Eric Barton (BBC – 26 May 2015)

Sherry Finkel Murphy keeps folders in her email that might initially appear strange if you were to peruse them. They are almost entirely boastful messages from her employees, reminding her of their recent accomplishments, or letters of praise from other department managers.

Murphy, a sales coach and a business unit executive at IBM, has asked her employees to send her emails anytime something goes right. It’s not a formal policy. It’s just her way to regularly keep track of their progress and remind herself to give people regular feedback.

“Managers should understand evaluations are not just about HR compliance and paperwork,” Murphy said from her office in Saratoga Springs, New York, in the US. “It’s about paying attention to the employee and putting time into their career development.”

Murphy’s technique of using emails to kick-start feedback is indicative of the way good evaluations are done these days. Most companies require managers to only conduct formal yearly reviews. But effective managers provide employees with ongoing feedback, perhaps monthly or weekly or even daily.

“Most companies are questioning the formal review process, and if they’re not already, they should be,” said Philippe Gaud, affiliate professor of management and human resources at the business school HEC Paris.

The trick is figuring out just how much feedback each employee needs. Many millennials will want updates perhaps daily, while older workers will often see that much contact with the boss as a sign something is wrong. If you determine an employee needs a weekly review meeting, make sure it’s something you can maintain before you promise it, Gaud said.

Listen more, talk less

Once you begin, the first step is listening more than talking. “When you’re a new manager, you are often nervous during the evaluations and you tend to speak too much,” Gaud said. “But your first capacity should be to listen to the person in front of you.”

Listening also means allowing employees to help set their own goals, according to Antoinette Weibel, professor of human resource management at University of St.Gallen in Switzerland.

“You ask them, ‘Where do you want to excel and how do you get there?’ and then you work out goals together,” Weibel said.

Then, those regular feedback meetings become check-ups on the goals your employees helped set. Meeting a goal should obviously come with positive feedback, but failing to hit a benchmark doesn’t necessarily mean your employees should hear something negative, Weibel said. Negative feedback typically creates a negative effect, so instead reviews should discuss how they could do it differently next time and how they could avoid problems happening again.

“Feedback is always best if it can give the employee room for improvement,” Weibel said. “The result should be an employee being more engaged than when the review began.”

If you have employees spread out over the globe, it’s important to know they won’t all expect to see feedback the same way. Weibel said employees in her native Switzerland expect to have a say in their goals and how their success is perceived. Meanwhile, employees in countries dominated with command structure management, like in the Middle East or Southeast Asia, may expect the boss to be more active in setting goals.

An ongoing evaluation

However the goals are communicated, no employee should learn how they’re doing at a once-yearly review, Gaud said. By then, any problem or success they’ve been having should have already been documented and discussed during regular assessments.

The end result of ongoing and constructive evaluation, Murphy said, is a highly functioning team. Replacing the yearly review with regular feedback equals employees who know they can have a conversation with their boss about goals, instead of a hierarchical system where new ideas aren’t welcome.

Murphy’s system of collecting emails involves creating a folder for those who report to her. She asks everyone to send her emails on their successes, and she also sends herself emails with reminders about when things have gone wrong. That way, she has information to hand whenever she needs to review where her employees stand. Just how frequently depends on the needs of the employee, but some kind of weekly talk is usual.

What all this means is that a manager can continuously capture the ups and downs, in addition to the more formal yearly review that’s likely required by HR.

“Managers who probably have a lot of other things to do need to make time to listen to their employees,” Murphy said. “I want to make sure the informal and formal evaluation channel is humming at all times.”


Managers can increase employee engagement with regular reviews. Here’s how:

  1. Schedule regular meetings and stick to them.
  2. Skip the speech. Go into reviews ready to listen.
  3. Give your staff the chance to set their own goals.
  4. Instead of negative feedback, find ways to avoid the error.
  5. Use regular feedback to set the stage for yearly reviews.