Performance reviews are broken. At many companies, they pack a one-two punch -- they're fear-inducing, and they're also time sinks. Management guru Bob Sutton has said that if a typical performance review were a drug, "it wouldn't be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it is so ineffective and has so many vile side effects." 

Gathering more actionable feedback.

One vile side effect is that performance reviews are often riddled with vague statements that aren't actionable. Unfortunately, this lack of actionable feedback can disproportionately impact women. In their study of performance reviews, researchers at Stanford found that during performance reviews, women were more likely to receive vague feedback that lacked specific guidance. 

Another problem with performance reviews is that they are almost always 1:1 -- one person gives feedback to another person. This means that, when all is said and done, the person being assessed is presented with a mishmash of feedback that can be challenging to knit together. 

At Asana Labs, where I work, my teammate Joshua Zerkel and I wanted to design a new more actionable, lightweight, and research-backed way for leaders to gather feedback, especially in dynamic climates. We call it the Feedback Switcheroo. 

The Feedback Switcheroo.

The Feedback Switcheroo was inspired by the idea that a leader's own team -- collectively -- is in the best position to co-create actionable feedback for their leader. Your team is a team for a reason.  

Here's how the Switcheroo works. 

1. Ask each of your team members to submit one action for you to implement.   

A Switcheroo starts with everyone imagining that they are you -- their team's leader. Encourage your team members to step into your shoes. Ask them to observe how you interact in meetings. Ask them to look at your calendar to get a full sense of your day-to-day work. Encourage them to reflect on your goals and priorities. 

Why is this perspective-taking a critical first step? Research shows that team members and leaders often suffer from what's called "perceptual distance," meaning that your team members probably have different perceptions of your day-to-day work than you do. For example, your team may not know where you spend most of your time.

By priming participants to bridge this perceptual distance through perspective-taking, the goal is to inspire more actionable feedback that is informed by actual day-to-day work -- not skewed perceptions of work.

Then, instruct each of your team members to: 

Choose one action that you would like me, your leader, to implement that would help you more effectively execute your work.

Ask each of your team members to independently submit the action of their choice. You can use a survey tool to collect these responses. 

2. Ask your team members to collectively vote on the top action for you to implement. 

Once you've compiled all the submissions, ask your team members to vote on the top action that they want you to implement.

This step is a form of structured brainstorming, which has been shown to be more effective than more common loosely-structured brainstorming. By asking your team members to vote based on all the submissions, you'll limit rigid thinking.

We found that when team members were asked to vote on the full pool of ideas, many of them changed their selection because they discovered that one of their teammates submitted an idea that they liked better than their original submission.  

3. Choose the winner.

Last, announce the winner. By selecting only one winner, the goal is to limit information overload so that you'll be able to swiftly implement the one change that's going to have the biggest impact.

Sharing experiences, not advice.

We designed the Switcheroo to be fundamentally different from a traditional performance review, so the feedback you receive is likely to be different than the feedback you're accustomed to receiving.  

When we ran the Switcheroo, we found that team members wanted their leaders to share their experiences as leaders more broadly with them. Team members didn't want tips, strategies, and resources as much as they wanted to learn directly from their leaders' experiences, through storytelling, workshops, or shadowing opportunities. Some of these submissions included:

  • Host monthly team workshops to learn more from our leader's experiences.
  • Share career stories and turning points, and provide words of advice and wisdom.
  • Organize a shadowing session to understand how our leader tackles strategic challenges.

Why is this experiential knowledge-sharing in high demand right now? When you share information or advice with your team, it can often feel transactional -- it often does not invite discussion, reflection, or engagement. In contrast, sharing your experiences can trigger highly immersive exchanges that foster greater connection and more humanity.

Designing feedback for our next era of work.

The way that we collect feedback needs to be updated for the future of work. The Feedback Switcheroo is designed to help you gather feedback in a way that sets your team up for collective success. As a leader, that's the single most impactful thing that you can do.