Feedback and Performance Management
This topic looks at how feedback and performance management are handled in Teal organizations.
A New Perspective
The transparency inherent in Teal organizations means that all members of the organization are constantly receiving feedback, both implicitly - information is freely available about how the organization as a whole is doing - and explicitly - colleagues share openly with each other the thoughts and feelings they have about how individuals and the team are doing.
In Teal organizations, people are intrinsically motivated to perform through their commitment to the organization's evolutionary purpose. Performance is managed primarily at a team level through peer feedback and emulation. Information and results are openly shared and people are trusted to know how the organization and other teams are performing. Giving feedback is a responsibility shared by all and happens routinely at both a team and individual level. Feedback is especially powerful in a Teal organization because it is intentionally non-judgmental, and feedback is given in a spirit of open exploration and acceptance. Teal values the whole person, not just the job they are doing.
In contrast, feedback and performance management in earlier stage organizations can be summarized as follows:
In Red organizations, performance management is about the exercise of personal power. The boss demands that orders are obeyed without question to preserve an image of toughness and strength. Followers comply in the hope of protection and safety. Feedback is given in the form of rewards and punishments designed to reinforce the boss’s power.
In Amber organizations, performance management is about maintaining stability and control. Leaders often assume that workers are lazy and dishonest and monitor performance closely to ensure that orders are carried out properly. Those who conform are rewarded. Failure is addressed quickly. Repeat offenders risk rejection from the group/organization and a significant loss of status.
In Orange organizations, performance management is focused on the achievement of objectives and goals. Individuals are held to account by measuring (and rating) their performance against "stretch" targets set by management. Innovation and achievement are highly valued with outcomes measured through metrics (where possible). Feedback is a top-down process, focused on job performance and designed to encourage greater results.
In Green organizations, performance management is as much concerned about how work is carried out as it is about what is achieved. Strong values linked to an inspirational purpose provide guidance to help employees manage their own performance. Managers become servant leaders and seek to enable and empower those who are doing the front line work. Feedback occurs often through a 360 degree feedback process and is designed to nurture and support both individuals in their development and the culture of the organization
In a traditional Orange organization, performance is monitored through the deployment of a top-down performance management system ensuring the alignment of set individual objectives with strategic business targets. In this highly documented process managers and employees agree on objectives to be achieved. Hierarchy is fully responsible for meeting assigned business targets. Pressure is therefore put on employees to ensure targets are achieved and ideally exceeded through individual contribution.
Such a formal top-down performance tracking system does not exist in Teal organizations. In a self-managed Teal organization where there are no bosses, the drive to deliver results comes from intrinsic motivation. Teal organizations hold that people are motivated when their work has a meaningful purpose, when they are subject to healthy peer pressure and when they have access to accurate feedback from the outside world. They believe that people tend to become more deeply engaged, and achieve far more than is asked for, when they are doing worthwhile work with full responsibility and ready access to needed resources.
Although people do not need management pressure to perform, they still need to know how they are doing. For this purpose feedback is extensively used in Teal organizations with a primary focus on team performance.
In many organizations, the feedback process frequently fails because it comes from a place of fear, judgement and separation. Feedback given from love, acceptance and connection is a nourishing experience that allows people to gauge where they are and to work out collaboratively what they need to do next. Efficient feedback facilitates growth and enables people to align what the organization needs with what energizes them.
Even with open, healthy relationships, providing feedback when things don’t go as expected can be a challenge for some. Providing timely feedback about missed expectations or tensions is a key Teal practice to be embraced regardless of discomfort. Teal organizations are high on trust and low on fear. Being able to give effective feedback in this environment is a vital skill. Employees are often trained to use approaches such as Nonviolent Communication so that they can be mindful about their intentions and their practice when giving feedback.
Team performance management
Self-managed teams are the vital organs of a Teal organization. When people have a clear understanding of the purpose of their work and know what is expected, teams are more than capable of setting goals and organizing to achieve them. To support this way of working, information is openly shared about the performance of each team. This would be threatening in a more traditional organization, but is liberating in a Teal organization because people know that the information will not be used against them. No one needs to be protected from the facts, good or bad.
When teams are delivering similar work, as they do in Buurtzorg for instance, a team can easily assess their productivity compared to that of the other teams. Those at the bottom of the list are motivated by pride rather than fear to improve. More significantly, the other teams are ready and willing to share what they do and provide any help required. The work of the organization is more important than any ego driven competition between the teams.
When teams don’t do comparable work, some organizations have developed a different process. At Morning Star for example, teams prepare a presentation for their colleagues every year where they candidly share what went well, what didn’t, how efficient they were and what they plan to do in the year ahead. Teams that haven’t performed well are challenged and supported in equal measure. In the process they receive helpful feedback and input to help them make the necessary improvements.
Individual performance management
People are relational beings that thrive on honest feedback. Although the primary focus is on team performance, Teal organizations recognize that being able to give open, non-judgmental individual feedback to peers is vital. Some organisations such as FAVI have stopped having formal appraisal discussions because feedback is exchanged so freely. Most others still see value in having a formal period once a year to reflect on their work. These appraisals are naturally built around peer-based processes.
Peer-based feedback has the advantage of providing each individual with a broader, more meaningful perspective on their contribution. Feedback goes beyond the confines of a narrow discussion about the job and brings in a wider exploration of the person’s hopes, fears and sense of purpose in life.
Frequently Asked Questions
This would normally be addressed using the feedback process, or if there are major disagreements, the conflict resolution process. It is important to note that, while feedback is most effective when delivered from a perspective of love and support, all peers have the obligation to not shy away from difficult conversations and to hold each other accountable. Frequently, poor performance is effectively addressed by finding a better fit between an individual's role(s) and his/her strengths. Understanding what has led to poor performance from a whole person perspective is essential if a workable solution is to be found.
The three Teal breakthroughs are all directly connected with the way feedback is given and performance is managed. Individuals and teams are guided and motivated by the evolutionary purpose of the organization. This allows self-management rather than top-down management. Feedback given from a place of compassion and care recognizing the wholeness of people, facilitates open inquiry and discussion, which in turn stimulates higher levels of performance.
In Teal Organizations, performance management is largely a self-directed process. Individuals and teams take responsibility for their own performance and growth, while soliciting feedback from others when relevant.
The goal of traditional performance management is an objective assessment of how well someone does their job. This assessment is subject to rating errors and biases. This subjective element often generates fear and/or frustration. Under these conditions people tend to disengage.
Giving feedback in a Teal organization is an opportunity to recognize the whole person (including their hopes, fears and aspirations). Feedback has the sole aim of helping each other, peer-to-peer. Giving feedback from a position of love, acceptance and connection allows people to lower their defenses and engage with each other openly and honestly. Not surprisingly, when people feel valued for who they are, they are more receptive to constructive feedback and contribute far more to their work. In a Teal organization performance management changes from managing someone’s performance to creating the conditions where someone can perform.
Having a strong sense of evolutionary purpose allows people to align their efforts with the purpose of the organization and thus to manage their own performance. They contribute because they want to, not because they have to. When the purpose is clear and meaningful, feedback can easily be given about how well a contribution or a decision aligns with the direction of the organization. Performance management becomes "How can we respond to what is happening?" rather than "How well am I performing against the plan?". Having a meaningful evolutionary purpose guides what action is taken next.
Concrete cases for inspiration
At Fitzii, feedback of all kinds is frequently sought and given.
Annually, every Fitzii coworker completes a self-assessment, answering these two questions (in an online performance management tool):
- Assess your past year in terms of your accomplishments, important learning, and even mistakes that led to growth. Then tell us what areas of your performance you'd particularly like to get feedback about.
Self-assessments are then shared with every other member of the Fitzii team, who review the content before responding with answers to these two questions:
What did NAME do well? Be sure to include the one thing you most value about working with NAME.
Considering how you have been affected by NAME, and what areas she's interested in hearing about, what is the feedback you would like to give that could best help her grow or improve?
Peers are encouraged to write in “I” language and to share how they have been inspired, touch, hurt, etc. by the other person’s contributions. Feedback is not presented as objective truth. No numerical ratings or rankings are used.
Each coworker then receives and reviews the feedback and prepares to attend a whole-team discussion in which every person shares new insights from the feedback process, as well as actions he or she wishes to take in response.
Morning Star Teams that do very different work (for example, tomato sorting, steam generation and packaging) don’t share metrics to get feedback on their performance. Instead, each team makes an annual self-evaluation presentation to a group of their colleagues. The group includes Chris Rufer, the President and anyone else who wants to join in. They are expected to talk openly about what went well, what didn’t, how well they have used company resources and what their plans are for the coming year. Each presentation lasts several hours and is carefully prepared. They expect tough questions from their colleagues and receive much input. This enables them to review what they have done and refine their plans.
Sounds True has a three step appraisal process:
- In phase 1, employees reflect on their performance and aspirations based on a list of questions to trigger thinking.
- In phase 2, the practice starts with a minute of silence where colleagues are asked to hold the person receiving feedback in their hearts and try to let go of any form of judgement. Then, in turn, each person sits in front of their colleague and talks openly about what they most value in their colleague and reflect on one area where they think they could grow.
- Finally in phase 3, the employee and a colleague reflect on the feedback through a deeper conversation to learn and decide what happens next.
Feedback about how individuals can improve is given in the natural course of events throughout the year and not saved up for the annual appraisal.
Sun Hydraulics uses four simple statements in order to frame a positive discussion around performance:
- State an admirable feature about the employee.
- Ask what contributions they have made to Sun.
- Ask what contributions they would like to make at Sun.
- Ask how Sun can help them.
Feedback about how individuals can improve is given in the natural course of events throughout the year and not saved up for the annual appraisal.
Each community nursing team at Buurtzorg manages its own processes and service delivery. These are shared so that others can adopt developments and good practice if they choose. Team performance is shared openly, making very apparent which teams are at the bottom of the list. Teams are motivated to improve their performance out of pride, not shame.
All the organization stipulates is that each team must hold annual appraisals based on a competency model that the team has developed. Each team chooses its own format to give feedback. One team decided, for example, to give feedback in groups of three. Everyone prepares their self-evaluation and feedback for the other two. The process allows people to gauge their self-perception against the views of their colleagues[Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 126].
In 2018 Happy held a vote on whether to continue with annual performance appraisals. The vote was 82% against. Instead people have a four monthly snapshot session with their coach: Of course it still makes sense to carry out a regular review, so they replaced it with a four-monthly happy@happy snapshot. The form used can be accessed here. It is inspired by something they saw at the food company Cook. It highlights disruptions, successes, aspirations, contribution to unity and joy.
choose one thing that you will do completely differently in the next period.
Strengths, Responsibilities and Values
as pillars of Successes and Aspirations
Happy uses Strengthfinder to discover each person’s five key strengths, as well as working with them on what motivates them and what makes them “feel magnificent”. They want people to do what they are good at, for their sake and for Happy’s. So they explore which strengths they have used and which they will use going ahead.
At Happy people aren’t generally given responsibilities or promotions. Instead they encourage people to seek opportunities, to decide what responsibility they are able to take on. One example was two of their front-line staff who decided their prices needed updating. As is the Happy way, they consulted with colleagues and clients and checked the market. And then they took responsibility and made the decision, without needing upward approval on what to change to.
Happy doesn’t want core values to be just a laminated poster stuck on the wall. So the snapshot is a good opportunity to explore where they have “believed the best”, “helped people feel good about themselves”, “celebrated mistakes”, “delighted the customer” or “made the world a better place”.
Contribution to unity and joy
At Happy, it is not enough to be good at your core job. They believe their values are clear and they expect everybody to be positive and supportive of others and – even in a difficult conversation – to leave them feeling good about themselves. So a crucial element of the form is to ask what they have done to achieve more unity and inclusiveness. That can be anything from little things like taking lunch with different colleagues or checking in with people in other departments..
Joy at Work
The aim is that everybody at Happy finds joy in their work at least 80% of the time. They ask their people to measure it for themselves and to think about what would bring them joy. It leads to a very different conversation to ask “What would give you more joy?”, instead of “How can we improve your performance?”.