Employees want feedback. They want an honest assessment of their behaviour to help them improve their work. They know that if they listen and take action on clear and constructive feedback, their overall performance will improve.
As a manager, you carry a lot of the responsibility for their performance.
So, how should you do it? How do you give feedback?
While praise is easy to give, most managers feel uncomfortable delivering negative feedback when it involves a problem or concern. So many managers take a passive approach or are guilty of a knee-jerk, “drive by” roll that can be quite counterproductive.
The first thing to realize is that people generally respond more strongly to negative events than positive ones. This suggests that negative feedback can have significant adverse effects on an employee’s well-being — and, presumably, their productivity. Ultimately, managers should be mindful of how they deliver the bad and the ugly to their employees.
Providing feedback that gets results isn’t as difficult or painful as you think.
But before we dive in the list I want to highlight a general precursor. Feedback is so much easier if you build an actual relationship with your employee. Trust and respect comes from spending time with them, getting to know them on a personal level, supporting their work efforts and understanding their strengths and weaknesses as a contributor.
With that said, let's dive in the list below that outlines how to make giving feedback a powerful and positive experience.
- Be prepared. Make a short list of all the things you want to give feedback on, especially if this is your first time. Having a clear list will help calm nerves and also provide structure if the conversation goes off topic.
- Avoid the perceived minor issues. Don't sweat the small stuff. For instance, if an employee writes a first draft of a written document, some managers might want to suggest some minor revisions even if the draft was generally good. In these situations, managers should clearly communicate that their revisions are merely suggestions coming from a second pair of eyes — and that they aren’t criticizing their employee’s performance.
- Break the ice. A simple opening line like "Hey, can I give you some feedback on...?" can help set the stage but also get the conversation going. If the items are more serious, you may consider setting a formal meeting and giving a heads up on the agenda.
- Do it privately. There’s nothing more humiliating than being criticized in front of your co-workers. Find a comfortable but private spot in or out of the office. Alternatively remotely via Zoom is also appropriate.
- Be timely. Don’t wait until the employee’s annual performance appraisal to provide positive or negative feedback. The closer feedback is tied to the behaviour in question (good or bad) the more powerful it will be.
- Be specific. Provide tangible examples of the behaviour in question, not vague, “drive by” criticism like, “You’ve been arguing with customers a lot” or “I’ve been hearing complaints about your attitude”.
- Remove the emotion. Be mindful of your tone and delivery. Try your best to focus on the behaviour in question and not the person. It helps to make the conversation a two-way stream so that you can both discuss it.
- Follow up. The conversation doesn’t end when the performance review wraps up. Managers and employees need to set dates for a follow-up session. If your feedback concerns a problem, look for opportunities to “catch them doing it right.” Reinforce positive behaviour.
- Send praise. Unlike criticism, managers should bestow their employees with praise generously, publicly, and at every opportunity — especially at the culmination of projects. Most managers seem to think that they dole out praise by the dozen, but it’s rare to meet an employee who feels that their manager sufficiently values and recognizes his or her achievements. So, as often as possible, tell your employees how much you appreciate their commitment and hard work.
Ultimately, feedback is meant to help managers and their employees achieve results. Conversations consisting of feedback can be done in a positive way that addresses the issue and even empowers and encourages the employee to grow and improve. While it may seem like a difficult process at first, in the long run, the effects are better for the manager and for the employee. Just remember to always maintain a level of professionalism, confidence, and remain open to solve the issue together.