been learned about exactly what it takes to establish a successful "feedback loop," which takes the output of a system (in this case performance reviews or weekly feedback) and adjusts the input in order to achieve the desired results. While different companies have various needs when it comes to talent development, a successful feedback loop typically includes these five elements at its core.

1) Get Everyone Involved in the Process Early On

Successful feedback systems are rooted in the respective organization's mission and values, and have buy-in from their executives and employees. Not only does this bring legitimacy and authority to the entire feedback process, it increases the likelihood that the system will result in actionable change. Before leading your feedback revolution, gather thoughts from each of your employees: What do they like or not like about the current system? How frequently do they want to give and receive feedback? After giving feedback what action do they want to see taken? All of these questions will help you figure out what is working well with the current system and how you can improve it moving forward. Getting everyone on the same page and contributing ideas will ensure people feel personally accountable for the system's success.

2) Focus on More Than Just the Data

Data collection is part of every feedback process, whether you are implementing an annual performance review or having your weekly check-in. But keep in mind that while the data will be helpful to uncover long term trends and insights the ultimate goal of having a system of feedback is to find ways to improve the employee experience and the organization as a whole. It's not about just getting answers to the designated questions or adding another data point into the system, it's about building relationships with your employees so that they feel valued and engaged in their work.

3) Analyze the Data to Make It Actionable

The work doesn't end after the surveys are turned in or the weekly discussion ends. Take time to process and analyze the information you have gained. Keeping the data organized in a performance management system can enable you to easily track trends, employee goals and identify areas for improvement.

4) Discuss Results with Employees

The most important part of a feedback loop is also where it most often falls short. Sharing any insights or findings you have with your employees is critical to keeping the cycle of feedback moving. Set up a time to chat with each person you reviewed and have an open and honest conversation about the results. Then work together to find ways for improvement and growth. By having these follow-up conversations, you demonstrate how much you value the program, increasing accountability and improving response rates in the future. A survey by Zenger Folkman, which looked into the feedback practices of 22,000 leaders, found that "employees are far more content, put forth extra effort, stay employed longer and have enormously better relationships with their manager if their leader provides effective feedback."

5) Create Opportunities For Employees to Take Action

The whole point of having a cycle of feedback is to enable you and your company to continuously improve and innovate based on the results of each cycle. But, when done correctly it does a lot more than just that: Having an effective feedback loop keeps employees engaged and invested in their work by making them feel valued by the organization, improves performance by putting employees on the most direct path to reach their goals and improves communication by giving employees dedicated time to speak to their managers and peers. And according to Gallup's State of the American Workforce Report, companies with engaged employees see a 240 percent jump in performance-related business outcomes compared to those without engaged workers. Make sure to continuously track both feedback and the actions taken by individuals in response to it so you can see the impact on your employees and the organization as a whole, and then find ways to continuously improve.

Photo: Creative Commons

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