36 minute read – Posted by – April 29, 2016

The Leader’s Guide to Employee Feedback

Including NEW Remote Employee Feedback Best Practices

Table of Contents

Introduction to Coaching by Providing Employee Feedback
How Employee Engagement, Satisfaction, and Happiness Can Stem from Employee Feedback
Key Employee Feedback Principles
Types of Coaching by Providing Employee Feedback
Real-time Employee Feedback Best Practices
Continuous Employee Feedback Best Practices
How to Prepare for Employee Feedback and Coaching
How to Provide Effective Employee Feedback
Providing Effective Peer-to-Peer Feedback
Template for Weekly Employee Feedback
Template for Monthly Employee Feedback
Template for Quarterly Employee Feedback
Follow-up Actions After Providing Employee Feedback
Template for Individual Employee Reflection
Template for Management / Leadership Reflection
Template for Organizational Reflection
Additional Reads on Employee Feedback and Coaching

NEW! Remote Employee Feedback Best Practices

Introduction to Coaching by Providing Employee Feedback

Existing management paradigms places the focus of leaders on controlling the performance of their teams. This leads to a focus on managing job descriptions, not being a mentor, and providing timely employee feedback. Leaders worry about performance against job descriptions rather than helping the team grow. As a result, performance becomes measured through “magically determined” standards or year-end rankings.

Coaching focuses on discovery and development. Coaching isn’t just about evaluating performance, but guiding individuals with great feedback. Coaches are great leaders that empower their team to contribute to the organization and guides them to organizational success without alienation. Coaching as managing doesn’t place mentorship as a subset of management, but at the heart of it.

Leaders create an environment where learning is at the heart of every interaction. They make managing about leading others within a collaborative setting.

Leaders challenge others to develop skills and abilities on an aspirational level. They help others become self-sufficient. The individual coached becomes setup to pass leadership skills to others around them. This turns others into leaders themselves. A leader seeks out opportunities to care about others’ personal development. They challenge other individuals to grow continuously.

How Employee Engagement, Satisfaction, and Happiness Can Stem from Feedback

Engagement and happiness are very different

While employees might be happy at work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are effectively engaged. Perks such as free snacks, awesome benefits packages, or Friday night parties are awesome and beneficial for morale and team building, but that doesn’t necessarily mean employee engagement is present as a result of fun. Mentoring and leading employees is a fantastic form of employee engagement that helps aspire to career-oriented tasks and helps ensure employees are not only happy but engaged in their day-to-day objectives.

Satisfaction is mediocre – you shouldn’t strive to get an answer from someone that they’re satisfied showing up daily 9-to-5. Encourage employees to go the extra effort and want to go one step further! Employee engagement is important, so encourage stretch goal thinking where team members can self-assess and come up with innovative, creative ways to engage themselves while also growing their skills.

Employee engagement is the commitment employees have to the organization and its success

Engaged employees care about their work and how their actions impact organizational success. Attitude transitions from working for a pay-cheque, or just for the next promotion, to working on behalf of the organization’s goals. This means that employee engagement is tied to discretionary effort. They’ll work hard, over-time without being asked to get a job done awesome the first time. They’ll do something even if their manager isn’t paying attention, because they care. And they’ll always put the success of the team ahead of personal gain.

Key Employee Feedback Principles

Give performance feedback at the right time. Immediately after a presentation isn’t the best time to chat about performance enhancements. Processing by both parties must take place. It’s important to take notes, but scheduling a time to review projects is better than ad-hoc, on the spot constructive criticism giving or questioning when it comes to the big things.

Delegate ownership and facilitate learning. This means having faith that even if someone doesn’t have 100% of the knowledge to take over something, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given a chance! Think back to the first time someone took a risk on you and how much more you learned from that process rather than just observing. Practice learning through doing.

Motivate. Simple and straightforward – encourage growth!

Teach in ways that promote self-sufficiency, rather than answering the problem. This can be tricky as it’s easy to provide a solution, rather than think of probing questions to allow someone to draw their own. A good framework for this is:

  • Ask what they’d like to do less of. Often providing employee feedback is focused on positive momentum to improve upon something. Sometimes, giving feedback means recognizing that people do things they may not necessarily enjoy, but are mediocre or even good at. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you want to. Nothing motivates people less than having a subpar attitude towards something.
  • Ask them to tease out a project they are proud of. With this question comes a lot of further micro-questions such as ‘Why this one, not another one?’ ‘What was something you’d like to continue doing beyond this project into the next?’ and so on. It’s easy to pinpoint hard or soft skills one is good at (photoshop and being collaborative, respectively) but it’s harder to ground that in concrete takeaways. This pushes a deeper connection on why they are proud and what they can take to the next level next time.

Types of Coaching by Providing Feedback

Performance-Based

Providing employee feedback for performance involves asking questions after a project or duration of time. The questions focus on self-reflection. From the perspective of the employee, feedback for performance prompts questions such as, “What were you trying to accomplish?” and “What is your perception of the results achieved?”

Growth and Development Based

Providing employee feedback for personal growth focuses on how you help others succeed in their career. It hinges on the question, “What support or resources can I provide to help you reach your goal?”

Examples of Good Questions to Ask for Coaching Employees

Coaching conversations bridge the gap between what the actual outcome was and the expected result by providing employee feedback. They form from the other person’s own interpretation. Conversations starters can include:

  • What were you trying to accomplish?
  • What were the actual results of what the project achieved?
  • What caused the gap between what you wanted to achieve and results in you achieved?

A good leader can help team members think through what should be done next time to improve performance.

Real-time Employee Feedback Best Practices

Everyday interactions can provide rich feedback opportunities. It is important to transform daily interactions into real-time feedback moments. This balances out scheduled employee feedback or reflection with on-the-spot feedback.

Real-time Feedback vs. Scheduled Feedback

To determine if something is a real-time feedback session ask yourself, “Will I need more than 10 minutes?” If something is understandable in less than 10 minutes, treat it as real-time feedback. If the explanation or level of understanding needed to grow is more complex, have a scheduled employee feedback session.

Example of Providing Real-time Feedback

After a presentation allows time to digest how things went. Prompt them to reflect on their interpretation of how they expected things to go. Immediate employee feedback could only serve to leave a sour taste of ‘rubbing it in’ if it didn’t go so well. This increases the likelihood someone will be less receptive to constructive help. It is better to schedule employee feedback time. This way, everyone can reflect and prepare. It makes employee feedback a conversation, not a defense match.

Continuous Employee Feedback Best Practices

Feedback is often a pain point in any performance management process. It comes with the unsaid intentions of telling people, “You need to change.” Improvement discussions often create fractures and stress, not actual improvement. Feedback sessions become how someone needs to be different, not how they can grow. Confidence buzzkill.

Bringing Trust Makes Feedback More Receptive

Trust is often interpreted as an action. What is often misunderstood is that trusting is not an instruction, but a feeling. You can’t ask two people to trust each other and they will. There has to be an emotional willingness to trust. This starts when individuals get viewed as people, not just as subordinates in a vertical hierarchy.

Intentionally Leave Feedback Open-ended

Feedback focuses on making people matter. Use kindness as a driving element of any feedback process. When providing feedback, question what assumptions you’re bringing, so also be intentional. Intentional feedback embraces being honest about imperfections. It adjusts to what the person receiving the feedback needs. Feedback is not about asking them to fit your own definition of improvement. Feedback is about being intentional with your words in the kindest way possible to find a collaborative outcome. This says that the other person’s opinions also matter.

How to Prepare for Employee Feedback and Coaching

Create an Agenda

This keeps the meeting focused, allowing both parties to not get blind-sided. Both the facilitator and the feedback recipient should prepare and share an agenda of loose discussion topics and the purpose of the session. This includes the time you’ll be conversing and what you want as the end result of the meeting. Share the agenda couple of days before the employee feedback session so that both parties are aware of what the meeting is about. This gives prep time to come up with questions, answers, and further reflection before the meeting.

Create an Employee Feedback Template

Review any Action Items or Follow-up Notes

Review notes from previous sessions, if available. Look for any action plans that got discussed that now need a follow-up. If your teammate has created a draft of their reflection, go over the notes before the meeting so you’re prepared.

TIP: Choose a location that is private and neutral. A private corner in a coffee shop or a comfortable meeting room can provide an exclusive atmosphere. There’s no fear you’ll be overheard and misunderstood by anyone passing by. This ensures the meeting is focused without distractions.

How to Provide Effective Employee Feedback

Start With a Question

Start by opening up with a question such as “How do you think you are doing on this specific matter?” It provides context to start with and makes the person feel included in the conversation. Feedback should be a conversation, not a one-way task-list.

Bring an Objective Perspective

Be careful to separate emotions from your feedback. Feedback is for helping individuals improve. It is not an outlet to rant.

Be Specific With Your Feedback

Each feedback session should be about a focused topic. Don’t bring in extra people if it’s unnecessary. Feedback should be between 2 individuals, about a particular aspect or action item.

Go in With Realistic Expectations

Everyone is at different position in their career. Be mindful to set expectations based on previous employee feedback sessions. Do not expect everyone to be at the same level, at the same time. Feedback is about continuous growth, so be empathetic. Change takes time.

Build a Transparent Culture With Open Communication

Leading by example also means being open to help, and receive feedback at any time. Continuity is key.

Providing Effective Peer-to-Peer Feedback

In any office space, there is an abundance of peers – every single team member is your peer, regardless if they are a manager. Peer feedback focuses on the personal commitment that is made to the other, to help the other grow in a focused area. The result is a conversation coming from the place of intentional positivity to help.

Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Feedback

  • Both parties get to develop leadership, communication, and mentorship skills.
  • You get insights on trends within the field of your peer. This provokes expertise sharing, career strategizing, provides visibility into other career paths, and transforms everyone into a role model.
  • New bonds get created that allow each peer to tap into new networks.
  • Increased sense of contribution, evoking a collaborative environment where supporting others and growth is at the core.
  • Exchanging ideas with peers provides fresh, and otherwise untapped perspectives.

Template for Weekly Employee Feedback

  1. What’s going well in your role? Any big wins this week?
  2. What challenges are you facing and how can the team help?
  3. What are the most important things that you did this week?
  4. Is there anything else that you need to talk about for next week?

MORE TEMPLATES HERE: http://bit.ly/1on1templates

Template for Monthly Employee Feedback

  1. What’s surprised you in the past 30 days that you’d like to share?
  2. What do you believe was your biggest success this month based on your priorities?
  3. What were most challenging for you this month and why?
  4. How can I empower you to continue to be successful?

MORE TEMPLATES HERE: http://bit.ly/1on1templates

Template for Quarterly Employee Feedback

  1. What are you proud of and or have learned this quarter?
  2. What were your biggest barriers to success and how can I help you overcome them next quarter?
  3. Is there anything you’d like to step-up to next quarter?
  4. Anything you’d like to stop doing?
  5. Any feedback on processes we’re doing that you have insight on?
  6. Are there any resources that you need from me/the team to succeed further or grow your skills?

MORE TEMPLATES HERE: http://bit.ly/1on1templates

Follow-up Actions After Providing Employee Feedback

Review Employee Feedback Notes

During a conversation take light notes along the way. After the meeting, review your notes for accuracy. Share them with the employee to make sure you’re both on the same page. This ensures there is a record of action items.

Have Consistent Check-in’s

Effective coaching and employee engagement mean continuous follow-ups. Setting consistent deadlines for the next steps and follow-ups creates continuous touch points. Everything discussed sets up an environment of accountability. This ensures promises, commitments, and ongoing help aren’t forgotten.

Ensure Employee Engagement

It’s up to both the organization and the employee to commit and engage with improvement. You can only go so far as to help with growth if the resources aren’t there to support both parties. Never make promises that the team itself isn’t ready to engage with.

Template for Individual Employee Reflection

  1. Which responsibilities do you view as most important and why?
  2. Is there anything that has helped or hindered your growth? How can I help?
  3. What are your stand-out contributions to the rest of the team? Anything outside your scope-of-work?
  4. What are your current professional development goals? Anything you don’t want to do or want to start doing?

Template for Management / Leadership Reflection

  1. Am I continuously reviewing my team’s accomplishments and career plans?
  2. How am I providing support to help my team succeed?
  3. How can I better celebrate my team’s success and highlight their growth?
  4. Have I been contributing to helping others grow/the team succeeds?
  5. Have I provided an atmosphere where others can give me feedback?

Template for Organizational Reflection

  1. What core-values have we strongly exhibited as a team the past year?
  2. What can we do to help the further the professional development of each team and or individual employee?
  3. How well are we doing keeping our strategy fresh, and employees tied to the vision and purpose of the team?
  4. If we could improve in any way, how would we do it?
  5. Are we missing out on opportunities?
  6. What self-suggestions as a leadership team can we discuss?

Remote Employee Feedback

Enabling better remote communication

All of the really great high bandwidth communication that used to happen is now much rarer than it has ever been. High bandwidth communication is usually face-to-face; the reason why it’s high bandwidth is that so much information is being transmitted. It’s not just the words coming out of your mouth but also your facial expression and other non-verbal cues.

There’s a ton of information that gets transmitted when you have a face-to-face conversation. When you have low bandwidth communication — things like email, chat, or asynchronous video — a lot of that gets lost.

A face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than just sending an email or Slack message. As we shift to more low bandwidth communications we’re going to see some major challenges start to happen when it comes to communication.

Collaborating remotely and working in remote teams

With our current low-bandwidth and often asynchronous realities, collaboration is going to be tougher.  Connecting is going to take real work, rather than just happening organically. It’s harder to create accountability and it’s much easier to misunderstand what is being said. With remote work, we really have to take advantage of the moments and conversations we have.

There’s more cross-functional work happening than ever and more of a reliance on teams, which is fine when we think about it in a very small group. 84% percent of managers say they can rely on their boss, their direct reports, and their peers, all or most of the time. What gets interesting though is that between business units, it’s much less.

Only about nine percent of managers say they can rely on their colleagues and other functions or business units, and half say they can rely on them most of the time. That’s about the same as for an external vendor. People have the same amount of trust in other functional units as they do with an external supplier or distributor. As teams become more important, this is going to become a bigger and bigger issue.

The remote communication gap

We think about this problem across three different vectors:

The first is vertical —that is, between a leadership group and the rest of the organization, and really the other way too — the way the organization communicates back up to a leadership group

We also think about it horizontally, between functional units, and the ways they communicate and align, or the challenges that they have

Lastly, we consider intra-team communication, between a manager and their employees or in an empowered team, between employees themselves

What we’re seeing is that managers and peers often have a really hard time having challenging conversations, being vulnerable, recognizing achievement, and giving clear direction. That’s what we’re talking about in terms of the remote communication gap.

Improving alignment, communication, and transparency in remote teams

First off, offer visibility to team members. For instance, the beginning of the 2020 pandemic left maybe people wondering, is my company sustainable? It’s addressing this at a company level is important, especially during the pandemic. For example, a company can have weekly meetings with the entire company and actively update the team on our status. It’s been quite helpful knowing where the company is at.

If you’re looking at a department and team level, leverage your project management tools, whatever it is that you’re using. It helps by offering a dashboard, where you can look at your team and all the projects that they’re working on, add any comments or questions, see what’s about to be launched and where we are with all of it.

Lastly, 1-on1s are very important when you’re doing remote work. It’s the backbone of everything. Having frequent and recurring 1-on1s with your team is very helpful, even if it’s just 15 or 30 minutes. The ability to sync up and have that face time even remotely, ask your questions has been very, very crucial in any company. If you’re looking into having more visibility, it also comes back to accountability and setting expectations within your team, making sure that you are communicating clearly with your teams. If you’re a manager of people, explaining the ‘What,’ the ‘Why’ and the ‘When.’ Clearly communicating those areas might make your team feel like they know a little bit more and they are more aligned with you as well.

Adding more connection into remote 1-on-1 feedback

When we are facilitating our 1-on-1s remotely, we are missing some key situational and non-verbal cues that help make our 1-on-1s really effective. As a result, we may be starting to feel the 1-on-1s are less of a connection and more of a checkbox activity, which is the opposite of the goal of 1-on-1s.

  1. Accounting for situational cues

Let us explain what we mean by situational and non-verbal cues. In the office, you as a manager would likely pop by your team members’ desk and say, “you ready?” then walk with them to the meeting room.

Now, we both simply pop into a Zoom window. We miss the opportunity as managers to see what the team member was up to right before the 1-on-1; were they inflow work, in mid-conversation with another team member, struggling with an activity, etc. Those different activities can influence how our team members show up for their 1-on-1 and we miss those cues in a remote setting.

Tip #1: Make small talk like you are walking to the meeting room together as you start your remote 1-on-1. Ask them if they’ve got their coffee if they had a chance for a quick bio break, and what they were working on before they had to switch gears for this 1-on-1. This will help your team members context-switch, just like we used to do as we were switching rooms in the office.

  1. Keeping the focus solely on the 1-on-1

The next situational cue we are currently missing out on is the actual room we used to go into for our 1-on-1s. Just the action of walking to a different space, with likely only a pad of paper and pen or your computer, was a signal that this meeting was important. Our time as a manager was solely focused on our team members for the next 45 minutes to an hour.

In our remote world, if you’re like me, you likely have a ton of tabs open, notifications coming in from email and slack, and have been multitasking before the meeting.

Tip #2: Bring just your 1-on-1 material to the remote meeting and focus only on the team member. This means turning off your notifications so you don’t get distracted, close the tabs you don’t need, and communicate to your team member that they have your full attention during their 1-on-1. In doing so, we’re replacing what was a normal situational cue with a verbal acknowledgment.

  1. Reading non-verbal cues in a video environment

Now let’s talk about the non-verbal cues we may be missing out on right now due to our remote 1-on-1s. In-person, we can see when a team member starts to get uncomfortable or excited — they shift in their seat, lean in or away from us, fidget or take notes. Even in person, it can be hard to pick up on those cues, but it’s even more so remotely, when we may only get a view from the shoulders up.

Tip #3: Turn the non-verbal into verbal. Ask your team member how the feedback, topic, or discussion resonates with them and give them space to formulate their response. Some of us need time to reflect. Rather than getting an “Oh yeah, that makes sense” just to fill the air, give your team member some time to reflect and make sure it landed the way you intended it to. Since we can’t see them crossing or uncrossing their legs, or fidgeting with a pen in their hands below the camera, give them the space to tell you how that landed and unpack further if needed.

Making small talk, bringing just your 1-on-1 materials and focus to the meeting, and turning the non-verbal into verbal will help you put some of the connection back into your remote 1-on-1s.

Conducting effective performance reviews in remote teams

Here are a few helpful tips for conducting remorse performance reviews, while giving special consideration to the current circumstances.

  1. State the purpose of the review

This is important, especially if there have been changes to the process, like in the compensation example above.

  1. Reflect on lessons learned and how to apply them

“Orient your team towards the future,” says Ashleigh. “Use what we’ve just been through to provide opportunities for new challenges moving forward. Acknowledge that this has been a challenging time that we’ve just performed through.”

  1. Turn your cameras on

So much of our communication is non-verbal, so turn your cameras on, enabling both parties to see each other from the waist up. “When you’re having these conversations, remember we lose a lot if we can’t see each other,” says Robert. “If you only see a face, you lose some of the body languages. It sounds a small and pedantic thing, however, when you’re doing the video, we would suggest both you and your employee are away from the camera. That way you’re able to see more of the person’s reaction, expressions, and general body language, to better understand the whole communication piece.”

For many of our clients, continuing with a transparent performance review process, even in these challenging times, has helped them continue to perform and align around their goals. “It’s been instrumental in shaping the behaviors in our Singapore organization this year to one of more ownership, self-direction, peer recognition, and openness,” says Vicky Chai, Chief People Officer at SingLife. “The transparency of performance reviews, surveys, and targets has nurtured more trust and hence better engagement with our employees. 7Geese is a massive tool for change for us!”

Additional Reads on Employee Feedback and Coaching

Finding the Balance Between Coaching and Managing – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. Harvard Business Review [June, 2014]

What is business coaching? – Jonathan Raymond, VP of Marketing of eMyth. [January 10th, 2013]

Finding the Balance Between Coaching and Managing – Holly Green, Contributor. Forbes [May, 2012]

Coaching and the art of management  – Evered and Selman in the Organizational Dynamics Journal

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May Chau

May is a Content Strategist contributing to the improvement of modern performance management at 7Geese. Connect with her via may@7geese.com