Employee Feedback: Make the Right Impact

Here’s a scenario that every people manager is familiar with: An employee makes a mistake, or is displaying less-than-stellar performance. Since you know the importance of providing in-the-moment feedback, you follow up immediately by delivering helpful, actionable, and constructive feedback.

“Feedback isn’t always received with a smile and a genuine thank you.

In an ideal world, the employee is curious and receptive to your feedback – they listen actively, ask thoughtful questions, graciously thank you for your input, smile, and walk away. Following the conversation, they immediately absorb and apply your suggestions, and you never need to talk about the issue again.

In the real world, that’s not always how the scenario plays out. Feedback isn’t always received with a smile and a genuine thank you. At times, employees hearing feedback become defensive and argumentative, won’t engage in the conversation, shut down completely, or don’t show any noticeable improvement afterwards.

While ultimately, we’re all responsible for our own reactions and you can’t control how an employee responds to feedback, you can improve the odds of positive reception by taking some of the sting out of the delivery.

Here’s how to help ensure your feedback has the impact you’re hoping for:  

1. Focus on the intent. Feedback can be tough to give, but it’s often even harder to receive. Emotions are often triggered in the recipient, which is why it’s important to focus on the intent behind the feedback when you’re giving it. Though feedback is often delivered following an employee mistake, it shouldn’t be about singling out, punishing, or venting frustrations. If you can’t identify the constructive purpose for giving the feedback, don’t give it at all. Effective feedback fuels improvement – it’s forward-looking, and it’s about defining changes to be made, identifying opportunities for growth and opening the door to discussions on how to achieve better outcomes next time.

2. Avoid the “feedback fire hose”. Especially if there are lots of areas for improvement, refrain from coming to a meeting with a 20-item list of changes the employee needs to make. Instead of fire hosing them with information, pick the most important pieces and concentrate on those. Particularly with new employees, if you give too much feedback all at once, it’s easy for the recipient to feel overwhelmed, confused and discouraged.  This can be a slippery slope and lead to an employee’s self doubt, lack of confidence and likely, a rocky start to the employee-employer relationship – not a recipe for success!

3. Keep it objective. The feedback you’re giving isn’t about the person, it’s about assessing their work performance. For some folks, that’s a difficult distinction to make. To help your feedback land the way you want it to, use a neutral tone, avoid accusatory-sounding “you” language, be specific, and frame your feedback on observations rather than assumptions about the person’s motivations or intentions.

4. Coach them on receiving feedback. Tried all of the strategies above and still find your feedback isn’t hitting the mark? There’s little point in continuing to give feedback to an employee who hasn’t learned how to receive and apply feedback effectively. Like any performance issue, if an employee can’t take feedback, it needs to be addressed. Here’s where offering feedback on how to receive feedback comes in. Schedule a meeting to chat with your employee, and come prepared with neutral observations and questions about their responses to feedback. Approach the conversation with curiosity, and ask for feedback on your own delivery during your discussion.  From your employee’s perspective, it could be that they’re sensitive to something that you weren’t even aware of.  Be sure to clearly request the changes you need to see moving forward, and specify that receiving feedback appropriately is part of everyone’s job description!

Your Engaged Assignment: If you’re finding your feedback is falling flat, it could be time to rethink your delivery strategy. Next time you’ve got some constructive feedback to share with an employee, take a moment beforehand to review the tips above and strategize accordingly.