giving feedback

By David Hassell

Feedback. It’s important and you know it. But it’s not just a drop in the bucket or a pat on the back. There is a proper way of providing feedback consistently that will produce fruitful results. Here are nine ways you can offer employees feedback–it’s painless, immediate and will get you the outcome you need.

1. Pay It Forward: Very simply, do a good deed for an employee and ask them to do the same for someone else in turn. That good deed? Constructive criticism. It isn’t always easy to take and certainly not easy to give, but if it’s done thoughtfully, usefully and with the best of intentions it will help improve the quality of that person’s work and may even boost their productivity. This will in turn give them greater job satisfaction and leave them with new skills.

2. Be Very Specific. Feedback should be task-focused, crystal clear, and to the point. General comments like “Your work needs to be improved” or “I wasn’t very impressed with those reports: You have to do better than that”  will leave your employee confused and in the dark as to what aspect of their work needs to be corrected. Be specific on what they need to do: “You’re reporting on 20 KPIs at the moment and that’s bringing in some valuable insight. I’d like you to give us 30 KPIs so that we’ll have all the information we need.”

3.  Don’t Wait for a Quarterly Review. Nip issues in the bud as they occur. If left unsaid, the problems will only recur and may multiply by a domino effect, so that by the time the quarterly review comes around, you’ll be faced with having to address a host of issues that could have been avoided if mentioned earlier. Another flaw in the quarterly process is that problems will be forgotten by the time the review comes around. Daily or weekly reviews will make tracking and analyzing an employee’s work much easier, and feedback will be up to date.

4. Make It One-on-One. Don’t criticize publicly – ever. Even praise for some people is better delivered in a private meeting, rather than being pointed out in a public arena: some people simply don’t like being the center of attention. Allow the opportunity of feedback without a face-to-face meeting as it can make it easier for a person to say what they really think.

Aaron Schwartz of Modify Watches recommends going for a walk as an informal meeting strategy. A more relaxed, less confrontational setting over a coffee will help create an atmosphere where you and your employee can communicate better with each other, away from the office.

5. End on a Positive Note. Helping someone to improve should always be the goal of constructive criticism; going back over past mistakes in your closing comments will leave them with a negative impression of the meeting. When something needs fixed, mention it at the beginning of your conversation (and read this before you say anything). Otherwise, by leaving the problem to the end, any words of encouragement you’ve given during the meeting will be forgotten. Above all, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate them (if in any doubt, watch the video and read the article 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace).

6. Use the 3×3 Method. Consider asking your managers to provide three strengths and three areas of potential development in all feedback meetings. This is a method proposed by Bert Decker in his book You’ve Got To Be Believed To Be Heard. Decker reasons that “Receiving three bits of feedback at a time allows people to make course corrections, like a guided missile, as they keep moving onward and upward.” Keeping your ideas on improvement and strengths succinct (and limiting their number) means that it’s more likely your employee will remember them all. They will likely see your comments as a challenge to improve rather than an effort by you to flatten their ego.

7. Focus on Performance, Not Personality. Focus on employees’ behaviors (what they do) rather than on their personality traits (what they’re like). Here’s an example from The Secret to Giving Constructive Criticism: “When you interrupt me in front of a client it causes a problem” (behavior) will probably be easier for the person receiving the criticism than… “Your arrogance is causing a problem” (characteristic/personality trait)…simply because the first is appealing to the person’s head rather than their heart.

8. Focus on Individual Efforts. “Part of the problem with reviews is that human nature hasn’t changed – few of us enjoy hearing about our shortcomings, and few of our bosses and colleagues look forward to describing them. Part of the problem is that work itself has changed – it’s more team- oriented, less individualistic. The tougher it is to measure individual performance, the tougher it is to evaluate it,” says Gina Imperato in Fast Company.

9. Get Feedback on Your Feedback. This follows on from point #8. Evaluation is tough and it takes a lot of thought and care to do it properly. Therefore, make sure you give your employee the opportunity to speak up in your meeting or get in touch with you about it afterwards. This way, you’ll get to know whether your effort has worked and whether you need to up your game with the next person!

By following these 9 steps to effective employee feedback you’ll have a motivated and focused workforce, and you and your employees will benefit from working in an open and more communicative environment.

The satisfaction gained from an increase in productivity and your team working together like a well-oiled machine will make the effort expended on your regular feedback sessions entirely worthwhile.

David Hassell is a serial entrepreneur and founder and CEO of 15Five (@15Five), a SaaS company focused on helping individuals and organizations reach their highest potential.