How to Move Away From Ratings & Drive a Feedback-Based Approach in an Appraisal Process


Large companies continue to denounce a ratings-based performance appraisal process in favour of a more agile, feedback approach via Continuous Performance Management (CPM). We provide lessons learnt on how to make a positive transition, enabled by technology.

In our daily lives feedback is becoming more common place, facilitated by a range of technology solutions. Social Media ‘comments’, ‘shares’, ‘reviews’ and ‘recommendations’ provide insight, reinforcement and social proof. Feedback on websites such as Which?, TripAdvisor, Just Eat, Amazon and eBay provide valuable data to help consumers make informed buying decisions. With this context in mind, it is no surprise that the desire for rich information can be seen to be migrating into the workplace.

More than ever employees are proactively seeking feedback. It has been proven that individuals within high potential populations demonstrate a consistent pattern of requesting opportunities to learn and do new things, as well as actively seeking and using feedback. This enables them to deliver exceptional value to their employers and navigate future stages of their career.

Millennials have grown up in a digital age where instant feedback is the norm and as a result, open two-way dialogue is welcomed. Both populations lack the patience for an annual appraisal process and the quality of ongoing discussion is key to maintaining their motivation and inspiring great performance.

Sadly, a body of research from organisations such as Deloitte, Accenture, Adobe, Microsoft and Gap has proven that the time, money and effort spent on annual ratings appraisal processes didn’t achieve what it was intended to – ultimately improve performance. Concerns about confidentiality, bias, authenticity and accuracy have plagued the traditional model compelling a need for change.

Learn more: Best Practices for Switching from Annual Performance Reviews to More Frequent FeedbackOpens a new window

Continuous Performance Management (CPM)

Continuous Performance Management is the practice of having regular, ongoing, one-to-one performance conversations between a manager and team member. It provides a shift in focus from looking at performance in mainly quantitative terms, to using both qualitative and quantitative data when discussing progress, success and development.

CPM is characterised by the provision of feedback, from a range of sources – increasingly via a 360 feedback process – and by regular reviews and adjustment in priorities and objectives in response to changes in the organisation, market or industry.  Through capturing the outcomes of ongoing performance discussions, a large amount of rich, detailed evidence can be gathered which equips a line manager to more effectively track the ongoing performance and achievements of the members of their team and confidently contribute to any merit-based reward discussions.  

The key to success

To ensure success, a transition from ratings to a feedback model should be viewed as a change programme with all the buy-in, communications, plan and support that such a programme requires. Considerations should include:

  • What’s in it for me? When positioning a new approach to your organisation it is imperative that a clear purpose is defined. Is the overall outcome designed to enable more agile ways of working, build a coaching culture, allow better career development, improve performance or increase engagement? By exploring these with your employees it will help to gain buy-in and provide transparency as to how the organisation will use the results and the benefits to be gained.
  • Strategic alignment.  A change in talent management practices needs to be clearly aligned with the strategic priorities for the organisation; Ensure that it is clearly written into your People Plan and that the change is properly resourced and budgeted for.  A shift of this nature can often be undermined if there is a lack of clear commitment or role-modelling at the top of the organisation; your senior leaders need to be seen to be actively and positively leading the way.
  • Take action– formalising action plans based on the feedback and reviewing quarterly shows commitment to those taking part. It also ensures the feedback is revisited and discussed regularly keeping the process alive, helping to embed it into the organisation’s culture.
  • Test, Reflect, Refine– start small by piloting your approach in key areas of the business to test your process and learn what works within your organisation and what support is required for successful change.
  • Create contagious commitment– in addition to your senior leadership team, identify key stakeholders to act as “Champions” to promote its worth and usefulness as a management tool. These may be a representative staff group, high potential talent or well-respected members of specific business areas. This group would then define and promote the organisational need.
  • Business as usual– For success, feedback should be accepted as part of everyday life within the organisation, for example is it a daily or weekly engagement? If the conversations are viewed as an ‘occasion’ or a formal meeting, the power of the authenticity of feedback can be lost.
  • Developing a feedback culture– Creating a safe, open, transparent environment for honest feedback, both positive and negative will be essential. Despite the fact that negative feedback is usually more difficult to receive, this can be the most valuable input to drive learning and positive change to improve performance. Individuals must be willing to embrace the culture with a genuine desire to improve personal, team and company performance.
  • Manager training– it is essential to train managers on both the process and the skills required to be more effective assessors of performance, manage their own biases and deliver feedback in a constructive, empathetic way. For example, raising managers’ awareness of how their own biases and shortcuts in thinking impact on their judgement can help them to challenge these biases and make fairer, more evidence-based decisions about people.

The role of technology

It is increasingly an accepted practice to use technology to give feedback as consumers and to see feedback from others to validate and contrast our views. This presents an opportunity in the world of work. Technology can support the change by:

  • Delivering a robust process- technology can automate, collate and interpret the data provided without laborious manual intervention so you can be confident that the process is running smoothly with minimum fuss, avoidance of human error and for maximum impact.
  • Offering a safe way to provide open and honest feedback– reducing the barriers people may feel when providing feedback face to face.
  • Giving accurate, real-time information– a good system will enable you to know that your new process and more regular check-ins are up and running – and taking place.  Look for systems that have a range of analytics, dashboards and reporting options.
  • Providing a customised solution, bespoke to the needs of your business– many systems can be configured to a look, language and workflow for each organisation. It is rarely cost effective to build a system from scratch, within the company.  Find a system that is easily customisable and which benefits from continuous investment in development and upgrading in line with good practice, customer input, technological advances and new thinking.

The case for change

Organisations who have made the transition to embed CPM and feedback into the heart of their business report many benefits. It can drive a learning culture, increase motivation, improve performance and retain key talent.  Change is rarely straightforward, there is comfort in a ratings system that is structured, standardised and where employees are assessed using the same scoring criteria. However by embracing the technological and cultural changes outside of the world of work, business remains current. Open, honest, authentic conversations engage employees, build trust and create an environment for all to succeed.

Learn more: How to Give Millennials FeedbackOpens a new window