The art of giving employee feedback

Feedback. It’s a word that can make lots of workers nervous – and for good reason.

When done wrong, “feedback” can come across as demoralizing and unconstructive. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for employees at countless organizations around the world whose managers don’t treat feedback as an opportunity for growth. When treated as a constructive process, on the other hand, feedback helps employees learn, improves the quality of their work, and keeps them engaged.

So what separates good employee feedback from bad? It’s all about intention. Approaching employees as members of your team with whom you’ll work in partnership to accomplish larger company goals will help feedback to become a learning experience you both go through in order to thrive. Considering the following tips will help make your feedback constructive and engaging.

Make employee feedback a dialogue

There are many reasons to ask your employees to give their feedback alongside yours. You aren’t on the frontline of their jobs even if you do directly manage them, and because of that it’s impossible to understand all the intricacies of their daily challenges and triumphs. Asking and being an active listener will not only make them feel valued, it will also enhance your picture of how the daily activities of your team can improve to better meet collective goals. Moreover, a plurality of ideas and opinions will likely yield new approaches to common problems that a single person’s creativity would not. So use feedback as an opportunity to find strength in numbers.

Be goal oriented

There are many ways to frame feedback, and too often managers frame it as backward looking. They talk with team members about what they could have done better in the past – what went wrong. Though the past creates perspective from which everyone can learn, it’s more constructive to look to the future. Collaborate with workers to set goals with timelines of when they should expect to achieve them. Base the goals off what they’ve done, what they hope to accomplish, and what the organization’s overall objectives are for the coming period. Then use past performance to inform any action items the employee will need to finish in order to accomplish goals.

Be specific

This can be difficult since people sometimes think they’re being more specific than they actually are. It’s helpful to note, during day-to-day interactions with employees, exactly what is helping or hindering a person’s success. The details are difficult to remember after the fact, but without them it’s much more difficult for the recipient of feedback to make whatever changes are necessary. Saying, “I need you to be a bit more on top of posting content to our intranet” gives very little guidance in practice. Instead say, “Try to use our team page to post about ideas for upcoming projects and tag people you’d want included so that we can have transparency and proactive collaboration. It would be great if you could make a habit of doing this at least once a week, say on Monday mornings.” This lays out exactly what you’re looking for and makes it easy for team members to execute those tasks.

Emphasize team unity

One of the main reasons we give feedback is to help people contribute more productively to their team and to the larger organization to which they belong. You begin with the assumption that none of you operate in a vacuum and that all team members must be cooperating well in order for you all to succeed. So why would you frame your feedback as, “This is something you must do” ? Your employees’ past and future actions exist within the context of your team, which includes you as the manager or coworker. With that in mind, it makes sense to construct a narrative around shared goals and what you both will be doing in order to reach those goals. Feedback should be not only forward facing but shared.

Creating unity and having feedback be a shared activity is also invaluable in engaging your employees. You avoid isolating someone and making them feel as though they’re pitted against the rest of the team. Instead, you show them how their past performance and projects are informing what you all will work on moving forward and how this relates to the wider goals of your company. This ensures employees feel valued even when you are simultaneously suggesting changes.

Don’t only give negative feedback

Feedback should be frequent and not only aimed at fixing mistakes. If an employee learns to associate your talks with something they did wrong, they’ll dread those conversations. Give praise as often as you can, and make sure members of your team know that you notice their efforts. Recognition inspires people to go the extra mile.

The common thread that runs through all these tips is teamwork. Making feedback into a dialogue, talking about shared goals – this all serves the purpose of helping your team thrive as a cohesive unit. You are all supporting one another every day and working toward mutual success, and constructive feedback is a part of that mission. Help your employees reach further, and you’re helping yourself and your entire organization as well.