How can you provide effective feedback to employees, especially when it's negative feedback? HR consultant Kate Marchant of Running HR Ltd gives her tips on how to deliver feedback to your staff smoothly and constructively, for the benefit of the employees and the business.
Have you ever received a really good piece of feedback? How did it make you feel – motivated?
This doesn’t necessarily mean it was positive feedback. Maybe it was negative feedback, but delivered in such a way you didn’t really notice it was negative and you came away from the conversation feeling motived and driven to make the necessary improvements.
This is what giving good feedback is all about. It can make such a positive impact on people when it is received and acted upon effectively. When done well, feedback can motivate and engage your people to drive for continuous improvement. This is true for both positive and negative feedback; withholding negative feedback, though it may be tempting, may lead to worse performance outcomes and productivity in the long run.
7 tips for giving effective feedback to employees
Giving effective feedback is not easy. There is an art to it and if you are a people leader it is essential to master this art in order to get the best from your employees.
So, how do you give good feedback, whether positive or negative? Here are my thoughts and tips…
1. Consider why you’re giving feedback
First things first – think about why you want to give feedback and what you are trying to achieve. Feedback should be a good experience, even when delivering something negative or a bit tricky, and it should never be given as a knee jerk response to an incident or situation. It’s often better to take a step back and consider how the feedback can be delivered in a fair and balanced way.
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2. Get your timing right
Knee jerk reactions aside (and not to contradict what I have said above), feedback is generally more effective when it is delivered as close to an ‘event’ as possible in order for it to have maximum impact whilst things are still fresh in the minds of the relevant people. Just make sure the feedback is constructive and that positives can be highlighted where possible.
3. Be prepared
Like for so many things, preparation is key. Think about the feedback you wish to deliver: what is the purpose of the feedback and what are you looking for as an outcome? Of course, this will sometimes be obvious and other times not so much. You don’t need to write a script, but do consider the words you want to use and the tone of the feedback.
4. Be specific
It’s no good being vague – feedback is best when it is very specific. The following steps might help:
- Describe the situation
- Describe your observations of the employee’s behaviour or actions
- Describe the impact you witnessed as a result
So, a typical working example could be: “When we had the team meeting yesterday and were discussing roles and responsibilities within the team, I noticed that you kept interrupting and talking over people as they shared their ideas. As a result, the rest of the team appeared to become disengaged and stopped contributing”.
Follow up discussion points could then be: Was there a reason for this? How can I support you to prevent this happening again?
5. Follow up and review
This is especially relevant if your end goal is to improve an aspect of an employee’s performance and as such you need to be clear on what improvement is required, what good looks like and how it will be measured. Regular reviews and progress meetings are essential to keep things on track.
6. Document feedback discussions
It is always useful to document feedback discussions – especially if in connection to performance improvement conversations, as you may need to refer to them in the future and/or if you need to instigate formal performance management procedures.
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7. Respect privacy
Recognise the need for privacy and never give negative feedback in public, no matter how well it is delivered. Even delivering positive feedback in a public arena can make people feel uncomfortable, especially if they don’t enjoy being the centre of attention. Know your audience.
Is it feedback or advice?
It is useful to understand the difference! Feedback is more about offering a critical assessment or observation about behaviour, performance, or a situation, whereas advice is often more about offering a personal opinion.
There is a fine line between the two, but it is important to recognise the distinction as offering advice (especially if unsolicited) can often be unwanted, misinterpreted, and received as critical.
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Written by Kate Marchant
Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.