Providing Effective Employee Feedback

“Can I give you some feedback?” The words most individuals dread hearing. Once spoken, we quickly go through events and interactions that have recently transpired, wondering what the feedback may be on.

With the start of the calendar year, most organizations are embarking on their annual employee performance evaluation process. This can go beyond the dread when those six little words are uttered, inspiring fear and loathing in both managers and employees alike. From the employee perspective, it can be difficult to balance boasting about their accomplishments, skills, and hard work while being honest about areas where they may need improvement in. Furthermore, it is a time-consuming process to balance completing your evaluation with your regular workload. For many managers, assessing an employee’s performance can be difficult, particularly if there are issues to bring up.

Obtaining Feedback from Internal Stakeholders Across the Organization

For employees and managers to obtain feedback in a more balanced and standardized way, many organizations have implemented a 360-degree appraisal process. In this exercise, feedback is solicited from a variety of employees who provide anonymous feedback on an employee’s performance. This leads to a more fair and well-balanced performance review and brings depth to the performance appraisal process.

Feedback Should be Provided Continuously, NOT Only During Annual Performance Reviews

It is important to recognize that employee feedback should take place throughout the year and not just during annual review time. Be sure to communicate with employees on any major issues in a timely manner. Do NOT wait for the annual review to introduce a major problem or an issue. There should be nothing that completely surprises an employee, in a bad way, during the annual performance discussion.

Best Practices for Providing Effective Employee Feedback

Here are some best practices, tips, and tricks to keep in mind when providing effective employee feedback:

1. Be Specific

Whether you’re giving positive feedback, provide details to make the information specific, allowing the employee to completely understand the desired behavior. For example, simply telling someone, “You did a great job” leaves the employee wondering what exactly was “great,” and which behaviors the employee should continue doing. A better statement would be, “Your attention to detail made the presentation free from errors.”

It is also important to be specific when giving employees constructive feedback or criticism. In addition, it should include the impact of the behavior, as well as provide some guidance on what to do differently. For example, instead of saying to an employee, “Your deliverable was late.”, you could state, “Because you did not delegate your other work to accommodate this project, your deliverable did not meet the agreed upon timeframe. This meant others had to rush to finalize the work. Next time, let’s look at your workload and determine what others can take on, giving you time for projects like these.”

2. Balance Constructive Feedback with Positive Feedback

It’s easy to reframe constructive feedback with positive comments. For example, instead of saying to an employee, “You take on too many assignments, we see you get overwhelmed, and you manage to get the entire team stressed out”. Instead, you could say, “I love that you want to take ownership of your assignments and see them through. I appreciate that. However, I want you to feel comfortable reaching out for help and dividing the work so that you aren’t overwhelmed.”

3. Give Any Constructive Feedback Privately

If you need to provide constructive feedback to an employee, do it privately and in a one-on-once conversation or email exchange without copying others. Corrections or criticism should never be done in front of other employees. Be sure to pick a place that is private to discuss any issues and won’t be overheard by other colleagues. You never want to embarrass an employee. Thoughtful critiques can be beneficial to employees as it can help motivate them to improve their performance the next time around. Bear in mind too that you must exercise caution when providing criticisms of members of a protected class. For example, you would not say, “I wish you would attend the monthly birthday party in the break room” to an employee who is a Jehovah’s Witness and does not celebrate birthdays due to their religion.

4. Mind Your Audience When Giving Positive Feedback

You may think that praising or complimenting a colleague in front of other employees will be taken in a positive light and appreciated by that person. But depending on the microclimate, a worker who is the recipient of positive feedback from a leader in front of others or even via email may face backlash and resentment from their colleagues and it might be perceived that they are the “favorite”.  

5. Show Appreciation

When you take the time to share your appreciation to an employee, particularly when they are working on something that is difficult or challenging, they will feel seen and valued. You might say to them, “I know how difficult it is to manage this project and I appreciate how well you are handling everything.”

Employees want feedback, both positive and constructive, and we owe it to them to provide it in regular and meaningful ways. Doing so, the organization and the workplace realize many advantages as it can help foster employee engagement, increase confidence, and support growth and development.

Keystone Partners has more than 40 years of experience working with clients across the employee lifecycle. Interested in learning more? Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization realize the full potential of your people.

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