Let’s Review, Shall We? How Software Is Transforming On-the-Job Feedback

April 14, 2016, 12:19 PM UTC
The Office
THE OFFICE -- "Performance Review" Episode 8 -- Aired 11/15/2005 -- Pictured: Steve Carell as Michael Scott -- Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBCU Photo Bank
Photograph by Justin Lubin — NBC via Getty Images

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Few people appreciate annual performance reviews, regardless of which side of the desk they’re sitting on when one happens. Some naysayers lament the loss of hours of time that could be spent on way-more-meaningful activities. Other pessimists consider them simply a compliance exercise meant to justify salary adjustments or disciplinary actions. Never mind the original intention: a forum for identifying career paths, encouraging employee growth.

Naturally, there is no shortage of tech startups that think they can fix this frustration. Their mission: Use data analytics to make on-the-job feedback available in the moment, when coaching or critique might actually make a positive difference.

Two I’ve interviewed in recent weeks are Kanjoya, which uses analytics to interpret potential language bias in written feedback or pinpoint cultural perceptions across teams; and WideAngle, an application that provides managers with data than helps refine one-on-one discussions. Another one that I’ve been watching closely, Y Combinator-backed startup Impraise, just disclosed another $1.6 million in seed funding this week.

That may seem a modest sum, but the list of noteworthy companies willing to test the idea of 360-degree feedback using software to guide humans keeps growing. General Electric (GE) loves the idea, as do professional services giants Accenture and Deloitte, and tech companies like Adobe (ADBE), Atlassian (TEAM), Dell, IBM (IBM), and Microsoft (MSFT). Zendesk (ZEN) even put formal reviews on hold. Instead, it uses Kanjoya’s software to evaluate employees on an ongoing basis through digital surveys. “If you can understand what motivates people to do better, then you can really unlock performance,” observes Zendesk’s vice president of human resources, David Hanrahan. “We’re coupling engagement and performance.”

Impraise co-founder and CEO Bas Kohnke says many of his company’s roughly 100 early customers are trying to separate feedback conversations from compensation discussions. “There’s a shift away from equating performance management with compensation strategy,” he claims.

WideAngle also embraces that philosophy, one reason it pitches mainly frontline managers and not human resources departments. “It’s easy to push this sort of thing off or lose track of what you should be doing, but this tool introduces accountability on both sides,” says Dave Henrichs, a regional sales manager for GE, who has been using the software for at least a year. “It’s the best way to finish my week.”

Do you ask for enough feedback?

The reality is most companies will never ditch annual reviews entirely. But any organization hoping to appease employees in their 20s and 30s should introduce a continuous feedback loop, suggests Adam Miller, CEO of human resources software company Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD), which sells tools for both. “The conversation has become too polarized,” he notes. “The answer is that you need to do both, and the reason is millennials.”

On that note, what’s your feedback?

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