How to Give Feedback to Employees
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.’’
Feedback is an essential tool to nurture staff development and maintain engagement. For employees, working their way up the career ladder requires regular constructive feedback. They need to understand their strengths and weaknesses in order to fulfill their potential. For employers, it’s just as important to give regular feedback to improve performance, foster professionalism and maintain a healthy and productive work culture.
Employee Feedback: an accelerator of employee retention rates
Constructive feedback motivates employees to elevate their performance and has a positive impact on employee retention. This is one of the many reasons why a good leadership is so important. Destructive feedback, however, has the exact opposite effect, yet it’s still a common occurrence in workplaces. Giving honest and constructive feedback is a skill often sabotaged by the inexperience, discomfort and awkwardness of the manager delivering it. In fact, the stress associated with providing feedback leads to one in five managers avoiding performance appraisals altogether, according to a survey by Harvard Business Review.
“We all need people who give us feedback. It’s how we improve.”
In order to relieve the stress around giving feedback, we thought we’d put together a useful Management Guide highlighting the potential pitfalls and providing useful communication tips for how to turn a difficult conversation into a catalyst for employee growth and development.
10 Tips for Providing Constructive Employee Feedback
1. Discuss in private
If an employee is exhibiting problematic behavior, the biggest mistake you can make is to berate them publicly in front of colleagues or customers. This will humiliate the employee, causing them to feel isolated and stressed. It can also trigger office gossip and spark the manifestation of a toxic company culture. So make a note not to raise your voice or call out poor behavior in front of other people. Arrange a time to have a quiet and respectful conversation in a private area.
2. Always come prepared
As a manager, it’s important to be armed with examples to illustrate the complaint you may be making. This is true whether it’s a one-off, or recurring event. Without specific examples there is a risk of your feedback sounding like it’s a personal attack on the employee. Being able to articulate an issue, however, is only one part of the preparation process. You also need to be ready to explore potential solutions to the problem. So do some research about how to best tackle particular issues and come ready to take action to rectify the situation. Remember – stick to the facts and avoid steering into subjectivity.
3. Be specific
Generic feedback such as ‘you can do better’ or ‘there’s room for improvement’ are examples of weak employee feedback that create confusion and disappointment. Strong and constructive feedback should be SMART – meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Ultimately, the discussion should be centered around helping the employee fulfill their potential. Clear and realistic goalposts will encourage the worker to feel intrinsically motivated to improve their performance.
Likewise if you’re delivering positive feedback, be specific about how the employee excelled at certain projects or tasks. Name their strengths and be specific about what you appreciate about their attitude and performance. It signals to the employee that you’ve validated their efforts and skills and motivates them to continue developing within the company. This is a good moment to include any peer-to-peer feedback, illustrating to the employee how and why particular members in the team appreciate their contribution.
4. Give regular and timely feedback
Due to the discomfort of delivering negative feedback, there is a tendency for procrastination. However, delaying feedback until an employee’s annual or (even quarterly) review is a costly mistake. If not tackled quickly, any work issues or problematic behavior will not only continue, but will likely escalate. Depending on the problem, it could affect team cohesion, performance and even your own professional reputation as a manager. Another issue with annual reviews is they tend to create a ‘recency bias’, where you only remember and reflect on the work they’ve done in the lead-up to the review. To optimize both an employee’s output and satisfaction, it’s important to have either daily or weekly feedback sessions. This also means that when employees perform well, they receive instant feedback and encouragement. This recognition is an important factor in their continued success and personal motivation.
“I think the commitment you get from having an immediate feedback loop (around something you are working on or thinking about) is a lot better than going and scheduling a meeting three weeks later when the topic may still be important, but not as important as what’s going on right now. I think achieving that balance is also important to sustain the organization.”
5. Be transparent and direct
The more sensitive managers have the tendency to do a thing called ‘sandwiching’ when giving feedback. Afraid to hurt an employee’s feelings, they package any negative feedback in between positive feedback. This is a confusing and ineffective way to deliver criticism and negative feedback. Although both sides may feel uncomfortable, being authentic and direct is advised. If you’re not clear about a certain issue, your ambiguity is unlikely to rectify the situation and will just distort the employee’s understanding of the situation. So hit the issue head-on – and be mindful to broach it with empathy, honesty and clarity.
6. Make it a conversation
It’s important to make the feedback process a two-way conversation. Begin with flagging an issue and asking them why it happened. Listen to the employee’s response and give them the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. If you approach this in a belittling or threatening manner, it will likely backfire, damaging employee engagement and loyalty. See this as a conversation for understanding and supporting your employee – and an opportunity to explore a solution together. Acknowledging a problematic situation and acting with compassion can be the best course of action. It may be that you’re unaware of an employee’s personal or professional struggles, and this conversation can help shed light on that. So take the time to listen and view this conversation as a foundation for employee growth.
Don’t discuss issues and set the stage for positive change in a nurturing company culture, and then not follow-up to acknowledge or review the consequent efforts by the employee. This would be disheartening for the employee in question. Schedule an additional review meeting in advance to inform the employee that you’ll be continuing the conversation. If they’ve stepped up and improved, this is the perfect opportunity to give praise and encouragement. Ultimately, all most people want is to be appreciated. Everyone is on a learning curve and we all make mistakes. What matters most is to redirect the employee to a trajectory of future improvement, growth and fulfillment.
8. Be empathetic
There is a direct correlation between empathetic leadership and company success. A recent survey by Ernst & Young found that 90% of US workers believe empathetic leadership leads to higher job satisfaction and 79% agree it decreases employee turnover. Additional research by Businessolver indicated that 82% of employees would actually leave their position to work for a more empathetic organization. Being empathetic requires going beyond being respectful, supportive and caring. It requires putting yourself in an employee’s shoes and being able to relate to their struggles and challenges, whether personal or professional. Perhaps an employee is grieving a personal loss, going through a divorce or suffering from burn-out, and they may feel open to sharing this if the tone of the meeting is supportive. So take the time to listen carefully and validate an employee’s feelings during a weekly meeting. If an employee feels understood, instead of mis-understood, then they will be more receptive to discussing an action plan geared toward helping them improve.
9. Don’t make it personal
This relates back to giving specific and timely feedback about certain incidences. Stick to the facts and avoid making this sound personal. For example – if a colleague behaves in an offensive manner towards a client or colleague, relate back to the specific exchange of words and explain why it had a negative impact. This would be far more educational and insightful than pulling a worker aside and telling them that they are a misogynist or an idiot. Avoid labeling behaviors or attitudes – and stick to the details.
10. Focus on the Solution
Ultimately your goal as a manager is to get the best out of your team. With some employees, regular reviews will provide ample opportunity to educate, inspire and motivate them to perform better. However, occasionally you’ll encounter situations where behavior or performance is harder to rectify. Don’t be afraid to escalate the issue to HR to gain a different perspective. Perhaps it warrants investing in further training or even giving the employee time-off to help address the root cause.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” Elon Musk
Providing effective feedback to employees impacts both employee morale and the company’s bottom line. Empathetic, timely and solution-oriented feedback will create a work environment that is conducive to productivity and employee happiness and engagement. It’s a major element in creating a workspace where teams can grow and feel inspired, and often the mark of a great manager.
Here at Mindspace we specialize in hospitality, customer service and wellbeing that can make a critical difference to your employee experience. Please reach out to us to learn more about our locations such our flex office space in Philadelphia or our Wynwood coworking space in Miami and amenities, such as our coworking solutions, private offices, meeting rooms and more!