In the workplace, the ability to provide constructive feedback is one of the most important tools at a manager’s disposal, giving them the power to shape not only an individual’s performance but also the performance of their department or organization as a whole. However, like many aspects of managing people, providing input is an art that takes practice. To get started, here are some essential tips for how to give feedback to employees.
1. Recognize the impact of feedback
Understanding the value of feedback is the first step in delivering it effectively. It’s easy for busy managers to neglect feedback when they don’t understand the impact their words can have on their team members. We’ve all had feedback – good and bad. Take a moment to reflect on the impact feedback has had on your own development. The right feedback at the right time can be so powerful on someone that it may inspire them to change their career, or their whole life. It’s hard to push feedback to the back burner when you’re aware of its potential for profound change.
2. Find their feedback style
Just as people have their own preferred communication styles, they have different preferences when it comes to receiving feedback. While some may be energized by public praise, others may be embarrassed by it. How can you tell which style your employees prefer? It’s simple – ask them. And the earlier you do it in the relationship, the better. As part of a new employee’s onboarding process, make sure to ask, “How do you like to be recognized?” This will help your team members – and you – feel more comfortable during the feedback process.
3. Choose the right time and place
The environment in which feedback is delivered can make or break its reception. Choose a setting that’s appropriate. “Praise in public, correct in private” is a safe mantra to follow.
Also, keep in mind the timing of feedback is crucial. Don’t put it off. Address situations promptly while the details are still fresh in everyone’s mind. Whether it’s positive reinforcement or constructive criticism, try to deliver it as soon as possible after the behavior or action. “Catch them in the act,” as the saying goes, in order to reinforce the performance (or eradicate it). For example, if you spot a team member doing an outstanding job with a customer, make sure to praise them right away for it, and they’ll be much more likely to repeat the action.
Finally, setting the stage is important as well. Make sure your employee is prepared for receiving feedback by asking them, “Do you have some time for me to share some feedback with you on [your last project]?” Especially if you have some constructive feedback, you don’t want to catch them by surprise.
4. Be concrete and specific
While it’s always nice to give an encouraging “Good job today,” aim to be specific about what exactly your associate did and the impact it had on the project or company. Vague or ambiguous feedback can not only lead to confusion but also to hurt feelings in the case of constructive feedback. Such clarity will help your employee understand the feedback better as well as provide a road map for improvement.
5. Reconsider the compliment sandwich
The “compliment sandwich,” also known as the “feedback sandwich,” is a classic method of delivering constructive feedback by “sandwiching” areas for improvement between two positive remarks. While this approach can take the sting out of negative comments, for that very reason, it can underemphasize areas that need improvement.
When using the “positive-negative-positive” approach, it’s best to follow up this feedback sandwich with a dessert, so to speak, of checking for understanding and making a plan. Checking for understanding can be as simple as asking, “Does this make sense to you?” Open up the door for a two-way conversation at this point. Next, rather than putting your employee on the spot and asking for a plan then and there, ask them when they can give you a plan to correct the situation – and get a specific date.
6. Remember: It’s a dialogue, not a monologue
When giving feedback, stay mindful and show your employee respect by making sure the environment is distraction-free, for example, by putting your phone on silent. Invite your employee to share their thoughts and listen intently. Who knows, you may learn something important from your employee or identify an opportunity for improvement that will strengthen their performance. Above all, they’ll feel more engaged and empowered to take an active role in their work.
7. Follow up
A continuous cycle of feedback can have a powerful impact on behavior. Following up on your last feedback session will show that you care about how your employee is doing. It also gives you the opportunity to validate successful behaviors and to discourage less successful ones. The result is better communication with your team and faster growth and development.
Timely and well-delivered feedback is critical to an effective team. By following the tips above, you can ensure your input isn’t just received well by your employees but also leads to fundamental growth. Download our free e-book for more insights on managing your team members: A practical guide to managing difficult employees.