How to Provide Constructive Feedback to Develop Employee Skills

These Tips Will Help You Help Your Employees Grow

Business man provides constructive feedback to his coworker in a meeting.
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Managers are constantly told that they need to give their employees praise and that they need to give them feedback. Those things seem like the same thing. The “Great job!” after a presentation, project, or sale goes through is praise and feedback. Or is it really?

Speaking with Rajeev Behera, CEO of the performance management platform Reflektive, he said, “Praise, by definition, is expressing the approval or admiration of something or someone. Feedback, on the other hand, is information about a person’s performance of a task used as a basis for improvement. In other words, both feedback and praise can be positive, but feedback is always designed to improve performance."

So, what does this mean for a manager? How can you make sure that you're not just giving praise, but also giving positive or constructive feedback? Here are several suggestions.

Ask Your Employees About Their Goals

You undoubtedly know about your employees' performance goals—what sales targets they are supposed to reach, how many files they are supposed to process every day, or whatever your employee is working towards. But, make sure that you ask them what their personal career goals are as well.

This will help you to focus your feedback. Behera recommends taking these goals and dividing them into achievable tasks and skills so that they don't stay vague. For instance, if your employee's goal is to “give better presentations” you'll want to break out just what skills are needed.

Breaking down the skills needed yielded these.

  • Speaking confidently and clearly.
  • Creating PowerPoint slides that convey data better than words can.
  • Responding to questions from the meeting participants.
  • Keeping the meeting focused by redirecting people back to the main topic.

Then, when you want to praise an employee for their great presentation, go back to these goals. So, for instance, instead of saying, “Great job!” Say, “You were confident with that data. You knew exactly what you were talking about and everyone else at the meeting could tell you were prepared as well.” Or, “Your slides were well done. The graphs depicted the data in an easy to understand way.”

Note that you're not only specific, but you're also focusing on the areas that your employee needs to improve.

Have Regular One-to-One Meetings

If you want to give positive feedback to your employees, you need time to do so. This, of course, doesn't mean that you can't just grab an employee in the hallway and say, “You handled that customer so well by how attentive you were to the questions she might not have realized that she needed to ask.”

Behera recommends a weekly meeting with each employee. A weekly one-to-one meeting is practical for some groups and not practical in others. But, regardless of the schedule you choose, you need to meet with the employee often enough so that the employee benefits.

If you hold all information until the end of the year appraisal, it won't mean much to the employee then and it won't help the employee as much as more frequent feedback. If you sit down in December and say, “Your report redesign that you put through in May was really great. It's easily readable now.” is nice and praiseful. But, you should have said that eight months ago—when it would have had an immediate impact on the employee's behavior going forward.

Early feedback lets the employee know that she's on the right path and that she should employ the same strategies in other areas. And frankly, you'll forget (and so will the employee) a lot of actions that deserved calling out if you only give feedback once or twice a year.

What About the Feedback Sandwich?

Anyone who works in management or Human Resources has heard that you should sandwich bad feedback between two layers of good feedback. So, for example, you say, “Jane, you did a great job on that presentation. However, you were late three out of five days last week, and I, uh, really like your email signature.”

Clearly, that's rotten feedback, and it's only done because the manager felt compelled to sandwich the bad feedback with the good. This never works because, once the employee hears the negative feedback, he misses anything else you might have to say.

You don't need to worry about the feedback sandwich; it's not effective feedback. Give good feedback when the employee has earned it, and give negative feedback when necessary. You need to provide negative feedback in the same way. Just like “great job” doesn't convey any useful information, “bad job” doesn't either.

How to Provide Developmental Feedback 

So, try providing feedback like this, “You wanted to work on appearing more confident doing your presentations. You couldn't answer the questions from Jane and Steve at the last meeting.

"Next time, try to anticipate the questions people will ask so you're prepared with answers. Not every question is predictable, so it's okay to say, 'I don't know, but I will find out and follow up with you' when you don't know the answer."

Or, “You wanted to work on creating more interesting presentations. Your slides were mostly bullet points that you read. Next time, remember that you don't want to post everything that you're going to say. Try to use slides to visualize the data. Let's sit down together next Tuesday to go over your slides together.”

If you have great comments to make, it's okay to provide them along with the negative feedback, but you don't need to force it into a sandwich. The most important challenge is to give consistent negative and positive feedback. If your employee knows that today's feedback is negative, but tomorrow's will be positive, then it's all good.

Why Worry About This?

Managing isn't just about hitting the numbers, so senior management is happy. It's not just about the praise and thankfulness you offer employees when they do a good job.

Management is also about developing, motivating, and coaching employees. Feedback used properly can do that, make your department a great place to work and improve your numbers overall. Everyone can benefit from specific feedback. 


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance journalist specializing in Human Resources. Suzanne's work has been featured on notes publications including Forbes, CBS, Business Insider and Yahoo.