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Why employee feedback does not have to be cumbersome: LondonEnergy case study

This story is about something very concrete. It is about how HR teams can be innovative, even in the utility sector, and it will give you a concrete example of what can be achieved when we understand a company’s culture.

Finding the right performance management tool for LondonEnergy

Historically, LondonEnergy had no process for a manager to give feedback to staff. The feeling was that 90% of our staff being operational, there was very little time for them to sit for one hour to discuss feedback on performance. On another hand, in our Annual and Pulse survey, nearly 30% of employees were not happy with the level of feedback they received from their manager.

So, how did we balance the operational time constraints with employee satisfaction?

We could have imposed a basic process for everyone. Annual review with objectives at the beginning of the year and assessment against the objectives at the end of the year. But we did not want something complex that managers could not use. We wanted something straightforward and simple.

Our business needs 24-hour, 7-days-a-week attention by our staff, so the solution had to take that into account. We did not want to spend more time explaining the process rather than giving the feedback.

More on performance management:

Maintaining engagement in a post-COVID workplace

Three steps to end the gender divide in job feedback

Feedback on employee strengths rather than weaknesses deemed more valuable

Continuous feedback became relevant for us to consider. This concept has always interested me, especially because it often avoids a complex and impractical process. The principle is very well known in the HR world and in a lot of company: give as much feedback as possible to your staff and do it on a regular basis. In summary, do it when you can.

The question is: 'Do we really have to give a feedback every five minutes to our team when something has happened?'. I agree it may be difficult but there is also a balance to be found. When we need an information to perform our job, we look for it, we do not wait. Feedback should be treated in the same way and considered as a piece of information. Our teams need to understand what is expecting of them and how they are performing on a regular basis to continue to carry out their role.

The ideas we wanted to develop at LondonEnergy were intended to give the opportunity to managers and employees to give and receive this regular feedback. Those were our asks:

  • It had to be short to accommodate the operational constraints but not be just ‘how you are, great…’
  • The discussion had to cover key performance and personal development and be as complete as possible
  • We wanted it to happen regularly
  • The process needed to be flexible

Our solution: the 12-minute feedback

This process was designed and largely thought through by the HR function with the support of the senior management.

Having a 12-minute, structured conversation every three months to give feedback seemed to be the best compromise to address all our asks above.

The structure is as follow:

  • Five minutes dedicated to what is going well
  • Five minutes dedicated to what could be improved
  • Two minutes dedicated to personal development

The flexibility is also important. Doing this feedback every three months, means that the timing of the conversation can be adapted to the needs of the employee. It can be focused on development for one of the meetings and on what is going well in another.

The question I often get is: 'How can we give valuable feedback on what could be improved in five minutes? We need much more time.'

The key is to be well prepared. You cannot imagine the amount of valuable information you can share in five minutes when you are well prepared and know what you have to say. Five minutes well done is far much better than one hour not prepared. Also, if you feel that you need more than five minutes, that's fine, you can take more as long as you are prepared. The principle is that a minimum of 12 minutes must be given every three months but you need to do what works for your team.

What now?

It is important to see this process as an evolving one. We launched this initiative in March and will ask our staff and managers their feedback throughout the year as well. Based on this, we will amend the process, or propose something different. Maybe 12 minutes every month, or 20 minutes every three months?

As I told you at the beginning of this article, the 12-minute feedback model may already be used in other companies and may not be the most innovative solution. But our initiative demonstrates two things. The first is that HR must remain innovative by testing ideas, getting feedback from relevant people and then learn the necessary lessons to improve, not just apply ready solutions. The second thing, is that it is always important to understand first the culture of a company. You may have the best idea of the world, that does not mean it will work in your company, because the culture may be different. With the 12-minute feedback, we have followed the two principles and will continue to do our best to ensure that this process will be and remain successful.

Jacques Samama is head of people at LondonEnergy