Illustration Peer-Feedback bei Creaholic

By Nils Reisen | 6 minutes reading time

Pulse Feedback was developed internally at Creaholic. Thanks to its structure and people, Creaholic is an unusal place and for more than 30 years has been guiding companies successfully into the future. However, these strengths also lead to quite a few ordinary problems. For example, how does one conduct meaningful performance reviews in such an environment? Find out more in this article.

Creaholic is an innovation factory founded in 1986 by Elmar Mock, the inventor of the Swatch. We ensure companies — from various industries — are ready for the future. To do so, we invent innovative products and technologies, we empower our clients in establishing a modern corporate culture and help them discover new business areas.

To achieve this successfully, we need an exceptional team: a pool of entrepreneurs – each of whom brings expertise and knowledge of certain fields as well as an acceptance of ignorance combined with an insatiable curiosity. We know that innovation requires both. This enables us to draw inspiration from unexpected places and create surprising solutions.

The more we strengthen our competences and the better we collaborate with our colleagues, the easier it’ll be for us to become crafty inventors. Easier said than done.

Performance management with numerous creative inventors? No easy task!

Performance management was a challenge for us. This wasn’t due to the creative chaos in the minds of our inventors, but primarily because of the way we’re set up:

  • We predominantly work on projects with constantly changing teams.
  • We don’t have a direct personnel manager, simply a management board consisting of a small group of people.

In the past, the management board conducted performance appraisals once a year. However, they often had little contact with the employees they were supposed to evaluate.
Our employees all had unique individual experiences with the annual appraisals and widely varying development paths.

The result: a lot of unused potential and every so often lots of frustration. It became clear: we needed a better solution!

The problem is well known: Performance management is often frustrating

Performance management is currently undergoing major changes. Leading companies are questioning existing processes, not only in the Anglo-Saxon world, but also increasingly in Europe (Cappelli & Tavis, 2016).

Particular focus is being placed on performance reviews, which, for years, have been the subject of growing criticism from both employees and managers. Only 39% of managers believe that performance appraisals, as they’re currently conducted, contribute to improving business results (Bildungsspiegel, 2016).

Why is this?
A company's performance review …

  • takes place too infrequently
  • is carried out by people who can’t assess the employees concerned
  • includes topics that aren’t relevant to the employees
  • overburden managers

For a large portion of managers, performance reviews and ratings are administrative hurdles that don’t provide the promised benefits.
Mercer (2017)

The frustration didn’t stop at our doorstep either

Through our own experience, we’ve been aware of the problem for a long time. Nils had a similar experience with his previous employer. When he took over a new project, his supervisor hardly had any contact with him nor any exposure to his work. The consequence: the annual performance review suddenly seemed a bit strange, as his manager couldn't really assess his performance or provide development directions.

Nils and his project colleague, Sarah — who had the same difficulty — solved this pragmatically: every three months, they had personal and intensive discussions during which they agreed to set individual development goals. These were each evaluated at the next meeting — they swiftly noticed that feedback on their goals’ achievement was shared regularly in their daily work.

When we realised in our employee survey that we had a similar problem at Creaholic, initial ideas for improvement were quickly found - and so was a project team.

What if there was a tool that allowed everyone at Creaholic to become the best version of themselves?

Frustration is the best source of inventions — or something like that. We started working and processed the project in three parts:

1) First the foundations, then the pleasure

As for most of our projects, we start by creating a solid foundation by analysing our employees’ needs and defining our vision, core beliefs and design principles. These foundations are extremely helpful during the project’s development phase, as they provide a clear goal and common reference points. This common ground was crucial to the team’s collaboration, for the tool’s design process and for the communication within the company.

2) Define the target state

Our goal was to develop a new approach that would make it easier for us to continuously become better inventors. This meant shifting away from our current approach, namely:

From ...

  • typical annual review
  • performance reviews conducted by distant management members
  • static interviews
  • unfair and superficial assessment of performance

To ...

  • continuous support throughout the year
  • encouraging challenges and support from relevant peers
  • personal conversations on individually relevant topics
  • constructive and targeted feedback

3) Developing processes and materials

Now that we had everything we needed to concretely develop our idea, we developed a simple process and its supporting materials to get started. We interviewed colleagues, developed prototypes, quickly tested them, and discarded them — until we finally reached this process:

Peer-Feedback process at Creaholic

One more thing …

We initially used PowerPoint to develop our process and materials. Simple, familiar to all, and available everywhere. However, we quickly reached our limits.

So, in 2021, we developed a software tool — in partnership with a client — that makes it easier for everyone ...

  • to share constructive feedback
  • to evaluate and understand feedback
  • to conduct goal-oriented peer conversations

Since we already had a feedback tool — Pulse Feedback — we integrated Peer Feedback as a new module. Additional details about the Peer Feedback app are available on our website and in this presentation.

Here, you’ll find an overview of our approach:

Elaboration of the peer feedback process at Creaholic

With Peer Feedback, we’ve taken a big step into the future of performance management

Now comes the crucial question: Has it made a difference? We can — proudly — answer affirmatively!

The feedback received from our colleagues — as well as our new module’s customers — was extremely positive:

  • Action focus and efficiency: better development discussions and regular impulses for continuous improvement
  • Fewer blind spots: feedback is more frequent and its culture is improving
  • Increased appreciations: our investment in Peer Feedback is interpreted by employees as an investment in their development

Of course, there have been a few stumbling blocks:

  • Feedback takes time. It’s sometimes difficult to wisely assess how much time should be invested
  • Giving feedback isn’t easy. The tool helps, yet cannot always compensate for the feedback givers lack of competence.
    - It's difficult to find the optimal balance between structure and freedom in the process. Some employees want more structure and processes, others less.

Conclusion: feedback makes us better

With this modern approach, we not only provide better services to our clients and work together more efficiently, we also innovate internally and develop creative solutions.

Peer Feedback has made feedback and continuous development the norm for us.
Stephan Engl, Managing Partner & HR Manager at Creaholic

Peer feedback is the next logical step in our transparent and continuous feedback process, which we started a few years ago with our feedback tool Pulse Feedback. As our company DNA revolves around feedback, collaboration and performance management, this enable us to position ourselves as an attractive employer. And we love to share it.

Literature

Bildungsspiegel (2016). Studie: Leistungsbewertung noch zeitgemäss?

Cappelli, P. & Tavis, A. (2016). The Performance Management Revolution, Harvard Business Review, October 2016.

Mercer (2018). Performance Management im Umbruch.

Illustration with a letter in an open envelope

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