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What Does Effective Feedback for Employees Look Like?

Feedback is a vital performance management tool yet most managers don’t like giving feedback, do it ineffectively or don’t do it at all. Why is this?

  • Often it’s because a manager doesn’t have the right skills to give feedback effectively, therefore fears some sort of backlash.
  • Often there isn’t a culture of excellence that makes regular feedback the norm. Many managers haven’t experienced good feedback themselves and don’t know what it looks like. “Well done,” is nice to hear – but isn’t useful feedback.
  • Managers may be reluctant to take responsibility for their team members’ performance so they don’t value feedback as a management tool.

Without effective feedback, individuals have no hope of knowing what they’re doing well, what they need to do more of or less of. Performance will inevitably suffer and employee engagement and morale will drop
So what does effective feedback for employees look like?

  1. Regular: every day even. If you wait until a project or task is finished it may be too late to keep performance high and you’ve lost a chance to boost the individual’s skills and confidence. It is definitely not ok to only give feedback once or twice a year in a performance appraisal. Aim to make feedback part of your team’s culture… and watch performance improve.
  2. Factual: Hearsay, rumour or third party reporting can be disputed and can disrupt a positive feedback environment. You always need the facts, first hand.
  3. Specific: “Well done” tells the individual little. Which bit was well done? What made it well done? Why was it well done? To keep it specific, try using the simple mnemonic AID. Action: What the individual has actually done. Stick to the facts. Impact: The effect the individual’s actions have/had/could have. Do/Do differently: What needs to be done – more or less of the same? Or something different altogether?
  4. It focuses on behaviour and actions, not personality, attitude or character ie it is objective not subjective. Avoid, “You did that badly” or “you’re no good at…”. Instead suggest an action which could be improved: “That could be more effective if the xyz was deployed more quickly” or “What would have to change to make sure xyz didn’t happen next time?”
  5. It involves the individual and gives them responsibility for their actions. If you ask them “How do you think that went?” you will usually find they know what went well and what didn’t go well. Then you can coach them to identify ways to improve it for next time. If they are overly self-critical you have the pleasant task of explaining, using AID perhaps, why their performance was better than they thought. If they’ve missed something out, you can ask about a specific aspect of the task, “And what about xyz?” Give them a chance to tell you what they already think. Use coaching techniques where possible.
  6. It is often positive. Remember to give people feedback when they’re doing something well – not just when they’re doing something performance-limiting. It is just as important that people understand when and why they’re doing something useful and effective (AID is still appropriate). It makes people feel valued and reinforces effective behaviour.
  7. It doesn’t rely on the ‘feedback sandwich’: Positive/Negative/Positive does not always work. At best it can dilute the message; at worst it can leave the individual confused about what the key feedback actually is. If you need to feedback about something that didn’t go well, it is probably worth focusing on that issue on that occasion.
  8. It is timely and carried out in an appropriate location. This might mean it is done straightaway while the action is still fresh. Alternatively it may be more effective a few hours or a day or two later so that all parties are in the best emotional state to remain objective and effective. Allocate enough time, choose an undisturbed, quiet location, perhaps on neutral territory if it is likely to be a difficult conversation.
  9. It is a two- way street. Don’t wait for someone to give you feedback – ask for it. Make it easy for people to feel comfortable giving you feedback by asking, “What could I do more of/less of? What should I stop doing/start doing? What could I do differently?” If you hear something you weren’t expecting or difficult, you don’t have to react straightaway. Say something along the lines of, “Thanks for telling me that. I need to think about that. Can I get back to you in a few hours/days?”
  10. It is properly managed: it should be aligned to performance goals and reviewed. Show how the feedback can help them reach their goals and targets. If you give some feedback that prompts a change in behaviour, follow up on it to review progress.

Done regularly and effectively, feedback can be recognised as an opportunity, not a threat. People will be happy to take the rough with the smooth when they know that feedback is objective, appropriate and useful, designed to help them do their job better.

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