How to Provide Feedback That Helps Employees Improve

Your Feedback Has an Impact When Provided Respectfully and With Care

Three factory workers in informal meeting
••• Jetta Productions/Iconica/Getty Images

Provide Feedback That Has an Impact

Make your feedback have the impact it deserves by the manner and the approach you use when you want to provide employees with performance feedback. Your feedback can make a difference to people if you can avoid provoking a defensive response.

Especially to perceived negative or less than positive feedback, employees have a tendency to react defensively because people tend to take feedback personally and not professionally. This is a deterrent to your ability to help the employee improve their performance.

These guidelines will help you help employees develop their performance through your positive use of feedback. 

Here's How You Can Best Provide Feedback

Effective employee feedback is specific, not general.

To provide specific feedback, for example, say, "The report that you turned in yesterday was well-written, understandable, and made your points about the budget very effectively." Don't say, "good report." This statement is too general for the employee to use the information to improve.

One of the purposes of effective, constructive feedback is to let the individual know the specific behavior that you'd like to see more of from him. General feedback like a pat on the back makes the employee feel good momentarily but doesn't do a good job of reinforcing the behavior.

Useful feedback always focuses on a specific behavior.

You want to specifically identify the behavior in need of improvement not on a person or their intentions. (When you participated in competing conversations during the staff meeting, while Mary had the floor, you distracted the other people in attendance. As a result, Mary's point was partially missed.)

The best feedback is sincerely and honestly provided to help.

Trust this statement. People will know if they are receiving feedback for any other reason. Most people have an internal radar that can easily detect insincerity. Keep this in mind when you offer feedback.

Successful feedback describes actions or behavior that the individual can do something about.

For example, you would never provide feedback If you can, provide any tools, training, time, or support that the person needs to successfully perform as you need them to perform.

When possible, feedback that is requested is more powerful.

Ask permission to provide feedback. Say, "I'd like to give you some feedback about the presentation, is that okay with you?" This gives the recipient some control over the situation which is desirable. Perhaps the recipient might say, "How about tomorrow? I'd like to think about my performance overnight.

Provide feedback a recipient might use.

When you share information and specific observations, you are providing feedback that an employee might use.

It does not include advice unless you have permission or advice was requested. Ask the employee what he or she might do differently as a result of hearing the feedback. You are more likely to help the employee change his approach than if you tell the employee what to do or how to change.

Provide feedback close to the event.

Whether the feedback is positive or constructive, provide the information as closely tied to the event as possible. Effective feedback is well-timed so that the employee can easily connect the feedback with his actions. Having to remember a few days later is not ideal.

Effective feedback involves what or how something was done, not why.

Asking why is asking people about their personal motivation and that provokes defensiveness from the person receiving the feedback. Ask, What happened? How did that happen? How can you prevent that outcome in the future? How can I have done a better job of helping you? What do you need from me in the future?

Check to make sure the other person understood what you communicated by using a feedback loop.

A feedback loop such as asking the employee a question or observing their changed behavior enables you to know that the other party understood what you communicated. Set a time to get back together to discuss whether the feedback changed performance and whether any additional actions are needed.

Successful feedback is as consistent as possible.

If an employee's actions are great today, they're great tomorrow. If the policy violation merits disciplinary action, it should always merit disciplinary action—for this employee or any other likewise performing. Mixed messages produce no results.

Tips for Providing the Most Effective Feedback

When you provide feedback to an employee, keep these five tips in mind.

  1. Feedback is communicated to a person or a team of people regarding the effect their behavior is having on another person, the organization, the customer, or the team.
  2. Positive feedback involves telling someone about good performance. Make this feedback timely, specific, and frequent.
  3. Constructive feedback alerts an individual to an area in which his or her performance could improve. Constructive feedback is not criticism. It is descriptive and should always be directed to the actions taken, not the person. For example, "Mary, your communication during your presentation was too in-depth for your audience's needs. They needed to hear just the basics, and you shared all the information you had." For effective feedback, you would not say, "Mary, that was a long, boring speech."
  4. The main purpose of constructive feedback is to help people understand where they stand in relation to expected and/or productive job behavior.
  5. Recognition for effective performance is a powerful motivator. Most people want to obtain more recognition, so recognition fosters more of the appreciated actions.