Giving feedback is one of the most important parts of every manager’s job. Good employees need and want to know how they are doing well and those with blind spots in their performance need and want to know those blind spots and how they can improve.
The purpose of constructive feedback is to reinforce positive behaviors that boost employees’ performance or to do away with negative behaviors that antagonise it but it’s quite easy to get it wrong.
Some managers only focus on the positive and choose to gloss over the negative, hoping that showering their employees with endless praise will magically inspire them to overcome their shortcomings. Others only focus on the negative and never acknowledge when their employees do a great job.
Both of these approaches are misleading to your staff. Employees who receive the first type of feedback never get to know how they can improve and thus can’t achieve their full potential while those in the second group feel overlooked and discriminated against from the lack of recognition.
Constructive feedback is a healthy blend of praise for achievement and suggestions for improvement. In order to give constructive feedback managers have to master the art of having difficult conversations with their employees and offering them meaningful praise in the right measure.
What is constructive feedback?
A manager looking to give constructive feedback needs to know that it should be:
Specific: Get straight to the point and make sure not to drag other semi-related or similar incidents into the conversation. Every conversation should focus on just one incident so it has your full focus.
Sincere: Be it positive or negative, the feedback should be honest and genuine. You don’t want to come off like you are giving praise grudgingly—or worse, that you are being overly harsh about a mistake.
Timely: Issues should be addressed as soon as they come up, not after negative habits become entrenched and achievements should be appreciated while still fresh in the mind of the employee.
Well prepared: Take the time to prepare for a feedback session as you would any other important meeting. Use facts, examples and statistics to substantiate both your positive and negative comments.
A bit negative: Research has found that while novices prefer positive feedback (in order to boost their confidence), once people become experts in a subject area, they prefer negative feedback ( in order to step up their game). In fact, according to one survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 57 percent of employees prefer corrective feedback over straight praise. Furthermore, according to a Gallup report, employees would prefer to receive negative feedback than no feedback at all. An employee who is ignored by a manager is twice as likely to be actively disengaged at work as an employee whose manager focuses on his or her weaknesses, according to the report.
Gender-neutral: Sexism unfortunately still rears its ugly head in the workplace. Research by Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research suggests that men and women are evaluated differently in the workplace. “Specifically, managers are significantly more likely to critique female employees for coming on too strong, and their accomplishments are more likely than men’s to be seen as the result of team, rather than individual efforts,” the research reported.
Why constructive feedback is best
As a leader, one of best things you can do for your members is to give constructive feedback.
By providing honest and meaningful feedback to employees, managers can:
- motivate their employees to perform better in their jobs, especially when it is positive;
- improve a situation such as when certain employees do not get along well in the workplace;
- solve a problem such as when an employee’s performance is affected by their personal life;
- foster employee development by showing them their strengths and weaknesses in the job;
- open lines of communication such that constructive feedback can flow in both directions, and;
- increase employee engagement by helping staff members understand their value to the team.
Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that feedback is a two-way street. It is not enough to just give constructive feedback. Receiving feedback from employees can be equally valuable for managers, who can gain powerful insights from them and strengthen their performance as leaders.
This can be done by asking, “How can I make your job easier?” or “What type of support could I offer to help you perform your job better?” be it in person or via an anonymous survey (because let’s face it: not many employees would be bold enough to say things as they really are right in front of their boss).
Pause and consider the feedback objectively. Have you received similar feedback from other people? Can you think of instances where this feedback may ring true? If the feedback is negative, how can you use it in a constructive way? Whether you agree with them or not, their feedback is valid and important.
Examples of good and bad feedback
Below are a couple of examples of good and bad feedback and their respective explanations:
Bad: “Your sales numbers are rising, which is great, but we have noticed that you tend to avoid working with the rest of the sales team. That said, you are also very punctual on the job.”
Good: “We would like you to work more with your team. That said, your sales numbers are on the rise and we have also notice that you are very punctual, that’s great. Keep it up.”
The commonly recommended sandwich approach to giving feedback, nestling a negative statement between two positive ones is actually counter-productive. Constructive feedback can easily get suffocated under a mountain of praise or employees may focus on the negative comment only.
Bad: “Your presentations are very confusing to us. We need you to write better ones henceforth.”
Good: “Your presentations aren’t as clear as we need them to be. From now on add concrete data to back your points, and use bulleted lists, graphs and other visual aids to make things easier to read.”
You should aim to provide specific examples for improvement, not generalities. Simply telling an employee to do better leaves that person at a loss as to what the best course of action is. Giving them concrete steps to take offers them a place to start and they can build from there on their own.
It is not enough to just give constructive feedback. Receiving feedback from employees can be equally valuable for managers
Constructive feedback examples
Below are a couple of examples of how you can give constructive feedback.
If an employee’s performance has declined, it’s important not to jump to conclusions and to approach the subject with care. Before reprimanding them, first reach out to the employee and try to figure out the reason behind the drop. Offering your genuine support and faith in them is very important.
Here’s what you can say: “I’ve noticed some changes in your work habits and results over the past week or so. I know how productive and results-driven you usually are, so I wanted to check in with you and see if there was anything you were having trouble with that I might be able to help you with.”
If an employee delivers a project ahead of time it is important that you give them the praise due for such an achievement. Highlight why this is important to you as a manager and the organisation as a whole, motivate them to deliver the same kind of performance on the next project, and ask them for tips and advice on how they pulled it off, you can use these as improvement suggestions for other employees who struggle to deliver their assignments on time.
Here’s what you can say: “I noticed you delivered your project a week ahead of time and I’m delighted by your performance, thank you very much. We now have extra time to make final improvements and tweaks. How did you manage to do it? I implore you to pull this off for the next project too.”
When managers give constructive feedback to their employees, both engagement and productivity rise.
During check-ins, try to have a healthy mix of positive and corrective comments with specific ideas on how to improve and also encourage employees to provide their own solutions to problems that arise.