It’s Valentine’s Day.
And you take time off to show affection to someone, or those you care about. Gifts are given and received; usually wine, flowers, candy and chocolates.
But how deep would you consider your relationship with your loved one(s) if this was the ONLY time in the entire year that either one of you showed any indication of affection? How easy do you think it would be for either one of you walk away from the relationship?
Asking (or telling) someone how much you care about them (or they, you) only once a year is like current company annual reviews. It is not an effective method of gauging employee performance and should be put to rest, replaced with regular and timely feedback.
In our survey of 121 employees who answered employees anonymously, most (95.3%) of the 121 employees who voluntarily participated in the poll prefer reviews at least once every 6 months. 37.4% prefer monthly and weekly reviews, while 27.9% prefer reviews as often as possible. The takeaway is that employees are human beings, and we prefer to receive feedback (whether messages of affection, commendation or reproach — we might get pissed off) as often as possible.
Every Step of the Way
Let’s try another scenario. A parent trying to encourage their child to perform better in school promises to take them to Disneyland if they score 100%. How do they get to 100%? The parent doesn’t care. How long would a transactional relationship like this last? How much can the parent give until the incentives are no longer effective?
The buying- and selling-like relationship between the parent and their child is also like the incentive programs that many organizations offer. If employees meet a certain KPI, they get a financial bonus or a trip on some nice, all-expense paid vacation. However, research has shown that most employees prefer intrinsic and more emotionally fulfilling rewards to financial incentives.
The idea is not to encourage you to go completely scrap your employee management system and KPIs. However, monitoring and motivating the processes between goal-setting and achieving the objectives are even more effective ways of accomplishing a goal.
You can visualize it as our imaginary parent talking to their child daily about their day in school, helping with the homework and communicating regularly. The parent knows at every point what stage the child is in terms of accomplishing the goal of 100% at the end of the term. There is a better relationship between parent and child, and if the child goes off-track, there is a better chance of making corrections to meet the targets.
Feeding Workplace Engagement
Now imagine someone (we’ll name them John Doe) who lives in the same town as his parents. While John Doe says he cares about his parents a lot, he hasn’t had a meal with them in the last month. Perhaps one month is not such a long enough time. Or maybe there are some underlying relationship problems between John Doe and his parents.
The (somewhat lacking) relationship between John Doe and his parents is like the relationship between managers and employees who work in the same environment but don’t have lunch regularly, or at least once a month.
While studies show that managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, in many organizations, the relationship between both parties is like that of John Doe and his parents. This underlines the importance of the management and managers to the overall development and engagement of employees in the organization.
Do these findings mean that a better relationship between managers and employees could enhance team performance? For instance, managers and employees work in the same location but never go out for lunch or dinner together. What do employees think about this? How much connection to their managers do they feel?
From our survey, most employees indicated that it is crucial and helpful to team performance to have lunch with their managers at least once a month. A majority however made it clear that they would prefer to not talk about work-related issues during lunch.
Employee Engagement = Human Relationships = Social Capital
Each of these relationship situations reflect existing dynamics in many organizations today. Employee engagement, in whatever form it takes, is primarily about human relationships. These relationships are called social capital, and determine — to a large extent — the success of any employee engagement effort.
Employees need regular and timely feedback. Some organizations — such as Microsoft, IBM and Adobe — have already abandoned annual feedback for more regular employee reviews. You should do the same and implement a more frequent feedback system that allows employees to have a better idea how they are performing.
If you can’t immediately change your organization’s annual reviews, at least we can take something from Anne Fisher’s How to Give an Annual Performance Review (If You Must) on Fortune — like letting employees understand how their roles help accomplish company goals. Also, don’t wait until Valentine’s Day to show your loved ones how much you care.
We also recommend having more frequent lunchtime outings with your colleagues and team members. Knowing your team better allows you to understand their strengths and weaknesses. And without directly talking about the workplace, managers can use this knowledge to provide feedback focusing on the drivers rather than the outcome itself, and increase employee performance.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary even defines engagement as “emotional involvement or commitment”. If you want better-engaged employees, create better emotionally involving relationships with them. Who knows, you could make lifelong friends, and drive employee engagement and performance in the process.
Have lunch with your team at least once a month. Just try not to talk about work.