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5 Tips for Giving Effective Feedback

Thursday April 13, 2023

Why Timely and Effective Feedback is Vital to Team Success

As humans, we thrive on reinforcement. We want to know that our efforts are recognized and that our contributions are meaningful. This is no more apparent than in the workplace. Consider some of your worst jobs. What made them so bad? We’d venture to guess that some of those experiences were tainted by poorly delivered feedback or a lack of communication altogether. As a leader, finding ways to give better feedback in a more meaningful, productive way will directly impact your team’s engagement and can make or break the employee experience.

And it’s not just committing to delivering feedback – it’s getting good at it. Gallup found that “67% of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to only 31% of employees whose managers focused on their weaknesses” (HBR). Delivering only constructive feedback – even if helpful! – will over time erode an employee’s confidence, increasing disengagement and reducing productivity. Instead, choosing to emphasize what’s going well will encourage that behavior even further.

Follow along for five tips on how to give effective feedback to your team!

1. Be Specific and Timely

Many of us have been in circumstances where we’re receiving a performance review and – out of nowhere! – a piece of feedback is given that you’ve never heard before. When that feedback is negative, it not only confuses the employee, but it has robbed them of an opportunity to act on that feedback and change behavior. At worst, it can feel petty and mean. Let’s say it loud and clear: Performance Reviews are not the time to discuss performance issues that have never been addressed before. This not only undermines the process, but it undermines you as a leader.

Instead, feedback should be delivered regularly throughout an employee’s tenure. It should be given in a timely manner and should include examples of exactly what did (or did not!) go well. When something has gone well, let an employee know exactly what they did that was so important, as this will encourage that same behavior moving forward. Alternatively, if something didn’t go well, address it as quickly as possible, and share what could have been done differently. Engage the employee in the discussion so it feels like a true learning opportunity, and not just a moment of criticism.

2. Be Conscious of Where Feedback is Delivered

While delivering timely feedback is necessary – it’s equally important to be aware of where you’re delivering feedback. As noted by 15five, “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.” Even more important is to deliver feedback in a 1:1 setting. Constructive feedback will hit poorly if it is delivered in front of others. This can leave an employee feeling defensive and embarrassed. It also limits the opportunity for conversation on how to learn from the feedback.

Alternatively, if you’re sharing positive feedback, it can be a great opportunity to share that feedback publicly – assuming the employee is comfortable. This not only sets an example for others, but also ensures other leaders are tuned into the successes of employees across an organization.

A general rule of thumb? If it’s constructive, keep it private. If it’s positive, consider opportunities for sharing public praise.

3. Accept as Much Feedback as You Give

As a leader, it’s critical to embrace feedback as a regular practice, and that includes gracefully accepting feedback given to you. Whether feedback is provided by your own manager, or upward feedback from a member of your team, receive feedback in the way you hope others will receive feedback from you. When you do receive feedback, especially from a direct report, thank them for their candor and their willingness to address it with you. Demonstrate putting that feedback into practice. As this becomes second nature for your team, get deliberate about asking for feedback. If you’ve completed a big project, ask your teams directly how things went, and whether they’d have preferred you to manage things differently. As teams become more comfortable delivering and receiving feedback, it will feel like a natural part of the workday, instead of an uncomfortable interaction.

4. Provide Purposeful Feedback

The nature of delivering feedback is to enact a change in behavior, and in turn, requires that feedback to be actionable. When providing feedback, be careful not to engage in character assassination. Instead, “focus on an employee’s behaviors (what they do) rather than on their personality traits (what they’re like)” (15five). While an employee can change a behavior, they can’t always change a core personality trait. Help them understand why a change in certain behaviors would serve them better and give them examples of what success looks like.

5. Ensure Feedback is Ongoing

Once you deliver feedback, follow up! If you’ve noticed that an employee has implemented your feedback, let them know you’ve noticed and praise them for their efforts. If the employee hasn’t responded to the feedback, follow up and ask them how you can support them in affecting change. Better yet – set up regular check-ins with your employees so the opportunity to give (and receive!) feedback is scheduled. This will create a rhythm for following up, making adjustments, and celebrating successes.

Feedback is truly an art. Committing to feedback as an ongoing leadership practice will remove the fear and discomfort of only giving it at specific times of the year. Your teams will embrace it, and engagement will soar!

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