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[HR] The Art of Employee Feedback

Employees want feedback. They want an honest assessment of their behavior to help them improve their work. They know that if they listen to, and take action on, clear and constructive feedback, their overall performance will improve. Successful employee retention and promotion will result. And so will overall employee job satisfaction.

Most managers feel uncomfortable delivering feedback, especially when it involves a problem or concern. So many managers take a passive approach or are guilty of knee-jerk, “drive by” feedback, which can be counterproductive. Providing feedback that gets results isn’t as difficult or painful as you think. To be an effective manager, you need to be skilled at giving out both praise and criticism. While praise is easy to give, it is far more challenging and unpleasant to criticize your employees. Yet the practice of management requires you to occasionally show employees where they need to improve. Thus, it is vital for managers to learn how and when to give negative feedback.

• 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. What does this observation mean for managers? Put simply, managers need to be cautious before criticizing employees.

• To start with, you should avoid inadvertently criticizing any of your employees for perceived minor issues. 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.

• More generally, managers need to weigh the tradeoffs involved in making negative feedback. If you criticize your employees, you will likely provide some corrective information, but you will also put your employee in a bad mood. If an error is so inconsequential that the corrective value of criticism is low, it might make sense for you to keep that feedback to yourself.

• Of course, there are situations when a manager must provide negative feedback. On these occasions, don’t lose sight of your purpose for offering that feedback: to improve the employee’s performance going forward. As much as you might want to excoriate your employee for what you believe is a spectacularly awful performance, your business gains nothing from it.

• In fact, shaming your employee is likely to have substantial negative effects on your business. Research has found that many employees considered themselves to be on the receiving end of workplace incivility, such as overly harsh criticism from their boss. According to their research, nearly half of these employees decide to intentionally decrease their productivity. Instead, in order to obtain the desired corrective effects of negative feedback, you should take steps to soften the emotional blow. You want your employees to focus on the message that you’re trying to convey, rather than any intense negative emotions.

Listed below are some tips to making giving and receiving feedback a powerful, positive experience.

• Before the feedback meeting with an employee, you need to make sure you have built a relationship of trust and respect with the employee; Prepared feedback that is helpful for the employee; Acknowledged any biases, personal preferences or judgments; and Cataloged specific examples of successful behavior and poor performance.
• For a feedback conversation to be truly helpful and effective, it needs to be a dialogue, and it helps if you’ve been having this dialogue with your employee throughout the year. This also ensures that you are well prepared to conduct performance review meetings with your employees at year end.
• At a bare minimum, make sure to deliver your criticism in private. There’s nothing more humiliating than being criticized in front of your co-workers. And it is critical to keep your tone collaborative. Make clear that your employee still has your support and your respect.
• Make sure you have these three qualities before delivering feedback. Feedback can best be received when you have the authority, credibility and trust already established in the relationship. Without these three things, it makes it more difficult to receive the feedback. One strategy for providing feedback is to start by literally saying, “Let me provide you with some feedback.” That statement lets the employee prepare emotionally for what you’re about to say; it also seems to activate the calm, rational part of the employee’s brain rather than the defensive, emotional part.
• Be positive. Focus on what the person is doing well when giving feedback (and not just what they can improve upon).
• Focus on the behavior, not the person. When discussing a problem with performance, keep your emotions in check. Focus on the actions of the individual, not the person.
• Be specific. Provide tangible examples of the behavior 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”
• 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 behavior in question (good or bad) the more powerful it will be.
• Make sure you are clear on why you are delivering the feedback. Often, feedback comes from judgment and we don’t want to pass it off as feedback. So, it’s important to pause and think about where the feedback is coming from and how can you deliver it in a way that will be received positively.
• Don’t use judgment as a means for feedback. Don’t use feedback as a cover for you to share an actual judgment or be critical of another person. Judgment is just your opinion of a person’s character and isn’t neutral.
• Provide feedback from a neutral place. Feedback is really a piece of information or observation you are sharing. Once a person receives the feedback from a neutral space, the person can decide to change or not.
• Make it a two-way conversation. Take time to engage the employee and check for understanding. Focus on “partnership,” not “this is what you’re doing wrong” or “this is what you need to change.”
• Follow up. If your feedback concerns a problem, look for opportunities to “catch them doing it right.” Reinforce positive behavior.
• Negative feedback is a key tool in the effective manager’s kit. But you must use it wisely and carefully, or else it will do more harm than good. Focus on potential future improvements, instead of dwelling on past errors. And think twice whether an error truly requires negative feedback: criticism can have an unexpectedly large impact on an employee’s happiness and productivity.
• Listen carefully to the employee’s perspective without judgment; and draft a development plan.
• Following up – The conversation doesn’t end when the performance review wraps up. Managers and employees need to set dates for a follow-up session.
• Discuss consequences for poor performance; and sSchedule regular check-ins to ensure the employee has needed support (regular one-on-one meetings can help)

Praising your Employee.
• And preceding approach should be generally reversed when it comes to 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.
• Managers, you also need to continuously communicate your confidence in your employees. Why? Because the best managers play a starring role in engaging and motivating their employees. If you want to build an exceptional team, your performance management process must include thoughtful coaching and feedback delivered the whole year through – not just when something goes wrong.