In today’s increasingly competitive talent market, many companies are talking about abandoning annual performance reviews in favor of continuous performance feedback (CPF).

Why? According to a 2015 Deloitte Consulting global survey of more than 2,500 organizations, only 6% believed their current process for managing performance is worth the time, and more than half considered their performance management process “weak.” Managers are looking for opportunities to keep a finger on the pulse of their top employees, not only to assess their performance, but to understand the needs and wants that fuel their career ambitions.

CPF provides a two-way mechanism by which both employees and managers can regularly contribute to learning and development initiatives, ensuring the content is both timely and targeted to the individual.

However, designing and implementing a sustainable continuous feedback program can present a significant challenge, disrupting well-established systems and requiring that new training, tools, and mechanisms be put in place. Learning is still perceived by a high percentage of senior leadership as a “nice to have,” not a “must have.” Many companies are still learning how to align their approach to learning with their corporate strategy, and have yet to centralize their learning and development programs. This suggests a much longer than desirable time horizon for widespread implementation of CPF.

So – without falling back on the old annual review model, how can companies gather the input they need to build learning initiatives targeted to employees’ needs and wants? Input that can be integrated and assessed using proven tools and rigorous processes? Without waiting for a total overhaul of the performance management system? Consider coaching…

Coaching as an Input to CPF

Coaching and development programs constitute a significant step on the road to CPF. Coaching surfaces a wealth of information on employee wants, needs, and career advancement ambitions in real time, and in a highly usable form (assuming a well-designed, systematic approach).

But, based on my observations as a coach, much of that content either: 1) remains locked in confidential coach/employee notes or communication files; or 2) is available, but there is no mechanism, or only inefficient mechanisms, through which the employer/HR can collect and streamline the information to link employee performance to career growth and identify and track trends for different cohorts over time.

Of course, the confidential nature of the relationship between coach/mentor and employee precludes the employer from viewing “all.” Progress reports and coaching documents, however, should be made available to the employer, and specifics around what is to be shared should be discussed in advance with the employee being coached.

Coaches are often closest to an employee’s needs and wants. They may oversee performance feedback activities, such as sponsor and peer reviews, and will typically be among the first to know when an employee is in trouble. The HR team can benefit by partnering with internal and external coaches, sharing communications and documentation to glean valuable, ongoing performance feedback and to perceive trends over time, at both the individual and workforce level.

It’s worth pointing out here that coaching programs also help a culture of learning to take root in an organization, demonstrating a corporate commitment to individual success and advancement that impacts employee satisfaction, and translates into enhanced retention (a critical point in the “nice to have v. must have” conversation). And as top corporate leaders have discovered, coaching can also identify employees who would thrive in roles requiring greater skills, helping to accelerate their contributions to the organization’s growth.

Coaching Provides Structure and Tools

As noted above, coaching organically provides a means to gather, evaluate, and track employee performance along a career continuum. A thoughtful coaching program will often incorporate tools, such as psychometric tools and peer feedback, to bring relevance and specific goal alignment for coaching clients and the employer, based on performance targets for the current role as well as the next anticipated (or for accelerating progress in the current role).

For example, a DiSC® assessment provides information to the coaching client about his/her natural communication and behavioral styles and (unlike Meyers Briggs®) a clear guide for adapting one’s behavior and communication to people with different styles. DiSC coaching expert Chris Pavek notes that “teaching coaching clients how to identify other styles so they can communicate more effectively, and to adopt behaviors that foster positive interpersonal results, are core components of coaching with DiSC.” This tool also immediately generates insights into the coaching client that would otherwise take a coach several sessions to determine.

In addition to providing performance data and benchmarks, coaching can fit easily into the typical performance review process. The natural life cycle of a coaching program ensures iterative, regular performance feedback that can be continuously aligned with job requirements. Importantly, coaching programs typically are designed to fit the standard timeline of the review schedule. Performance needs are usually identified, articulated, and re-evaluated at the outset, midpoint, and conclusion of the coaching engagement, respectively, and in 60-90 day follow-ups.

Since job responsibilities and related competencies change rapidly, this real time feedback ensures invaluable, role-specific data for employers. It seems amazing, but some of our clients admit they have not updated their job competencies in more than 10 years!

Getting Practical

Here are a few tips from Springboards clients who have leveraged coaching tools and processes to enhance their performance review programs:

  • Set up quarterly checkpoints to review coaching reports and notes. (A good external coaching vendor should manage this process and include it in their partnership services.) The HR team should work closely with internal and external coaches to ensure they provide timely feedback.
  • Run periodic, anonymous surveys of all coached employees to get feedback on their coaching experience, and on how coaching addresses their ambitions, needs, and challenges. Such surveys not only provide useful performance data but also insights into how employees view their development. (For example, Springboards follows up our programs by administering a coaching intelligence survey to all coaching clients.)
  • Run focus groups for coached employees – once a year will do.
  • Communicate frequently with your coaches and mentors – they are often closest to your highest-value employees and, notwithstanding client confidentiality, can provide timely information to help you help your employees.

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