effective employee feedback

How to Provide Effective Employee Feedback to Your Team

Giving feedback to employees is not always an easy thing to do. Negative feedback may not always be well received and yet honesty is absolutely necessary. Without effective employee feedback, your team will not know what they need to improve or change.

Feedback is the cheapest, most powerful, yet, most under-utilised management tool that we have at our disposal. Effective employee feedback is powerful as it helps people get on track, it serves as a guide to assist people to know how they and others perceive their performance as well as the quality of their relationships with their manager, team members and colleagues.

Effective employee feedback helps people find answers to these vital questions:

  • What is the purpose of my role?
  • What am I supposed to achieve?
  • How is my performance tracked?
  • What is the best use of my time?
  • How do I influence my coworkers?

The benefits of feedback

Improves productivity

When it comes to feedback, we all want it, but none of us really want to hear it (at least when it’s bad). But frankly, we all need it.

It helps us improve more quickly and do our job better. As a result, productivity improves because employees learn the most effective approach to the task at hand.

Builds strong relationships

Effective employee feedback ensures regular interactions between employees and their managers because it’s ongoing.

They get to know each other better on both a professional and personal basis – which helps establish strong bonds. This helps improve camaraderie and reinforces company culture.

Keeps employees engaged

Effective employee feedback requires managers to take active roles in their employees’ work lives.

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Whether workers get feedback on a biweekly, monthly, or even quarterly basis, they’ll know that their managers are invested in making sure they are doing things correctly and learning their roles in and out.

Increases employee retention

It’s a lot harder for employees to feel motivated at work when management isn’t invested in their development. On the other hand, when managers are visibly interested in helping their employees reach their full potential, workers are inclined to stick around.

Keep in mind that millennials, in particular, are really interested in professional development opportunities.

Eliminates surprises during review time

When managers don’t ever give their employees feedback, it can be difficult for workers to know for certain how well they are doing their jobs. Effective employee feedback involves managers meeting with members of their team on a regular basis. The frequency of these meetings essentially forces conversations that otherwise might not occur until performance is reviewed.

Instead of waiting months to tell an employee that they’re failing behind, ongoing feedback lets employees know where they stand and whether they are achieving their goals. This increases the chances that, come review time, all involved parties are on the same page and nobody is surprised.

Helps introverted employees learn

A lot of workers might be too nervous or shy to speak up and ask questions — that’s just human nature.

When companies make effective employee feedback a top priority, these kinds of workers are much likelier to ask questions that would otherwise be left unsaid. As a result, they will learn new skills.

Managers learn something too

Yes, employees have a lot to benefit from feedback but managers potentially have a lot to learn too. Remember, every single worker approaches their job differently.

You never know when an employee might say something that gives their boss a lightbulb moment. Furthermore, it helps managers learn how to interact with a more diverse set of personalities thereby sharpening their management skills.

Encourages new ideas

Feedback is a great way to facilitate conversations between all members of the team and their managers and this where the magic happens. You never know when a simple statement or observation can get the creative juices flowing and help everyone see something from a new perspective.

By encouraging effective employee feedback, your company can increase the chances that an amazing new idea is discovered. Not only can a new idea help grow your company’s bottom line, it can also help managers and employees feel more valuable to the organization after such an idea is put into practice.

Improves self-awareness

It is very difficult to be very self-aware without feedback from others. Self-awareness and monitoring provide a good platform but feedback from others informs us in ways that enriches our self-knowledge.

Working without feedback is similar to setting out an important journey minus a map or signposts. You may have a great sense of direction but this may not be sufficient to keep you on track.

When people receive little feedback they tend to either be overly self-critical or self-congratulatory. This is because they are relying upon events rather than specific feedback to measure their performance and impact.

effective employee feedback

Image: Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Stats on effective employee feedback

According to PwC, nearly 60% of survey respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis—a number that increased to 72% for employees under age 30. More than 75% of respondents believe that feedback is valuable. About 45% of respondents also value feedback from their peers and clients or customers, yet less than 30% said they receive it. WHAT?

According to the folks over at Gallup, people who know and use their strengths – and the companies they work for – tend to be better performers. In one study of 65,672 employees, Gallup found those who received strengths feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9% lower than for employees who received no feedback (controlling for job type and tenure).

A study of 530 work units with productivity data found that teams with managers who received strengths feedback showed 12.5% greater productivity post-intervention than teams with managers who received no feedback.

And in a study of 469 business units ranging from retail stores to large manufacturing facilities, Gallup found that units with managers who received strengths feedback showed 8.9% greater profitability post-intervention relative to units in which the manager received no feedback.

How to provide effective employee feedback

How then, can we give accurate, candid feedback without damaging work relationships or hurting those we are trying to help? Here are the key steps you should follow:

Set the context

This is the when and where of your feedback. It’s critical to take time to note the context so that:

  • everyone is thinking about the same issue or event, and;
  • you get the opportunity to be specific.

This sets the stage for you to focus on an event or a behavior you observed rather than commenting on someone’s personality or general character.

Remember these questions when preparing your feedback:

  • When did the issue/event occur?
  • Who was involved in the issue/event?

State your observation

Next, state what you observed. The key word here is observed. This is where your feedback gets concrete — this is the what. What did you see with your eyes? What specific behaviors did you observe?

This is the hardest part of giving good feedback. Humans love storytelling so we are predisposed to creating narratives, which cause us to jump to conclusions and assign agency or blame without first considering other data or other possible interpretations. It’s critical here to talk about behaviors, because behaviors can be changed.

There’s a big difference between stating, “You were waving their hands and yelling,” and saying, “You were being a jerk.”

Explain the result

Let your employee know what you thought, or what kind of reaction you may have observed in others. For example, if your employee raised their voice when presented with questions in a client meeting, you could tell them it made you think they were unprepared (rather than it made you feel uncomfortable).

Furthermore, you could say you saw the clients lean back in their chairs and appeared to be turned off.

Remember these questions when preparing your feedback:

  • What was the impact on others? On the business?
  • What was the effect of the behavior? What did you think, how did you feel?

Don’t assume you’re right

Even after you’ve collected your data, you might not have the complete picture. Other people may not see this person’s behavior as you do. Furthermore, the employee will have their own side of the story.

Keep in mind that difficult feedback is rarely about getting the facts right. It’s more about consolidating conflicting views, feelings, and values. Reasonable people differ about all these things all the time.

Approach the feedback session with the goal of getting a complete and accurate picture of the situation. Just as you want your employee to listen with a willingness to be influenced by what you have to say, you need to be willing to be influenced by what they have to tell you in return.

Ask questions

To make this a learning conversation for both you and your employee, ask questions along the lines of:

  • How do you see the situation?
  • How might you do things differently next time?
  • What do you think worked, and what could have gone better?

Questions like these establish a supportive atmosphere in which the employee can explore alternative approaches that might produce better results. The more an individual thinks about improving their performance, the more committed they are to making it happen.

Focus on business outcomes

Business outcomes should be your starting place for giving feedback: you need to develop talent, boost sales or improve service. When feedback is framed as a means to reach a specific business goal, it becomes an opportunity to solve a problem rather than criticise.

When feedback is focused on the employee’s development, it becomes a gift of you the manager investing in their career.

Give feedback often

Feedback works best when it’s a continual process rather than a formal session once or twice a year that simply creates unnecessary nerves and tension in both the manager and employee, especially in the face of negative feedback.

With pulse rates shooting up and adrenaline flowing more, the natural response is fight or flight, not the thoughtfulness an effective employee feedback session requires.

Practice giving feedback often; soon it will become a habit. Praise good performance right away. When negative feedback is required, talk with the employee within 24 hours.

Reaffirm (or establish) your expectations

Don’t stop at feedback! Use feedback as an opportunity communicate what you expect in the future, whether it’s a certain type of improvement or more of the same type of behavior.

This is how you help your employees manage their own expectations and understand what’s required of them to be successful. In the previous example, rather than saying you expect your employee to be prepared, say that you expect him to answer questions from clients with a cool, calm and collected voice. This could then lead to a conversation about how to better prepare in the future.

Remember these questions when preparing your feedback:

  • ‌What did you expect?
  • ‌How did your observation meet/not meet your expectation?
  • ‌What do you expect going forward?

Follow through

Because managers dread giving feedback, they like to feel that once they’ve had the conversation, they’re done. Not so fast! There is a big difference between understanding and changing. Your employees’ ability to make that leap requires ongoing support. Thus, follow-through is very vital.

Ask, “Now what are the next steps you will take, and how can I support your progress?” Plan to meet again in a month. Consider yourself a catalyst for the change you’d like to see.

Suggest specific steps that will help the employee work on performance gaps. You can even have them gather their own data by asking peers or subordinates for feedback and suggestions on a particular performance area.

In Summary

Effective employee feedback starts with those at the top and it can’t always flow one way. Implement a platform that allows employees to respond to your feedback with…feedback. And then take it.

Remember, nobody is perfect so there is always room for improvement. Creating and maintaining a relationship of respect will help make any information you must share easier to learn from.