Ask an Adviser: How can managers improve feedback and performance reviews?

By Kizen - Employee Benefit News - May 5, 2022

Welcome to Ask an Adviser, EBN’s weekly column in which benefit brokers and advisers answer (anonymous) queries sent in by our readers. Looking for some expert advice? Please submit questions to askanadviser@arizent.com. This week, we asked John Winner, CEO of Kizen, to weigh in on the following:

How can our managers improve feedback and performance reviews?

Most managers are tasked with giving feedback to their employees, but far fewer are given the tools or training to do it well. Many default to what their managers once did, but this isn’t necessarily what employees need to maximize their performance and happiness.

While succinct feedback and clear expectations are important, the focus of manager-employee meetings should be simple: to help workers create a work experience that best supports their growth, life and career goals. By doing this, companies help employees be both happier and more valuable. Thus, a better frame could be treating performance reviews as “career-planning conversations.”

The best way to begin those conversations is to ask employees what they want. Is it a promotion? A certain annual income? A level of flexibility? Are they satisfied with their current level of responsibility and daily tasks? Of course, employees often don’t know what they want, especially early in their careers. Managers can help employees shape those goals by advising them and introducing them to potential mentors.

These goals don’t have to be 30-year plans, but moving targets that evolve as employees move through life. We operate in an era of unprecedented workplace mobility – if workers don’t find a path that fits them internally, they’ll soon look for it externally.

Once goals are established, the manager and employee should plan together toward realistic outcomes. A good employee might want to work 30 hours a week in one phase of life, then 60 hours a week in another. They can be extremely valuable to the company in both cases, but it takes clear communication to make those arrangements work.

Other employees look forward to promotions and more responsibility. For them, it’s helpful to align with managers on what the path to the next promotion or more responsibility is, and whether the worker is on that path. Companies whose title structure doesn’t permit promotions within a shorter timeframe should consider revising it, which can be done easily by stratifying existing levels into smaller groups. It can be difficult to know if you’re moving in the right direction when your only significant waypoints are several years apart.

Feedback needs to be a two-way street: managers and the company as a whole are only succeeding if employees on the front lines are succeeding. The best way to ensure helpful feedback flows both ways is to foster a culture of honesty and transparency. Critically, this involves recasting the manager as a trusted adviser, partner and resource, not someone who can get employees in trouble.

Lastly, companies should use career-planning conversations as a chance to identify potential shooting stars – junior employees with high potential. A great way to do this is to regularly arrange skip-level meetings so that junior people with high potential can get facetime with senior people and more quickly get on a path to delivering on their full potential.

The stakes here are higher than you might think. According to a recent survey of knowledge workers released last month by Kizen, three of the top reasons for job dissatisfaction are directly related: someone’s manager, lack of opportunity for career advancement and lack of recognition. A better career planning conversation could solve all three issues, as well as drive lasting employee satisfaction and faster business growth.