2 min read

Why Waiting Months to Tell Someone They Suck is a Terrible Idea

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Why Waiting Months to Tell Someone They Suck is a Terrible Idea
Photo by ISKRA Photography / Unsplash

In most orgs, feedback is still provided through formal quarterly or annual performance reviews. While these check-ins have their place, they often come too late to make a real impact. By the time someone receives constructive criticism or positive reinforcement months after the relevant event, the feedback has lost much of its meaning, potency, and actionability.

The major downsides of quarterly feedback include lack of accuracy, feeling stale and irrelevant by the time it's delivered, overly vague critique rather than specific and actionable guidance, and missing the window when employees are most motivated to improve based on a recent experience.

Delayed feedback suffers from fuzzy recall of details from months prior. Important moments get lost, while more recent events take priority. By the time the feedback arrives, it can feel like a delayed punch about something you've long moved on from. The critiques become overgeneralized rather than tied to real situations.

Perhaps most damaging is that quarterly reviews miss capitalizing on employees' peak drive to improve. If you receive feedback months after putting effort into a presentation or project, you've lost that initial momentum and drive for doing better. The feedback loses its meaning and impact by not striking while the motivational iron is hot.

Receiving immediate feedback allows individuals to make necessary adjustments and solidify positive habits in real-time. Getting comments right after a presentation, meeting, or project completion ensures that the experience is still fresh in their mind. This allows them to promptly implement the suggestions while the context is clear. Additionally, the person receiving the feedback has all the relevant details at the forefront of their mind, making it easier to fully comprehend the reasoning behind the praise or critique.

This isn't just more effective for improving skills - it also fosters a culture of ongoing development. When feedback becomes a continuous process rather than an episodic event, it normalizes open communication and commitment to growth. Both employees and managers get accustomed to regularly constructively exchanging observations.

Immediate feedback has the added benefit of being more specific and actionable. Because it directly relates to something that just occurred, the praise or critique can be rich with details. "That presentation covered all the key points, but left some questions unanswered" is far more useful than a vague, "You need to improve your public speaking skills" months later.

Of course, this doesn't mean annual reviews aren't valuable. Those are still important opportunities to discuss bigger-picture goals, career development plans, and sustained performance patterns. But for driving tangible skill growth in the short-term, there is no substitute for timely, in-the-moment feedback while the work is still top of mind.