How to Give Employee Feedback That Makes a Difference

April 28, 2013 - 6 minute read - Posted by

The term “Feedback” has become very prevalent in the business world. You can view this infographic about the importance of feedback and its evolution in organizations. I am currently on chapter 5 of Abolishing Performance Appraisals by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins and it really spoke to me as the authors talk about several areas of feedback that are not usually mentioned in the generic articles but are very important. In this blog, I will touch upon these topics and add my thoughts to them.

One condition for effective feedback that the authors talk about is that the feedback is given in a personal and interactive manner. We are living in the digital era where social media and smartphone have enable communication 24/7 worldwide. The advanced technology has given rise to a new problem: what to communicate face-to-face and what to communicate using all the new technology? Feedback on performance is definitely a matter that should be discussed in private and in person whenever possible. You want your employees to be able to listen to your intonation, to read your body language, and most importantly, to have the opportunity to ask you for more clarification if needed.

I remember this incident at my previous employment where I received a constructive feedback by email. The communication between me and that manager escalated very fast mostly because I felt like I could not defend myself. We eventually sort the matter out in person but the relationship was strained as due to my schedule, I only got to meet up with her couple of days after the initial feedback email. Although feedback might be centered on communicating an employees performance for a project or a job, it is still a two-way communication process. So you want to engage your employees in the conversation. I also think that having a face-to-face discussion with your employees about their performance shows genuine interest in them i.e. you are taking the time for supporting and coaching employees rather than just shooting a quick email about the matter. This applies to both positive and constructive feedback. I would encourage you to have a follow up session privately with your employees to whom you gave constructive feedback to in order for you to be able to recognize their improvement in performance and end the conversation on the specific issue positively.

What also really spoke to me about that chapter is how the authors are advocates of not only training on how to give feedback, but also training on how to receive feedback. You can give the best informative feedback but it is not going to be effective if it does not help improve the employees’ performance. The best feedback is when the employees asks for it. This is usually an indication that they are open to the feedback and ready for improvement if needed. The best way to start with engaging your employees to ask for feedback is your organization’s culture. As mentioned in my previous blog on communicating core values in your organization, you need to set the tone for your employees. For example, after a meeting, privately ask each of your members to provide you with feedback. It does not have to be revolutionary feedback, but engage them in giving feedback and demonstrating your openness to it. Ideally, you would practice giving and receiving feedback to your executive team members so that your employees see that every level of the organization is being involved in this process. What I also really liked about this chapter is the authors explaining that it is not about learning the techniques of giving and receiving feedback, but it’s about learning “a new art and increasing awareness about the dynamics of information, learning, and good timing…”.

Giving and receiving feedback is a hybrid of science and art – you want to be able to balance your feedback in terms of focusing on behaviours and the timing while also paying attention to reading your employees’ reaction and making sure that they leave the conversation understanding the feedback and how to improve their performance for the best. One thing that I think is important to mention is that do not assume that if an employee is not responding well to feedback, they are not a fit for your company culture. Like I mentioned in my example above, many people may just have had a bad experience with the whole concept of giving and receiving feedback. Take the time to educate and enlighten these employees.

I am looking forward for my next blog in which I want to discuss taking compensation out of the equation of coaching and feedback sessions. For now, I encourage all of you to take the first step in creating a strong culture around feedback in your organization. Start by asking feedback from your employees; leading by example will motivate them to start asking you for feedback in return.

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