Employee feedback is an incredibly powerful tool. If offered properly, it has the ability to grow and develop the people of your organization, improve the levels of trust and communication, and strengthen bonds between employees and managers. But unfortunately, feedback is often ignored or omitted entirely in an effort to avoid discomfort.
Here are nine tips to help managers and leaders give employee feedback that’s frequent, effective, and will help you get you the outcome you need.
1. Avoid giving unsolicited advice
Only a third of people believe the feedback they receive is helpful. That’s because more often than not, it’s unsolicited, which can create an immense amount of stress for the person receiving it.
If your direct report doesn’t ask for feedback directly, either in person or through 15Five’s Request Feedback feature, be sure to ask them if, when, and how they’d like to receive it.
By doing this, you can give control to your employee and increase the likelihood that they will act on the feedback you share. Empower your people to control the feedback agenda by helping them feel confident and comfortable enough to ask for it.
2. Be specific
Employee feedback should be solutions-oriented, crystal clear, and to the point. If your intention is to offer corrective feedback, general comments, like “Your work needs to be improved” or “I wasn’t very impressed with those reports. You have to do better than that” can leave your employee confused and in the dark as to what aspect of their work needs to be corrected.
Be specific on what you’d like your employee to do and offer guidance on how they can apply the feedback. For example, “I noticed you were late on your last two deadlines. I’d like to work with you on your time management to ensure you’re not committing to too much and completing each of your tasks in a timely manner.”
Pro tip: Don’t get stuck on corrective feedback. Remember to also share positive feedback with your employees so they know the things they should continue doing (but not at the same time, see tip #6).
3. Come with a deep level of empathy
“Delivering feedback that exposes a wide gap in self-knowledge demands an extra measure of sensitivity. Like ripping off a scab, the sting of discovering such a profound gap often elicits strong emotions that can easily be confused as defensiveness. If you’re someone who bores the brunt of your colleague’s difficult behavior, be sure you can set those frustrations aside in favor of the empathy you’ll need for this conversation. Before you even approach your colleague, be prepared to give them the space they’ll need to feel shocked upon receiving your feedback. Remember not to interpret it as intensified resistance to your message,” according to organizational consultant, Ron Carucci.
4. Don’t wait for a quarterly review
Employee feedback immediately following an event has the greatest impact on performance. And engagement peaks when employees receive feedback on a weekly cadence. If issues are left unaddressed, they may multiply by a domino effect. So by the time the quarterly performance review comes around, you’ll be confronted with a host of issues that could have been avoided if mentioned earlier.
Another flaw in saving feedback for the performance review process is that problems will be forgotten and the time for offering valuable feedback will have passed. Daily or weekly feedback will help you avoid the recency bias—which mainly reflects recent work and occurs too infrequently to align with the employee’s workflow—and can make tracking and analyzing a colleague’s work much easier for all parties involved.
5. Keep it private
Don’t criticize publicly—ever.
For some, even praise is better delivered in a private meeting. Some people simply don’t like being the center of attention. You can also consider offering employee feedback in the form of a written response. This can give you time to reflect and offer a more thoughtful answer.
Feedback isn’t just uncomfortable for the receiver, it can be uncomfortable for the giver as well. By moving the location to a more informal area, you can help to alleviate some of the underlying pressure.
6. Don’t take the “sandwich approach”
Helping someone improve should always be the goal of feedback, but sandwiching corrective feedback between two pieces of positive feedback won’t soften the blow. This method creates confusion for the receiver, undermines your feedback, and can decrease levels of trust.
Although it may feel more uncomfortable for the giver, being upfront and transparent with corrective feedback sets the foundation for an authentic conversation. Focus on delivering feedback tactfully instead of beating around the bush.
7. Make the conversation a two-way street
Lecturing someone on how they should improve is about as effective as talking to a brick wall. Don’t forget the important element of respect when discussing vulnerable topics, and certainly don’t talk at someone when it’s far more effective to open up the conversation and talk with them.
Let the receiver respond to your feedback and allow them to ask follow up questions. Once the issue is clear, then you two can work together to land on a solution or course-of-action.
8. Focus on performance, not personality
Focus on an employee’s behaviors (what they do) rather than on their personality traits (what they’re like). Consider these two examples from “The Secret to Giving Constructive Criticism” and think about what type of feedback you would like to receive.
Example 1: “Your arrogance is causing a problem.”
Example 2: “When you interrupt me in front of a client it causes a problem.”
The better approach to feedback is in example 2 because it’s focused on the person’s behavior, whereas example 1 takes a jab at the person’s character, which won’t be conducive to improvement.
9. Keep the conversation going by following up
Evaluation is tough, and it takes a lot of thought and energy to do it properly. Instead of treating feedback conversations as a one-and-done, follow up with your direct report and show appreciation when you see improvement along the way. This will show them that you care about their success, and it can motivate them to keep up the great work.
Employee feedback is a necessary part of growth and development. These tips can help managers and leaders deliver it more effectively, which will lead to more collaborative, communicative, and higher-performing cultures.