As discussed in the constructive feedback post, making sure that the feedback you give is effective is essential in the workplace. Feedback that hits the mark, i.e. that is given correctly, can really help to improve workplace productivity and job satisfaction.
Listed below are 10 core principles for giving effective feedback and I’ll explain each.
*If you are organizing and providing effective feedback training i.e. as a workshop, you can use these principles as a classroom discussion activity. You can talk through each principle and give real-world examples and ask participants also for their own examples.
1. Be specific When Giving Feedback
Let’s look at a scenario in the workplace – as one example.
Imagine you say to Tom, ‘Tom, I’m concerned about your work’.
- How would Tom feel?
- Maybe worried and confused?
- What could you say instead?
You could say, ‘Tom, I am worried because yesterday you were late for the meeting, and you had not finished the report. This held the team back. You need to finish the report by 4 pm and send it to the team.’
The latter example is far better because it is specific and leaves no room for misunderstanding. It provides clarity as to what the issue is.
2. Focus on Observed Behavior
In order for feedback to be effective, you need to base your feedback on observations rather than inference.
- An observation is something you can see occur.
- An inference refers to an assumption or a guess that lacks real evidence
Observed behavior that you can be certain definitely took place provides a much more reliable basis on which to give feedback (more on observation vs inference here in case interested).
3. Keep It Impersonal
Feedback will also be improved if you focus on tasks rather than personality.
For example, instead of calling an employee lazy, you will say that they did not deliver on time.
Or rather than telling an employee that they are terribly organized, you might want to provide them with a task that helps them to become better organized.
4. Link Feedback to Goals
Linking feedback to an employee’s performance and job goals, to keep it relevant, is a also great idea.
Goals in essence provide a great way for you to give feedback without it sounding out of place or in some way random.
If you are a manager, for example, and you are due to do an annual review and PDR (Performance and Development Review), then what a great time to mention to set new goals for Jimmy, if Jimmy has been performing badly in his role.
5. Prioritize What Points to Provide Feedback on
This point applies mainly to performance management and as part of a development plan.
When dealing with an employee who performs poorly, you may be tempted to try and correct everything that is wrong at the same time.
However, feedback, to be effective, needs to be focused. So, try to focus first on the one or two behaviors that make the most difference to the employee.
Look at their job description and see what their top priorities are.
For example, if the employee is a receptionist in a beauty salon, their main goal may be to greet customers politely and check them in.
Other goals may include recording appointments, answering the phone, sorting out the incoming and outgoing mail, and watering the plants in the waiting room.
Greeting and checking customers in would be the first, probably followed by recording appointments, then answering the phone, then sorting the mail, and watering the plants would be last.
If you try and give too much feedback at once, the employee will feel defensive and will stop listening.
So, with the receptionist, first focus on making sure they check in customers properly and then gradually try to fix any problems related to the other tasks in order of priority.
6. Make Feedback Well-Timed
Timing is essential when giving feedback. If you give feedback too late the employee may have forgotten what happened.
For instance, do you remember what you ate for lunch on Monday last week? Chances are you have forgotten. It is the same for other events.
The employee will forget what they did in the past. Not only that. Research shows that we are better at remembering the good things we did than the bad things we did. We tend to forget or distort events that are unfavorable to us.
So, while you might remember everything clearly as you have been mulling the events over and over, your employee will have forgotten and will deny everything.
For example, an employee always interrupts people when they are talking during meetings. This is a behavior that you have noticed over time, during a series of meetings.
The best time to give them feedback is as soon as the latest meeting has ended, so you can provide them with examples of their behavior that they can remember.
You may not want to give them feedback in front of everyone as it could be humiliating. So, you need to take the employee aside for a minute and give them feedback.
If there is no time after the meeting, you can set up a short meeting with them first thing in the morning the day after.
Sometimes, it is easier to give feedback straight away, such as when you give positive feedback or a brief reinforcement.
Other times, you may have to wait, such as if you want to avoid giving feedback in front of other people; if you are angry or upset to give you time to calm down, or if you need time to plan and prepare so you don’t say the wrong thing.
In any case, try to give feedback as soon as you can.
7. Ensure That the Feedback You Give Is Understood
When giving feedback, never assume that the other person has understood everything in the same way as you want them to understand.
Misunderstandings and distortions of information are very common, even when we think we communicated clearly.
It may be that the point of view of the other person distorted their understanding.
This is particularly common when we receive criticism, as at first, we might not want to accept it.
Or it may be that the person was distracted, or that you did not communicate clearly enough.
So, after you have given your feedback, ask the other person to summarize the main points and repeat them to you.
Ask politely, so they do not feel patronized or tested. For instance, you could say that you just want to make sure you are on the same page.
If they miss or misrepresent any of the points, let them know what was missing or clarify what was misrepresented.
8. Make Sure the Suggestions You Provide Aare Controllable
Before giving feedback, make sure that the employee can control what happens.
For example, if an employee interrupts colleagues while they talk at meetings, they are completely in control of changing their behavior.
In the future, they can wait for the other person to finish speaking and then intervene.
If an employee is always late because of traffic, they are in control because they can leave their house earlier if the traffic is always that bad.
If the traffic was bad only once because of an accident on the road, if the employee is late, it is out of their control as they could not predict this event.
So, it would be unfair if you blamed the employee for being late in this case.
There are times when it is less obvious to see who is in control.
For example, a sales representative’s goal is to sell at least 20 units a month of a product. Then, the manager changes the goal to at least 30 units per month and does not tell the employee.
The following month, the sales representative misses the goal as they only sell 25 units.
However, as far as they are concerned, they hit their target as they thought it was 20 per month. If then the manager criticizes them, who is at fault? In this case, it is the manager’s fault for not telling the employee about the change in target.
The control was no longer in the employee’s hands because they did not know about the new sales target.
So, when you give feedback, first make sure that the employee was in control and that the problem was not something else or the manager.
Managers can often be the problem if they do not make sure that the employee: has access to the resources needed to do their job, has been given clear goals, has been trained appropriately, and has support not only from the manager but also from their peers.
It is the manager’s responsibility to make sure that an employee has all these things.
When you give feedback, if you are aware that not everything was in the employee’s control, acknowledge it.
The idea of control applies also when giving positive feedback.
If a person achieves something by luck, for example, rather than as a result of their effort, the feedback will not be as effective in boosting their morale.
9. Make the Feedback Constructive
This applies particularly to redirection feedback, and it means that you need to make the feedback actionable.
So, give suggestions on what could be done to change the behavior, listen to the employee’s ideas and then agree on a way forward.
Take a look at the post I also did on How to Give Constructive Feedback.
10. Tailor the Feedback Specifically to the Employee
Tailor the feedback to the level of the employee’s performance and to how long they have been with the company.
This will give more depth and meaning to the feedback you give, as seen by the employee.
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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