5 Strategies for Giving Constructive Employee Feedback
The need for both positive and constructive feedback is one all managers should know quite well. We have to do it, and we have to do it right. To deliver feedback correctly managers need tact, empathy, and a firm and intimate understanding of how certain employee actions (positive or negative) will affect the company.
Here’s 5 solid tips for giving employee feedback that will help you make praise feel more rewarding, and constructive criticism feel less like a slap in the face and more like you’re trying to coach that employee to the limits of their potential:
1. Negative feedback: Do it in person to avoid alienating employees!
Negative feedback feels like a punch in the gut when the employee doesn’t see it coming. Just like in boxing or MMA; it’s the one you don’t see coming that will knock you out. When an employee does wrong right in front of you, there is rarely a need for a formal sitdown after the fact to explain why their actions were bad.
In situations where you have to give formal criticism, don’t send emails or texts, or leave a voicemail detailing your criticism. It must be in person. Either of the aforementioned delivery systems will come off as largely punitive, making the employee feel largely helpless and isolated from you and your team.
Instead, talk it out in person – identify the circumstances that led to the mistake, listen to their reasoning and opinions. Then finish the conversation by ironing out a plan to repair the damage and prevent the same errors in the future.
2. Make strides to balance positives with negatives
Employees, and all human beings in general, react up to six times more strongly to negative comments than they do praise. Studies have shown that successful marriages require 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative in order to have a chance at celebrating a silver anniversary. Relationships with employees and clients need to be treated in the same way.
A captor can sway their captive by bombarding them with negatives and the occasional positive such as a nice meal or small gift – you cannot. If you care about your subordinates, you should take as many opportunities as you can to make them feel good about their relationship with you, their team, and the company as a whole.
With this smart approach, when negative feedback must be delivered, you’ll have plenty of good experiences banked, and they’ll be less likely to look at your critiques as outright criticism and more likely to view it as advice on how to do their job better.
3. The Timing Factor
One of the worst things a manager can do is wait until too much time has passed to give feedback. Whether we’re talking about waiting a year in between scheduled reviews, giving feedback on specific projects, or too much time elapsing after they’ve done something they shouldn’t have.
Memories fade over time and that which is obvious to both parties will not be in a month, two months, and certainly not in a year’s time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re delivering positive or negative feedback – the passing of time will always diminish the effect it has on an employee either way.
Feedback should be given every three months in general, upon project completion and review, and obviously employees need to be spoken to (and reprimanded, if necessary) directly following instances where they make mistakes.
4. Sandwich Approach?
I’ve placed a question mark on this particular employee feedback strategy for a very good reason. Use the Sandwich Approach cautiously, after carefully assessing and testing each employee’s individual characteristics and behaviors.
Sandwiching a critical comment in between two positives can be very effective when used on the right person. However, in many cases it comes across as plain and simple pandering – making them feel you’re “buttering them up” with fake kindness so they don’t overreact to the message you most want to deliver.
Sandwiching the bad in between the good can also make you look weak when dealing with strong-willed types, as they’ll see your indirect approach as fearfulness. For employees who’re headstrong and hard to control, using the sandwich will in fact empower them – in the wrong way – making them less likely to take the criticism you’re delivering as constructive.
For sensitive types and downright chronic screw-ups, the sandwich can prove very effective, making them feel as if you care enough to cushion the blow and actually point out positives along with the negative. An employee who likes the sandwich will sing your praises to coworkers and often go out of their way to fix their shortcomings.
5. Deliver feedback that’s outcome oriented
This strategy is one that’s very rarely used to its ultimate effectiveness. While it should be obvious that negative critiques will have an outcome such as “Don’t do this again or else” (harsh, but more often than not true), positives often get treated like more of a gift than they really are.
In order to keep people working on the path to greatness within your company, they need to understand the impact of the praise or constructive criticism you’re delivering.
- “Mary, you really knocked that design project out of the park. Keep up the good work and I see bigger and better things for you on the horizon!”
- “John, ‘Client X’ told me how hard you worked to make things right on their last contract. That’s the kind of customer service excellence that leads to advancement in this company.”
- “Mary, I’ve been looking over your past projects and honestly, that last design project was below your potential. I really want to see you succeed and become one of our design team managers one day. Here’s how you’re going to make that happen…”
- “John, “Client X” told me they were very unhappy with your service levels which led them to go with another company. They gave me a list of things you could have done/said that would have swayed the vote in our favor.”
By offering outcomes, even if the situation demands those outcomes be ultimatums such as “Shape up or ship out,” the employee not only understands the gravity of their actions, but also understands where those actions can lead them in the future – good or bad.
Most times the act of giving feedback is clouded in negative connotations. By using the strategies noted above, employees will be more open to feedback, will have an increase in respect for management, and ultimately strive to do their jobs better.
This article is brought to you by the University of Findlay’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. MBA at University of Findlay prepares tomorrow’s business leaders through comprehensive curriculum focused on personal and professional development.
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