Let ‘em know how they’re doing!

Remember former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who was fond of asking, “How’m I doin?! While Koch was more brazen than the typical modest Minnesotan, his need to know if he was measuring up to expectations is fairly universal. In the study of thriving workplaces that I’ve been writing about in this series on happy employees, offering performance feedback was identified as one of the four most important things managers should do.

The study authors Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Christine Porath, assistant professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, note in their article “Creating Sustainable Performance” (HBR Jan/Feb. 2012):

“Feedback creates opportunities for learning and the energy so critical for a culture of thriving. By resolving feelings of uncertainty, feedback keeps people’s work-related activities focused on personal and organizational goals. The quicker and more direct the feedback, the more useful it is.”

Once again, I think the good professors are spot on. While the annual performance review is an HR requirement, the best feedback happens in real-time (or as close to it as we can get). We do old-fashioned things like handwriting notes to congratulate a team member on a particularly job well done. But as a technology firm, we also enjoy using social media as a tool for feedback. We’ve set up a site, similar to Facebook but only for Intertech people, where we can post comments, questions, ideas and the like. I make it a point to “like” comments (when I actually do!) do everyone can see that I value their participation. This has become a very popular “social media” site at my company.

On a more formal basis, we employ KRAs — or Key Result Areas – as a tool for giving meaningful performance feedback. I can’t take credit for KRAs; that belongs to Dale Carnegie. But I can tell you that they’re a great tool for creating employee accountability. In my book, Building a Winning Business, I explain how we use KRAs to create alignment between an individual employee’s goals (and bonuses) and the company’s goals. Like company goals, each individual should have three to five KRAs for the year and they should be ranked in order of importance.

After defining KRAs, employees meet regularly throughout the year with their managers to make sure everyone is on track and has the resources they need to actually accomplishing their KRA goals. The beauty of this approach is that there are no surprises at performance review time. If someone has been missing the mark, KRAs allow for coaching and correction in real time.