Inspiring change instead of feelings of defeat is a crucial leadership skill.
Given how much is at stake when offering employee feedback (e.g. lowering morale, offending a boss, etc.), CEOs, business owners, managers and employers feel the pressure when it comes to performance management.
Approach employee feedback with the right framework and tactics and your feedback conversations will be far more productive. This guide breaks down how to improve your communication (and listening) skills when it comes to effective employee feedback.
It also offers positive employee feedback examples as well as negative ones to draw from for your next performance review.
Find out how you can use employee feedback to simultaneously improve your process, boost your employees’ morale, encourage hard work and empower your team.
One of the hardest things about giving feedback is keeping it constructive and not overdoing the criticism. While constructive criticism can boost morale and improve productivity, harsh employee feedback can do the exact opposite.
Don’t just focus on what employees need to change. Show them what they’re doing right and encourage them to keep up the good work or push themselves beyond their boundaries.
Here are a few other important things to remember when it comes to employee feedback:
Offer both positive and negative feedback. Performance reviews are a chance to highlight your employees’ strengths, give your employee recognition and boost their morale. Make sure that positive comments are personalized to the things that only they can bring to the table.. General comments like “you have good communication skills” may seem disingenuous.. Offer specific examples to demonstrate that your feedback is genuine and help employees feel seen.
Be realistic. If an employee is already working overtime and wearing multiple hats, asking them to take on more responsibilities isn’t realistic. Asking for an employee to complete a task that’s outside of their abilities can chip away at morale. Know your employees and their capabilities and be careful with how much you push them to be better.
Make sure you’ve provided what your employees need to succeed. Employees are inevitably going to feel frustrated if you give constructive criticism about something that was outside of their control. For example, maybe as a sales manager you gave the feedback that a salesperson didn’t hit a benchmark, but you didn’t provide them with a sales goal until a week before the quarter-end. This kind of criticism makes employees feel like there’s no winning, so make sure you’ve equipped your employees with the right tools and if you didn’t, take that loss yourself.
If you feel like you had a necessary but tough feedback period with an employee or your whole team, you can also use some other motivation tactics to boost morale back up.
Keeping your employees motivated and happy plays a major role in team productivity. Unfortunately, providing negative feedback sometimes hinders this, at least temporarily. The two tactics below demonstrate how to incorporate positivity into what may be less than positive feedback.
When giving feedback, it’s important to keep a level of positivity to your discussion (even if you’re touching on an area where a salesperson needs to improve). Some examples of positive phrases to use in employee feedback include:
“We’re off to a great start. Here are some ways you can continue the momentum…”
“You’ve got a great problem-solving foundation. Let’s see if we can fine-tune your approach next time.”
“[X] needs work, but you are doing great at [X]”
“I totally see what you were trying to accomplish with this. However, I think it would be more effective for you to [X]…”
As demonstrated above, one tactic for when you have negative feedback for an employee is to always pair it with some positive affirmation.
Here are some general areas of performance you can preface your employee feedback with so your employees know you’re aware of areas they’re doing well:
Dependability. If your employee has always been dependable in the past, you could begin your feedback with “I appreciate how [you’ve met deadlines, consistently brought in new clients, show up on time] and always been a team member we can rely on. That’s something we need on this team. But I’d really like to see you start to…”
Improvement. This affirmation could look like: “I’ve seen you really improving in this area, and I would like to see you apply that growth in another area…”
People skills. Shining light on employees’ skills with customers or clients is a great easy way to fit a compliment into your feedback and keep morale high if you can’t think of any specific examples.
Adaptability. If you have an employee who has been quick to shift priorities when necessary, step into other roles or take on extra responsibilities, this shouldn’t go unnoticed. This positive employee feedback might look like: “I’ve noticed your flexibility within the role and appreciate the extra roles/tasks you’ve taken on…”
Innovation. Some employees have a certain knack for thinking of creative ways to improve your process. As the manager or boss, you could recognize this talent with positive employee feedback by acknowledging their ideas, using them and giving them adequate credit for their part.
Organization. On any team, organizational skills are a great skill to have and are certainly worthy of being highlighted during the feedback process for any and all employees.
Remember, too much negative feedback can decrease morale. Including positivity will not only help the conversation remain neutral, you’ll also likely see better results when you’re trying to improve your team’s or company’s process.
Many companies have a regularly occurring performance review process. This might seem like a drag for all the managers, but it normalizes feedback, can help employee engagement and give insight on their feelings towards future projects. Performance reviews can also be useful for:
Reiterating HR (human resources) or corporate policy. Whether you’re a small or large company, you can make company-wide policies that must be abided by. If you already have a policy like this in place, you can make sure to use the performance review to touch on any feedback you have for employees.
Getting ahead of problems before they become larger issues. Putting out a fire in its early stages is always preferable to letting it escalate. If you have a regular review period, it’s a great opportunity for you to bring up minor issues or concerns and suggest ways to improve them. Of course, major issues should be brought up immediately after they occur, as real-time feedback allows employees or managers to make amends (if possible) and course correct sooner.
Ample opportunities to increase morale. As mentioned, employee feedback shouldn’t always be negative. For many of us though, giving compliments might not feel natural, or we might forget after the moment is over. A regular review period scheduled ahead of time provides an opportunity to recall moments where you were proud of a direct report. Consider setting a reminder a few days before the review meeting to plan ahead and write down these moments to share during the review process.
If you’re the decision-maker for a company-culture policy like this, you can choose to set employee reviews yearly, quarterly or every month. If you’re a manager and this isn’t a policy at your company, you can still have informal but consistent check-ins with your direct reports where you provide feedback (both positive and negative).
Companies with great culture understand that feedback is a two way street. Managers, CEOs, bosses and higher-ups may have more experience or skills, but there’s always room for people to improve. A great manager should be open to feedback and, in fact, encourage it from his or her employees so that you can improve your technique as their leader.
If you’re not sure how to start getting feedback or a follow-up from your employees, try some of our tips:
Chances are, your employees aren’t going to give you feedback unless they’re asked for it, so making a point to do so is a first important step.
Consider adding manager feedback to your regular performance reviews, holding meetings where employees can let you know what they do and don’t like or schedule one-on-one’s with your direct reports to see if there’s anything that needs to change.
Most employees are nervous to give any kind of negative feedback to their boss. Making pulse surveys (quick questionnaires) is one way to get employees used to the idea of giving feedback.
Another helpful tactic for getting genuine feedback from your employees is to allow them to submit feedback anonymously.
If you decide to encourage feedback from your employees face-to-face, make sure to take itin stride. Getting defensive may discourage them from providing more feedback in the future.
Conversely, when you receive feedback gracefully as a manager, you can strengthen the lines of communication and increase your employees’ receptivity to feedback in the future.
While there are many different types of employee feedback as well as a variety of different situations, there are certain feedback scenarios that can be found in most companies.
Below are examples of common situations where you may be providing feedback as a manager. First, let’s look at some positive feedback examples.
When an employee learned a new skill: “I noticed that you took the time to learn [X] and I really appreciate seeing that extra effort. I’ll be able to use your skills more in [X] situations.”
If an employee succeeded with conflict resolution: “I saw you dealing with [X] client/coworker and recognized the conflict there. The way you handled that was really admirable and that’s the kind of attitude I’d like to spread across our whole team. Thank you for your quick and thoughtful resolution.”
An employee has been performing well and you think they would excel in a leadership role: “I hope you know I’ve seen the extra effort you’ve been putting in. With how effective and quick you are with your current responsibilities, I’d like to move you up into a higher role at a leadership level. Is this something you would be interested in?”
Acknowledging something you want to see more of: “I noticed that you did [X] and I just wanted to say, that’s exactly what we’re looking for and I want to continue to see that great work from you. Also, I’d like for the rest of our team to implement that as well.”
Now let’s take a look at how to give constructive feedback.
Failure to meet a deadline: “It seems like there’s a lot on your schedule lately and I noticed you didn't hit [X] deadline. Can we walk through your progress together and the steps you need to take to complete this project?”
Decline in performance: “You’ve always been a valued part of this team, but recently I have felt you pull back from your roles and responsibilities. Is there anything external that is affecting your performance that we on this team could help out with?”
Being an unsupportive teammate: “In yesterday’s meeting, I noticed you shot down [X’s] idea pretty quickly. I just want to set the record straight about how we work as a team here and make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Notice that even with the constructive employee feedback examples, there is still a reserved, friendly tone. Of course, you may reach a point with an employee where directness and sternness are absolutely necessary. In order to avoid hurting morale, however, it’s best to start out with the least aggressive form of feedback.
Regular feedback is an important part of the manager and employee relationship. Similarly, a positive feedback culture provides both a better employee experience. Satisfied employees are more willing to go the extra mile in their roles, so regular feedback usually results in better employees.
Small, incremental changes to processes that result from consistent, constructive feedback can add up to a much improved experience for employees and managers alike.
Therefore, giving and receiving feedback should be practiced at all phases of the employee lifecycle. Providing feedback after a new hire onboards might be premature. Asking for feedback about their experience while it’s fresh in their mind, however, can provide valuable insight into your processes.
Although employee feedback can seem like a daunting, uncomfortable task, the suggestions in this piece can guide you towards a feedback process that drives results instead of discouragement.
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