Giving Feedback to an Employee

If you’re a manager, it can be tough to give direct feedback to someone on your team. It’s possible you fear saying the wrong thing and how it might be received. Put simply, giving feedback is not the highlight of your job as a manager.

We get it. That’s why we created a comprehensive guide for giving more effective feedback to your team. Let’s jump in.

The Groundwork

In this first section we’ll talk about the foundational elements to giving feedback to an employee. Like a farmer planting a crop, it’s important to make sure the soil is able to take the seed and grow. The seed (feedback) may be perfect, but if the soil isn’t prepared, nothing will grow.

The same notion exists for giving feedback. There’s key foundational pieces that can enable you to give feedback that’s received by your report. Put simply, most of the work you can do is before the feedback is given.

Frequent Check-ins

As a manager (especially a new manager), it’s important that you have an ongoing conversation with each employee. We recommend one-on-ones as a way to build this habit. Your team needs to know that you care about their well-being and that your feedback comes from a desire to be helpful.

The only way this can be accomplished is by getting to know your team on a personal basis. You don’t need to be best friends, but you do need to develop a relationship built on respect.

Another major benefit to checking-in with your team frequently is that you can identify and address any behavior that you see when it’s small, not when it becomes a major issue. It’s tough to ask an employee to stop behaving a certain way if it’s been happening for months compared to if it’s a relatively new behavior.

From a manager’s perspective this simple act of checking in can lower the barrier to giving feedback. You’re putting out a campfire instead of a wildfire.

Praise Frequently

Another key piece of giving effective feedback is to make sure there’s a healthy balance of positive/negative feedback. Positive feedback encourages good behavior. Negative feedback discourages certain behaviors.

Research suggests that you should give five pieces of positive reinforcement for every one piece of negative reinforcement. As a manager, make sure you’re offsetting any negative feedback you give with positive reinforcement. From an employee perspective, this is how you can show that you care about them as a person.

Feedback Framework

Now let’s jump into a basic framework for giving feedback. This should be used for positive and negative reinforcement. Remember, the purpose of feedback is to encourage correct behavior.

We recommend that you share this framework with your team, as to give them context and help them understand the process. If you want to go above and beyond, ask each employee how they like to receive feedback, both positive and negative.

Opt-in

First, the feedback must be received by the team member. How do you ensure that they are willing to take it? It’s simple - ask them for permission to give feedback.

Start off by asking - “Do you mind if I give you some quick feedback?” or “Can I share an observation I’ve had with you?”

If the employee says yes, proceed to the next step. Otherwise, don’t give the feedback. This may sound crazy, but the associate may need a bit of time to cool down.

Current behavior

The next step is to mention the behavior that you observed followed by the impact of the behavior. It’s important here not to focus on someone’s personality, but instead the behavior that was exhibited and the byproduct of the behavior. Behavior is something that can change. Personality...not so much.

For example, you could say: “When I see (insert behavior here), (impact of behavior)”. A few examples below:

“When you help Staci fix the printer, it really speeds things up and helps us be more productive. Thank you for doing that.”

“When you take two hour lunch breaks it sends a signal to the rest of the team that you aren’t pulling your weight. Is this something you can work on in the future?”

“When you argue with Tim in our weekly meetings, it doesn’t help us bond as a team and be productive. Can you change that next week?”

Future behavior

When giving feedback it’s important to focus on the future, because that can be changed. You can’t alter what happened a couple hours ago at a company meeting, but you can encourage your team to change their behavior down the road.

There’s a plethora of reasons why someone may have behaved a certain way. Their motivations and reasoning may have been perfectly reasonable. But the focus needs to be on the behavior itself, not the person.

Understanding motivations

We believe that it’s important to understand the motivations behind a behavior. These go hand-in-hand. While this isn’t a requirement for giving feedback, it can be helpful to understand motivations as to help them with future behavior. For example, if Staci gets upset at Tim in a meeting, what is the root cause of the behavior?

It could be that Staci is jealous of Tim’s new role and she’s been struggling with her workload. If you don’t dig deeper into understanding the reasoning behind the behavior, you’re missing an opportunity to help them in the future.

How to be more effective

When you’ve established the groundwork and started delivering feedback through the framework listed above, there’s a few additional ways to improve and deliver more effective feedback.

Manage emotions

It may come naturally to deliver feedback when angry. This won’t encourage the employee, so you should wait until you calm down a bit. Remember, the purpose of feedback is to encourage good behavior and curb bad behavior. When you make feedback about yourself, it does not encourage the ultimate goal.

Timing matters

Make sure the feedback is delivered as close to the behavior as possible. Once again, don’t deliver feedback when you’re angry, but it’s also important that the feedback is as timely as possible.

Think of a sports coach on the practice field. If the feedback is delivered minutes after a play happens, it may be too late. Oftentimes coaches will stop the play, deliver the feedback, and run the play again. The correct timing reinforces the feedback.

Prepare

As you get used to the feedback framework listed above, preparation is helpful. Changing your behavior takes time and intentionality. Take a few minutes before the meeting to write out the feedback that you’d like to deliver. Write down something like:

“When you (insert behavior), it (effect of behavior).”

If you need to, practice giving the feedback beforehand, keeping your emotions in check. Over time, with more practice you can become more successful. But learning how to give feedback doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an investment in yourself, so make sure to prepare and dedicate time to becoming more effective.

In Conclusion

Giving feedback isn’t easy, but practice makes perfect. By focusing on positive reinforcement first, you can build a framework for delivery, so when you need to give negative sounding feedback, you have a mental model you can rely on.

Make sure to loop your team into this framework too. It’s something that employees can use too when giving feedback to you.