What I learned from the transition to real-time feedback

In 2016, my company made the switch from traditional, twice a year performance reviews to a real-time feedback system. We did this because typical feedback felt more like busywork and less like a useful tool for continuous improvement.

In the traditional model, leaders would spend a week (at least) prepping for feedback and hosting meetings, and feedback would only come quarterly at best. When we moved to 360 degree feedback, the workload only increased. Instead of 10 reviews, each team member now had to do 40 reviews and it all felt very performative.

Individual contributors often complained that feedback came too late and wasn’t actionable. In addition, leaders often received the least amount of feedback, despite being the ones who needed it most. Something important happens and three months would pass before anyone would talk about it in depth. That never felt right.

The transition to real-time feedback happened naturally, it wasn’t something that we switched on overnight. At its core — there’s no framework necessary. Just give feedback as close to the time it’s actually needed as possible. If you’ve waited a few weeks, I would go as far as to say you probably shouldn’t give the feedback at all.

Here are key insights into the process, hurdles, and profound impact it had on our organizational culture.

Traditional performance reviews > 360 degree > real-time

Our traditional performance review system was managed on a twice per year cadence. Eventually, we shifted to a 360-degree model where everyone would rate each other — up and down the org chart.

Both of these models didn’t work well because the feedback was generally out of date by the time it was delivered. People would get feedback and become frustrated that it was delivered long after it would have been most useful. Very little was actionable. Reviews felt more like character judgment than opportunities for improvement.

This is what led us to move to a real-time feedback system in the first place — the intention that feedback would become timelier and more actionable.

Change wouldn’t come easily or immediately. The idea of giving and receiving feedback immediately, without the cushion of time to draft and redraft thoughts, was daunting.

Do it out in the open

Feedback should always happen in the environment where the action unfolded. Don’t do it later in private. It’s very rare that feedback is the result of 1-1 interactions only. Therefore, everyone on that call or in that room who has the context and was there to experience the interaction, should also be there for the feedback.

Use discretion — a client sales call probably isn’t the most appropriate place to dish out feedback. Rally the troops after the meeting, and pull everyone back in rather than doing a 1-1 with the receiver

On the other hand, a workshop setting definitely might call for feedback (an internal or even a client facing session) and this is an opportunity to demonstrate it as a core competency of your organization (and to train you client in this approach!).

Feedback for leaders

One of the most significant facets of the new system was the importance of feedback for leaders. Traditionally receiving the least amount of feedback, leaders found themselves in a new position of vulnerability and growth.

This real-time feedback loop allowed for immediate self-reflection and adjustment, creating ripple effects that enhanced our collective performance and organizational health.

Main benefits

  • Feedback was timely and immediately relevant to current work
  • It also created many more opportunities for learning and course correction, compared to the twice-a-year format people were used to beforehand

Giving feedback to leaders is often perceived as risky. Two senior people critiquing each other feels like mom and dad fighting.

But, when you see it happening, and they’re actually helping each other rather than getting upset and creating distance, that’s a powerful experience for juniors and seniors alike.

Examples of Feedback I’ve received from ICs

“You know, I think if you didn’t blur your Zoom background, the meeting would have been better. It would make you feel more approachable and less like you were creating distance between us”

“Would have been really helpful if you spent more time explaining the vision as opposed to talking about results.”

Examples of Feedback I’ve received from leadership


“Your 5 minute delay joining the call was disrespectful to everyone else who got here on time.”

These seem like minor examples, but tremendously valuable both to receive and for others to see me receive.

Navigating emotional reactions with context

Emotional flooding — when intense emotions hinder rational thought — emerged as a natural response to the new feedback model. It’s almost inevitable when getting real-time feedback the first few times.

Many team members initially reacted with defensiveness or denial.

It helped a lot just to give as much context as possible going into the transition. Explaining that this initially tricky emotional process is coming allows for a smoother switch to a real-time feedback model. We set realistic expectations that it would take 5-6 times before it felt comfortable, and that emotional reactions were completely normal.

Recognizing and addressing these emotional responses as part of the feedback process was crucial for moving forward. It taught us the importance of approaching feedback with empathy and openness, facilitating an easy transition to this new way of working.

Facilitating the transition

Initially, stopping in the middle of something to give feedback feels strange. There’s no way around it. By demonstrating how giving feedback in real-time makes it a lot easier to create positive change, we built confidence among team members.

We found that having a simple framework for giving and receiving feedback was helpful and added a bit more objectivity to the process. The most important part of this is asking for permission and allowing the receiver to set the time/space for that feedback to come in. Active listening — having the receiver repeat back what the giver has said — also helped with alignment and clarity. It ensures nothing comes across incorrectly when emotions are running hot. This double-check might feel slow and frustrating, but it’s the only way truly to avoid the receiver misunderstanding the feedback entirely.

Be constructive. Use “I” statements to make the feedback feel more objective and less accusatory. This is important for all performance review frameworks, but especially when dishing out feedback as issues arise in real-time.

Moving forward

Looking back, the shift to real-time feedback was one of the most challenging yet rewarding changes we’ve ever undertaken. It wasn’t just about enhancing productivity or streamlining processes; it was about building a culture where everyone is genuinely invested in each other’s growth. Yes, it was uncomfortable. Yes, it was messy. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

It makes any other performance review system feel totally archaic. Without immediate and actionable feedback, it’s impossible to create any meaningful improvement.

Have you ever worked in an environment with real-time feedback? How does it compare to traditional performance review/360s? I encourage you to try it — even if it’s informal — just to see how your colleagues respond.

Last note: when feedback isn’t enough

Important to take in the context of a particular situation. We create an open space for feedback, and the thresholds are pretty clear. Behaving inappropriately unintentionally is very different from behaving inappropriately intentionally. We almost ALWAYS start with feedback, giving the benefit of the doubt that people make mistakes.

If they don’t take corrective action, that’s a much bigger issue. Not having the knowledge is a valid excuse, but not taking action once given the knowledge and framework to improve is hard to justify. Firing fast is also a virtue.


  • We switched from traditional performance reviews to a real-time feedback model
  • Leaders giving feedback to other leaders demonstrates that this is a safe place to do this
  • Feedback should almost always be given out in the open and not in private
  • This makes criticisms immediately actionable and created chances for positive change
  • Felt very awkward at first, but the difference is night and day
  • People actually try to improve continuously in this system
  • It’s a lot easier to have difficult conversations around different communication styles
  • Drastically increased amount of feedback going to the leadership team, which was almost non-existent before in the traditional structure