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5 reasons why your company needs real-time feedback

July 26, 2022 - 14 min read

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What is real-time feedback? 

Why is real-time feedback important?

5 benefits of real-time feedback

3 drawbacks to look out for with real-time feedback

4 steps to implement real-time feedback

We know that organizations are juggling a lot of priorities amid a lot of change and uncertainty. That means organizations need to be more agile than ever as priorities change, projects change, and directions change. 

That means that one feedback mechanism is more important than ever: real-time feedback

It’s in the moment. It happens immediately. It’s reactive but in a helpful way. 

In fact, real-time feedback is one of my favorite feedback mechanisms. Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial, but I like the instantaneous aspect to it. But here’s the thing: companies (and people) struggle with it. I struggle with it. 

After all, it’s not always easy to give feedback

HR practitioners and experts have been debating the effectiveness of the annual performance review for close to a decade. As a result, companies everywhere are seeking innovative solutions that will transform their traditional processes into continuous performance management.

Real-time feedback has also become a popular practice. In fact, it's proven to have incredible benefits. Here's everything you need to know about real-time feedback — and why it's one of the most effective types of feedback out there. 

What is real-time feedback? 

First, let’s understand what we mean by real-time feedback. 

Instead of waiting for the annual performance review for feedback, it's instant. Real-time feedback challenges us to do it differently.

For example, let’s say Patrick is a software development manager. He notices that Cara made a couple of coding mistakes in the last sprint. He points out the mistake when he notices it.

But he sees that in the latest system update, Cara made another mistake. He realizes that she must be moving too quickly or may have too much on her plate. Instead of waiting until the performance review, Patrick decides to provide real-time feedback in their one-on-one the next day. 

Let’s talk more about why real-time feedback is important — and how to reap the benefits. 

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Why is real-time feedback important?

Real-time feedback is important for a few reasons. The performance management process can be a clunky one. Generally speaking, performance management systems usually don’t account for ongoing feedback.

But real-time feedback is important because it helps to improve real-time performance. Real-time feedback helps to make sure your employees are course correcting on priorities. It helps them correct their mistakes and even make behavior changes. It also helps to encourage career development, especially in this fast-changing world. 

Encouraging real-time feedback at your organization sends a signal to your people that you’re supporting them every step of the way. When managers and direct reports exchange feedback throughout the year, individuals will naturally believe their managers care about their development (which they should!). 

Come review time, managers will have those feedback exchanges to reference in their reviews. When that review makes it back to the direct report, they’re not going to be surprised by anything they read. Overall, it can turn a negative experience at an organization into a positive one for the employee. 

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5 benefits of real-time feedback

It can help increase employee engagement 

Employee engagement is the backbone of the success of any organization. So when it comes to feedback, it’s an important aspect to keep employee engagement high

There’s data behind the power of real-time feedback. In fact, Gallup data show that when employees receive meaningful feedback in the last week, they’re almost four times more likely to be engaged

Instant feedback is faster to write than performance reviews

One of the most common complaints about the annual performance review is that they’re too time-consuming. The average manager spends up to 210 hours per year completing performance reviews. In turn, their direct reports each spend 40 hours on their reviews.

Compare those hours of essay writing, with the 5 minutes it takes to write a couple of sentences of feedback. When people take the few minutes needed to provide real-time feedback, they’re not only providing information that can be used in the moment. They’re also making it easier on themselves come review time. Those little moments of feedback can be used to piece together reviews quickly and shave hours off the process.

Those little moments of feedback can be used to piece together reviews quickly and shave hours off the process. Think of the 5 minutes it takes to deliver real-time feedback as a time-saving investment for the next review cycle.

Feedback makes the review experience better

The review experience is one of the components of the review process that is commonly overlooked by HR teams. But it's a focal point of the people enablement approach to performance management. In this approach, HR teams strive to implement a review process that makes people feel supported. It's one step closer to helping employees reach their full potential

Without this focus, performance reviews can leave a lasting, negative impact on your company culture. Traditional performance reviews tend to make people feel judged like they’re “just a number” among everyone else. They can breed toxic competition, and introduce unnecessary stress into their already stressful day-to-day.

It can help create a culture of recognition 

Employees want to be recognized for their efforts. Showing appreciation for a job well done goes a long way. A survey demonstrated that 83% of employees found timely recognition to be more fulfilling than financial rewards or gifts. Furthermore, several HR experts are now finding that focusing on improving an employee’s strengths, rather than weaknesses, boosts motivation.

To make strengths-based training work, managers must have more frequent discussions with employees to help them pinpoint and develop these skills. Managers who know their employees’ strengths are 71% more likely to have employees who are energized and engaged.

It can increase employee performance 

When employees are engaged, your business reaps the benefits. One of the biggest benefits of real-time feedback is that it helps increase employee performance

Let’s go back to the initial example of Patrick and Clara. Because Patrick was able to address Clara’s mistakes (and ask how to best support her), Clara could make changes. She realized that she was moving too quickly on projects and trying to balance too many priorities.

Patrick decided that her skills were best devoted to two important projects at hand. So, in his constructive feedback, he asked Clara to deprioritize smaller projects. 

Because Clara used her key competencies to focus on the feedback at hand, her performance improved. She was able to keep the feedback loop going in regular 1:1s to check in on how she was doing, too. Consistent feedback — and continuous feedback — helped improve her overall performance. 

3 drawbacks to look out for with real-time feedback

1. It can feel hierarchical 

Feedback, when done right, should be a loop. Generally speaking, feedback works best when it’s a two-way street. That means employees should have opportunities to provide upward feedback

Real-time feedback lends itself to be more common in the manager-employee relationship. That means that it can feel hierarchical or authoritative (like the manager is always providing the employee with feedback). 

If you’re a manager, make sure you encourage your team members to leverage real-time feedback. Invest in ways to build psychological safety and trust through building your inclusive leadership skills. By doing so, you’ll be able to keep that feedback loop open. 

2. It can feel nit-picky 

We’ve all had the micromanager, right? It doesn’t make for a great employee experience. 

With real-time feedback, make sure you’re not going overboard. There is such a thing as being nit-picky. Your employees will perform better if you instill a sense of trust and autonomy in them. If you’re constantly providing nit-picky feedback, it could deter their performance and experience. 

3. It can deter creativity

At BetterUp, we’re big fans of big picture thinkers. In fact, one of our high-impact behaviors is called practice imagination. 

Similar to the slippery slope of being a micromanager, real-time feedback risks hindering creativity. Big picture ideas might not always be doable. But it’s a launchpad for creativity, thinking outside of the box, and solving tough problems. 

Be careful about what instances you’re choosing to use real-time feedback. Sometimes, it’s better to lean on your coaching skills instead of your feedback tools to help guide a team member in the right direction. 

4 steps to implement real-time feedback

If you’re ready to start using real-time feedback, here are four steps you can take. 

1. Assess the right time and place for real-time feedback 

Make sure you’re using real-time feedback at the right time and place. If you’re providing employee feedback about larger behavior changes, it’s probably best to save feedback for a one-on-one.

But if you see a mistake or can call out something quickly and in the moment, real-time feedback is your best bet. Remember: real-time feedback is supposed to feel like informal, continuous feedback. If it’s a bigger conversation to be had, you might want to use a different approach. 

2. Be direct in your communication 

This goes for all feedback, not just instant feedback. We can’t stress enough how important it is to be clear and direct in your communication. 

If your team members aren’t sure what exactly they’re receiving feedback on, it’s likely you won’t see any change. 

3. Allow time for questions or follow up 

Are you making space for questions? Can you make sure you have the time to answer any questions your employees may have? 

Especially if you’re giving real-time feedback over Slack or some other messaging tool, it’s possible things can get misconstrued. Make sure you provide the space for follow-up. 

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4. Ask for feedback in return (or what you can do to support) 

Last but certainly not least, ask for feedback in return. Sometimes, this will be in the form of asking what you can do, as a manager, to support your employee. 

Your employees will value the opportunity to provide upward feedback — and to be heard. 

Start gathering real-time feedback

Empower your team — and your business — through a culture of feedback. By enabling real-time feedback, you'll reduce friction, increase productivity, and create a culture of employee engagement. 

But feedback isn't always easy. With BetterUp, your teams can be better equipped to give and receive feedback. Consider ways to provide access to personalized coaching to help your employees — and your organization — thrive.

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Published July 26, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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