Last week, we attended the NeuroLeadership Summit in New York. The goal of the summit was to “rethink organizations” by bringing together influential leaders in neuroscience and business. The research-driven approach led to great conversations and connections among attendees in learning and development, human resources, the C-suite, and business coaches working with large organizations. The Summit was held Nov. 1-3 at the Sheraton New York Times Square, and is the most recent of a series of events held by NeuroLeadership Institute over the past nine years.

The common thread between these companies was a focus on quality of conversation. Click To Tweet

Here are a few learnings our team took home on changing performance management and employee feedback.

Getting to Good Feedback

The trend in employee feedback is towards more frequent feedback, and more of it. But as leaders change feedback programs, the challenge is that more feedback won’t be better unless employees are able to give good feedback. But what is good feedback, exactly?

When employees ask for feedback, both sides feel less threatened.

First, it is more powerful to provide feedback that cites your own experience. Instead of saying, “Great job on that presentation,” which is not specific and could be countered by the receiver of feedback, it is better to say something like, “Your presentation really made me appreciate how practicing and preparing could pay off.” This is something nobody can argue with.

A wider shift needs to happen in terms of who initiates feedback. Rather than putting the impetus on managers to dole out feedback, the initiative can come from both directions. When employees or peers ask for feedback (or leaders ask their reports for feedback), both sides feel less threatened. This way, feedback happens more quickly and regularly, reducing bias and increasing comfort with feedback across the organization.

Feedback can be a favor that you do for people. It improves social capital by putting the receiver of feedback in control, allowing you to determine how much feedback you’d like to receive, how often, and the specific elements that you’d like to improve.

How to get there? New behaviors require conscious, deliberate effort. NLI recommends the “If, Then” plan to help us document tangibly what actions we will to take when a certain event occurs. For example, instead of making an abstract goal like “I will go to the gym more,” a more specific “If, Then” plan can be, “If it’s Monday and I don’t have a customer meeting at 9 a.m., then I will go to the gym and run on the treadmill for 30 minutes.” This dramatically increases the likelihood that goals will be met and behavior change will last.

Prioritizing Change Management

The audience at the Summit was especially enthusiastic about training. A new employee feedback program takes from 8-12 weeks to implement, based on estimations from Summit speakers. But what takes place during and after those weeks is changing.

For a new performance management program, the first year is about making sure the architecture works. Companies should have metrics in mind in order to prove the model is effective, but true results are likely to be more long-term. In year two, organizations can begin to focus on the execution.

The first year is about making sure the architecture works.

Other shifts in performance management that need to be accounted for during change management include manager capability and accountability. Feedback is a big trend and is a soft skill that leaders should not assume all employees have. There is also a shift from “performance” to “talent” — evaluations continue to exist, but nurturing talent is taking precedent over documentation and compliance.

Stories that are the stickiest are “entertainment forward.” Create a narrative to help key stakeholders process what you are trying to convey. Bring in data to prove that it is real. Research and narrative together will result in the strongest possible insight.

Shifting Performance Management

Organizations should rethink work environments from being “performance cultures” to being “practice cultures” — the route to high performance is about creating the space for trial and error, allowing people to test, learn, iterate, and improve, without fear of penalty or reprimand.

The focus on change was especially prevalent in discussions at the Summit. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but there are common themes. A successful performance management program should improve the quality of conversations, increase flexibility for employees based on department and communication style, increase manager accountability, increase the quantity of conversations and be paired with a strong change management program.

Several leading large organizations shared about their shifts in performance management. In Gap’s program, managers do performance check-ins monthly or quarterly, and ask employees what they did well, where they got stuck and what they will do differently in the future. At Microsoft, check-ins are held three times each year, while Cigna holds check-ins quarterly, asking employees what insights they will take away from the conversation and what actions they will take based on these insights. Despite the variations in performance check-in questions or frequency, the common thread between these companies was a focus on quality of conversation.

To learn more about the impact of neuroscience on organizational leadership, check out our post on the key to giving constructive feedback the right way.

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