Giving improvement feedback to employees is necessary to help them succeed, but many supervisors dread the encounter. They’re often not really sure how to offer criticisms, so they postpone feedback until official performance reviews. Then they sit down with each worried worker to deliver a long list of criticisms. Their best efforts at offering constructive feedback can’t overcome the negative effects of hitting people with a barrage of performance issues all at once. Giving employees feedback frequently is recommended, but it can only be most effective for improving performance when the supervisor knows how to approach the task appropriately.
Here’s some information on how to give feedback to employees. Using these suggestions can make the experience a more positive one for you and your staff:
1. Work to Build Trust.
People naturally accept feedback better from someone whom they trust is just trying to help them improve, not condemning them for mistakes. Focus on your employee’s career goals and improvements that can be made in order to make the best progress. The more trust you’ve developed, the more frank you can be with your employees. So, be sure to:
- Do the work to build relationships with the people who must receive your feedback.
- Give only constructive criticisms. Chastising people can’t be expected to produce positive results long-term. Feedback should inspire, not demoralise the recipient.
- Desire to serve your employee’s best interests, and provide feedback with caring and kind intentions.
- Don’t meet while you’re feeling angry or frustrated. Emotionally charged feedback is more likely to come off as offensive, and the recipient is more likely to feel judged or have hurt feelings. The most productive feedback is positive, and balanced, and emphasises working together for improvement.
2. Offer Your Criticisms Privately.
Timeless business (and personal) wisdom recommends praising publicly and criticising privately. Others’ perceptions of an employee are paramount to a feeling of fitting in at work and preserving dignity. So, keep in mind that the individual being criticised has a lot at stake in the way you handle giving improvement feedback.
- Be kind and supportive before, during and after giving feedback to an employee.
- Ask the employee for their preference of time to meet. Something like, “Hi, can you possibly make time to hear some quick feedback?” This lets the employee mentally prepare for the interaction, instead of being caught by surprise.
- Choose a quiet, preferably pleasant, nearby location that is out of sight and hearing range of all other staff.
3. Choose the Right Time.
People are naturally better balanced to receive feedback when they’re in a better frame of mind. The sooner you can address an issue after it occurs, the clearer and easier the point can be made, and the less surprising it will be for the employee to hear it. On the other hand, it’s important to be sensitive to the timing.
- Choose the least stressful time of day, week, month and business season to provide some kinds of comments.
- Ask, “Can you spare some time to hear some suggestions I’ve got? If you can’t do it now, we can get together on it when it’s a better time for you.”
- Keep your eyes and ears open for clues to employees’ states of mind. If you’re aware that the employee is dealing with a difficult personal matter this week, consider waiting a little while to meet, if possible.
- Emphasise that you are here to help. Allow expressions of emotions, before moving on through the discussion of specifics.
4. Prepare In Advance.
Practice what you’ll say. Rehearse difficult feedback you need to give with a trusted family member or friend, or in the mirror. Record yourself practicing, and study the recording, if it helps you improve your delivery. As with any management skill, the more experience you gain in providing feedback to employees, the easier it will be, and the more proficient you’ll become.
- Express your criticisms in the most positive way possible, for example, “I noticed these errors I’ve indicated here on these eight reports. I know you have a large amount of data to manage. So, I was thinking we could work on a way to tighten the process.” Try to inspire the person to make a positive change, instead of making him feel ashamed of being at fault.
- Offer positive improvement feedback along with negative. That helps people feel encouraged, instead of dispirited. But, be straightforward about the significance of the problem, and don’t try to minimise it.
- Express your desire to help your employee, and obtain agreement on goals and a plan with a timeline for improvement.
5. Offer Specific Criticisms and Instructions.
Clearly state specifically what the employee has done that does not meet performance, or other company standards. Then, explain exactly what the employee needs to do to accomplish the needed change. Avoid using language that is likely to be interpreted as judgmental, or that increases risk of triggering negative emotions. For example:
- Avoid vague, general comments, like telling the employee he acted “inappropriately” or “unprofessionally”. That kind of language does not offer any information that the employee can act upon. Instead, state the specific problem. For example, “It was rude, when you ignored the customer’s question about…”
- Avoid words that indicate general condemnation, like “always” and “never” that tend to make people become defensive.
- Also, avoid words like “bad”. Just state what’s occurred. For example, instead of, “You’re too slow,” say, “I noticed that your last nine reports have been received past their deadlines.”
6. Explain How the Issue Can Impact Goals.
Describe the specific direct adverse impact of the behaviour on someone, some process, or some outcome. Talk in terms of the impact, not in terms of the blame for it, when you’re offering feedback to an employee. Talk about how the problem can be corrected and prevented in the future. For example:
- Say, “After you skipped past the additional costs section of the contract, the client looked angry and cut the meeting short without signing it.” That’s likely to be more effective than saying, for instance, “You were irresponsible to skip that section, and now the client thinks we’re incompetent.”
- When possible, choose comments like, “When that happened, I felt…”, and “When I noticed you had done that, I worried about…”. This kind of statement is difficult to refute and can help avoid having the feedback meeting deteriorate into a back-and-forth dispute over the events and facts.
7. Give the Employee Time to Respond.
When you schedule the meeting, include plenty of time for the other person to think through the situation, react, ask questions, discuss details and present a considered response. In the meeting, make your point clearly, then ask for your employee’s reaction to feedback you’ve offered. Then, stop talking, and give the person time to process what you’ve said and form a response to it.
- Ask for the other person’s perspective on the points you’ve offered, to understand where there may be differences between your perceptions and theirs. For example, ask “Does this seem like a fair account of what happened?”
- Encourage the employee to offer suggestions on how to improve. This allows the person to take ownership of the solution, which will make following through much more engaging for them.
- Listen carefully. Encourage them to share their thoughts, by showing that you are fully attentive, by nodding, providing acknowledgements like, “I see what you mean,” asking for clarifications, as needed, etc.
8. Always Include Positive Feedback Too.
When giving an employee feedback, start the discussion with a positive comment. This can help your team members recognise that you want them to feel at ease and have a positive experience. It also offers the employee an example of what you view as successful performance from him or her.
- Don’t overdo it by trying to compensate for giving negative information. Showering the person with positive feedback can cause the significance of your point about need for change to get lost in the discussion.
- Try to close the discussion with a positive comment too. This reduces risk of leaving the employee feeling embarrassed or dejected, and it helps strengthen trust and rapport.
- But, make sure that the takeaway message is clear. The employee should understand that he is performing well (or perhaps very well) overall, but that he needs to raise his performance level in the particular area and way discussed.
9. Follow Up on Results of Previous Feedback.
Work together to decide on clear, attainable benchmarks for improvement. Agree on a few suggestions that the employee can use to help them steer clear of the same mistake in the future. Make sure you provide all the coaching and other help and resources necessary to achieve the objective of giving staff members feedback, which is to help improve performance.
- Set clear and attainable benchmarks and milestones for improvement.
- Track progress, and document progress along the way.
- Have follow-up discussions about how well the agreed strategy for improvement is working, and modify the plan, as needed.
- Document all conversations you have with the employee about the issue, for future reference and to complete tracking records.
10. Make Giving Feedback to Employees a Routine.
Giving employees feedback needs to be a steady practice, not an occasional way to deal with an issue. People need to know how their performance is being perceived as time goes by, in order to work with confidence that they’re meeting expectations. Also, problems left unaddressed can be expected to worsen or cumulatively add up to significant costs in productivity or quality. Providing simple, quick, timely feedback offers important benefits.
- It allows you to limit your feedback sessions to no more than a couple of issues at a time. Trying to address too many problems at once increases the likelihood that the employee will feel discouraged or attacked.
- It allows employees to go into their periodic formal performance reviews without risk of being stunned by a lot of negative feedback all at once.
- Receiving frequent feedback affords employees a highly effective mode of professional development.
The Advantages of a Feedback Culture in Your Office
Wherever there are people working, mistakes are being made. Providing needed feedback for correction is the most efficient way to promote behavioural changes. Developing a workplace culture of feedback helps employees understand feedback as an opportunity to develop their skills and advance their own goals.
In the end, it’s still necessary to muster a little bravery to assert yourself as a leader. Providing guidance through giving performance feedback is, of course, a leadership fundamental. People need tactful but honest feedback, in order to find out what they need to do to improve. So, although it may not become your favourite management task, you can take great satisfaction in helping your company and employees succeed, by providing the feedback they need in order to succeed. It is also a process that can be learned or improved upon with some simple corporate leadership training undertaken in your business.