With most businesses having made the move away from yearly performance reviews to continuous or ongoing performance evaluation, giving feedback assumes an even more important role in shaping good relationships at work, achieving performance goals, and helping people improve and develop. As a manager, it’s important that you know how to give good feedback, and are equally as good at taking it!
Giving feedback is seen by many managers as a necessary evil of the job, so don’t feel bad or alone if you dread the thought of delivering it. Done well, giving regular doses of motivational, course correcting, and developmental feedback will empower your team and build confidence.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” Bill Gates
What can you achieve by giving good feedback?
Whilst it’s understandable that you may shy away from giving feedback, it’s worth putting in preparation and effort before delivering it.
Feedback is important for a number of reasons; it allows you to:
- Identify areas that need improvement
- Create a continuous learning loop, where you can iterate and improve skills over time
- Quantify hard to measure things such as collaboration, influence and behaviour
- Give people an opportunity to ask for help
- Recognise and acknowledge progress
- Support professional development, personal and career growth
We’ve put together a checklist of steps to help you get prepared and give good feedback to the people you manage. If you’re new to managing and need some help with the transition from managing yourself to managing others, try Notebook Mentor’s ‘Becoming a 1st-Time Manager‘ career journal.
Nobody likes being put on the spot. Let the person know feedback is coming to reduce the associated fear factor. Give them time to prepare. Aim to discuss broadly what the feedback will be about and offer a timeframe for when you’d like to talk about it. You could say, ‘Are you free this week to go over your current sales targets?’
Try to agree on a time and a place. Positive feedback after a meeting could be done on the walk back to your desks or in the mop-up session post-meeting. If it’s constructive criticism around performance, give people time to prepare by organising a meeting well in advance.
Be prompt with feedback while it is still fresh in people’s minds. Don’t wait until after the event when the details have gone blurry. Feedback will lose its impact if it’s delayed too long and delayed feedback can cause feelings of guilt or resentment if the opportunity for improvement has passed.
Use Context, Observation and Impact
Make sure that the person you are giving feedback to understands the ‘context’. For example, is this part of ‘on-the-job’ coaching? Is it performance-based? Developmental? Identify the situation by giving a reference point or a specific example to demonstrate the behaviour.
Avoid vague statements and generalisations. Use clear reference points and examples. Be specific and try something such as: ‘In the sales meeting earlier today and last week, you interrupted the client when they were halfway through their feedback. I felt that the flow of the meeting was lost, the client was irritated and the meeting took longer than it needed to. How do you feel it went?’
Be sure to describe the behaviour and not the person. Instead of saying ‘your timekeeping is poor’, list out recent times when they arrived after the agreed start time. Aim to focus on the actions and not on personality. Instead of, ‘You seem to have quite a negative attitude to work at the moment’, try ‘I haven’t heard you contributing to our weekly update sessions. I’m worried that you are not feeling engaged in the process. Can we meet soon to discuss this?’
This way, you can avoid labelling the person with a bad trait and putting them in defensive mode. You could also help people understand why you’re commenting on their behaviour by describing the impact. Make the feedback about the task, not the person. Try, ‘When you didn’t reply to the urgent voicemail I left you, it made my reply to my manager late. I felt it made me look unprofessional’.
Own your feedback and deliver it in an appropriate manner
Use the pronoun ‘I’ and don’t call other people’s views into play as it can make your opinion look weak or sound gossipy in tone. Give feedback from your own perspective. Also, try not to be ambiguous. If you talk to someone in a vague and ambiguous way, they may not even realise that feedback has been given.
And this one is really important – be sensitive. Think about how you would feel if the situation were in reverse. Once someone has switched into a defensive stance, they are unlikely to fully hear what you have to say. This defeats the point of giving feedback in the first place. Try to deliver feedback in a sensitive manner, remembering that people are human and not auto-bots. You may not fully know what is going on for the individual outside of what is happening at work.
Allow the other person airtime
It’s important to make feedback conversational. If you listen to the other person’s point of view and let them have their say, you may learn more about their motivation or discover other factors in play that you didn’t know about. A person’s performance is often tied to factors such as other team members, the wider company and the environment. It’s therefore important that feedback is a two-way dialogue, rather than one way.
Wrap up with a question. Ask how the other person sees the situation and if they feel you have given a fair evaluation of the circumstances. Ask a question such as, ‘I think we should put this in place to move forward, but what do you think we should do?’
You can also ask for reverse feedback. As a manager, it’s important that you take responsibility for helping members of your team to develop and improve. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do things personally that might equally help others. So, when delivering feedback, stay humble and ask the recipient if there is anything they want to say to you in return that might help them. Take the feedback openly and positively, even if you disagree with it.
Offer continued support. Ideally, feedback should be a continuous process rather than a one-off. After delivering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up at a later date. Let recipients know you are available if they have questions and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.
As the purpose of feedback is to improve performance or develop professionally, you should measure whether that is happening. Review what’s working and what needs to be modified and keep a documented history of your conversations.
Used as a tool for developing your teams’ strengths and pinpointing areas for improvement, both parties will be able to grow and learn from the feedback experience.
Supporting professional development is a great way to engage and motivate employees, helping them feel supported in their role and see a great future ahead. Feedback, both positive and constructive, is a key way of doing this.
Current studies show that “only 26% of employees strongly agree that feedback they receive actually improves their work.” Gallup