Giving feedback to an employee isn’t easy. You need to make your point clearly and in a way that motivates recipients to improve their performance without causing confusion or anger. When delivered correctly, constructive feedback — along with positive feedback that shows you recognize employees’ successes — has a profound impact. In fact, 68 percent of employees who receive regular feedback find their jobs fulfilling, and 92 percent of employees say that constructive feedback, when delivered correctly, improves performance.
But there’s much more to feedback than providing it to your employees. You need to make feedback a two-way street and let both parties participate in the conversation by empowering employees to give feedback of their own and then acting on that feedback — preferably with a fully-fledged feedback solution that lets you regularly check the pulse of employee engagement across your organization. Obtaining anonymous feedback from employees lets them provide you with their unvarnished, honest views and shows you whether your own feedback is having the desired effect. Soliciting and acting on anonymous feedback is directly linked to increased employee engagement — and highly engaged employees are 21 percent more profitable and 20 percent more productive.
Implementing these practices in addition to delivering actionable feedback in the right way can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve put together this complete guide on how to give employee feedback, from best practices for delivering it to working with employees to make feedback a collaborative process.
Giving feedback in 9 easy steps
Here are 9 ways to ensure that feedback has a lasting, positive effect on your employees.
1. Provide feedback for the right reasons
The first thing you need to do when providing feedback is ask yourself why you want to give it. Are you looking to provide an employee with helpful input on how they can do better next time? Or is your real aim to drive home how they failed last time? If it’s the latter, take a step back and closely examine your own feelings and the employee’s actions. Is there a way you can channel your feelings into a productive conversation with the goal of improving the employee’s performance?
Even if your only purpose is to provide constructive feedback for the employee’s benefit, the conversation may be fraught, and any miscommunication can hinder the impact of your feedback. Focusing on the employee’s behavior rather than their personality — and phrasing the feedback accordingly — makes it more effective and reduces the chance of an emotional confrontation. Practice separating the feelings and stories associated with the feedback from the actual message you want to convey, and you’ll be much closer to delivering the direct, actionable feedback employees crave.
2. Make sure feedback is specific
Employees won’t be able to implement your feedback if they don’t understand why you’re giving it or how you’re recommending they proceed. Explicitly tie your feedback to a specific, observed behavior, and then provide concrete steps for how the employee can improve going forward. A team member that is told exactly how they can deliver a better presentation next time is much more likely to succeed than one who is simply told they need to focus on public speaking.
3. Give feedback in the moment
No matter how specific your feedback is or how great your suggestions are, they won’t have close to the same impact if you wait for a performance review that takes place months after the fact. The employee might not even remember the actions you’re giving feedback on, or even worse, they might misremember them. And chances are they’ve repeated their behavior multiple times in the interim.
To avoid these issues, provide feedback as soon as possible after you observe the actions you want to discuss — even that same day, if possible. Your employee is much more likely to understand why you’re giving them feedback and will be able to implement your recommendations immediately.
4. Provide feedback frequently
If you want to give timely feedback, you’ll have to provide it frequently as well. Companies that provide strengths-based feedback on a regular basis see a 14.9 percent lower turnover rate. Employees won’t appreciate being bombarded with a stockpile of feedback once or twice a year, and they’ll have a hard time implementing it — if any of the suggestions even remain relevant. When you provide feedback frequently, you make it a natural, regular part of your employees’ work lives. They’ll be more accepting of your feedback, take quicker action to address it, and feel more comfortable with giving feedback to you in turn.
5. Incorporate positive feedback
Don’t neglect to give employees positive feedback along with constructive input. You don’t have to deliver it at the same time as constructive feedback — although you can — but providing regular positive feedback shows that you recognize your team’s efforts and encourages them to continue behaviors you call out. 92 percent of employees say that recognizing an action means they’re more likely to repeat it in the future. And organizations that provide frequent recognition are 41 percent more likely to see increased employee retention and 34 percent more likely to see increased employee engagement.
When delivering positive feedback, follow many of the same principles as when you’re giving constructive feedback. Make it specific, frequent, and timely. You should also explicitly tie the feedback to your organization’s core principles, if possible, as this builds alignment between employee and company values. And consider implementing a recognition solution that lets everyone at the organization show appreciation from anywhere.
6. Create the right environment
Employees are only going to hear your message if you provide constructive feedback in an environment that makes them feel safe and comfortable with engaging in a discussion. This means you should never provide constructive feedback in public. Instead, deliver constructive feedback privately and do everything you can to create a welcoming atmosphere. If you and your colleague are located in the same office, try to meet in person. If they’re working remote, go on video to make the conversation as personal and engaging as possible. Don’t accept silence and blank stares in response to feedback — make the effort to build an environment of psychological safety and mutual trust.
7. Tailor your feedback to the relationship
The best way to deliver feedback depends on your relationship to the recipient. Personalizing feedback means that you engage with individuals based on who they are. You wouldn’t speak the same way to your CEO as to a direct report, after all. Here are some specific tips for delivering feedback to various parties, from peers to the C-suite.
Peer to peer
When addressing a peer, recognize that your lack of authority fundamentally alters the way you should provide feedback. Make sure the issue is something appropriate for handling directly, rather than involving your manager or HR. If it is, give feedback in a collegial manner, and don’t be surprised if there’s some pushback. Emphasize what you like about working with them and note that your goal is to make the team stronger, not bring them down.
Manager to direct report
This is possibly the most traditional way to provide feedback, and following all the other recommendations in this list is a great start. But you should also try to place yourself in the employee’s shoes. Can you understand why they might have thought the actions they took were the right ones? Taking the time to get some insight into your employee’s mindset is a great way to ensure you approach delivering feedback in a sympathetic, collaborative way. And it pays off: managers account for 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement, and employees value positive feedback from direct managers most of all.
Manager to team
While many of the same principles apply when giving feedback to your entire team, there are some additional factors to consider. Don’t single out a specific person or part of your team when giving the feedback — if this is necessary, then you need to deliver it to a smaller audience. Recognize some of the team’s successes along with providing constructive feedback as well. While this isn’t always necessary in other contexts, showing that you still believe in your team as a whole is critical for keeping them motivated moving forward. For example, identify two areas of success in addition to two areas of improvement. You should also work to empower your team to solve the issues you’ve identified collectively, so they all own the solution.
C-suite to company
The C-suite has a major role to play in setting the tone for the entire organization and ensuring that employees feel heard. But only 23 percent of employees say leadership displays a significant commitment to improving company culture. To fix this, leadership needs to start delivering transparent, frequent messages — including feedback — to all members of the organization, especially during difficult times.
There are many considerations an executive has to take into account when addressing the company at large. How did the organization get here? What actions were taken, and why? What do you need to communicate to ensure there’s a better result next time? Touching base with relevant stakeholders to ensure you have a full understanding of the situation before delivering your feedback is an excellent way to improve its effectiveness and show those team members who may be most impacted by your feedback that you understand and value their perspectives. And as 24 percent of employees find positive feedback from executives the most memorable, members of the C-suite should take just as much care when delivering feedback to individuals as well.
8. Don’t neglect the role of HR
Members of HR serve several critical functions related to employee feedback. They act as facilitators and, as necessary, mediators between parties when particularly important or difficult feedback has to be delivered. They also act as an important resource for the recipients of feedback, so inappropriate or unclear input from managers can be addressed. Enforcing the established feedback processes, holding leaders and managers accountable, providing the right resources and tools, and creating a culture of trust where employees feel safe when providing feedback of their own should all be top priorities for HR professionals.
Finally, HR professionals must ensure that all members of the organization are familiar with best practices for giving and receiving feedback. They should propagate these key guidelines throughout the company by any means necessary — including through emails, training sessions, and direct communication with managers and other relevant parties. They also need to be available to answer any questions on the organization’s feedback policies, and they should update them as required to meet the needs of an ever-changing workforce.
9. Be ready to solicit and take action on feedback from employees
Soliciting and tangibly responding to feedback from employees is a critical complement to giving them feedback. If you don’t show your employees that you’re willing to act on feedback from them, why should they provide feedback at all? There’s nothing more disempowering for employees than seeing feedback they’ve provided go nowhere. Failing to tangibly respond to employee feedback is likely a major reason why only 22 percent of organizations are effective at fostering a culture that supports clear feedback. Asking for feedback in annual surveys just isn’t enough, either: only 10 percent of employees are satisfied with yearly requests for feedback, while 64 percent want a way to provide feedback at any time. And closing the feedback loop delivers tangible benefits: 90 percent of workers are more likely to stay at a company that solicits and acts on feedback.
To learn more about why annual surveys alone don’t cut it, take a look at this webinar featuring a panel of HR experts and Achievers’ own Employee Engagement Evangelist, Brie Harvey.
You need to implement a continuous listening approach with tools that create anonymous, accessible feedback channels for employees, along with a system for analyzing feedback to discover actionable insights. This means an end-to-end employee engagement platform that incorporates pulse surveys for frequently checking in with all team members and an always-on, employee-driven feedback channel like a workplace chatbot so they can let you know how they’re feeling at any time. You should also look for a tool supported by an experienced team that is available to help your organization transition from using annual surveys to creating a culture of feedback.
The platform should also automatically display trends, highlights, and hotspots for feedback across teams so your managers can quickly identify opportunities for making an impact and act on them. HR needs to take the lead in implementing the technology and tools managers need to assess how they can make the greatest impact when responding to and providing feedback.
Start realizing the benefits of employee feedback
If you follow the recommendations in this guide, you’ll find that giving feedback will turn into something you and your team members look forward to, instead of a chore or stressful experience. But without the tools needed to give your team members a voice in turn, you won’t be able to create a true culture of feedback, and employees will notice: 90 percent are more likely to stay at a company that acts on their feedback.
That’s where Achievers Listen comes in. It helps organizations accelerate the employee feedback loop, assess insights, and take real-time action with pulse surveys, an always-on feedback channel, and anonymized reports on feedback that let your managers get a comprehensive look at how teams are feeling at a glance. Instead of relying on generic action libraries that let managers click-and-forget in response to feedback, Achievers Listen encourages them to follow up on insights in real time by guiding them step-by-step to a listening session with their team. This empowers everyone with the responsibility of collaboratively responding to feedback and building the culture they want.
According to Tara Gronhovd, Director of Learning and Development at Coborn's, "being able to grab employee feedback more frequently and making it actionable has really helped us to drive the change that we're looking for."
Coborn's, ECI and Blackhawk Network Level-Up Their Employee Engagement with Achievers Listen
Don’t spend money hiring a consulting firm to run feedback surveys or waste time trying to create your own survey from scratch. Choose a powerful tool backed by decades of academic and business research — and practice — and try a free trial of Achievers Listen today.
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