One of the most difficult parts of managing employees is giving constructive feedback. In fact, a 2015 poll commissioned by Interact showed that a whopping 37% of the managers surveyed reported being uncomfortable giving feedback to their staff.
Communication is key to healthy work relationships and a productive environment, so knowing how and when to give feedback is crucial.
Unsure of what's worth saying? Here are five tips for giving (and getting) useful employee feedback.
1. Give Feedback Often
Don't wait for a quarterly or annual review to give feedback. Give it daily or weekly—as often as you have it. Experts agree that the yearly performance review is the worst time to surprise an employee with negative feedback. The best time to give any feedback is right after a situation or event has occurred. It’s the way humans are wired.
Keep in mind that when you provide feedback on a regular basis, it won't—and shouldn't—always be a major compliment or criticism. Often it will be simple, but constructive. Simply pointing out a good idea or suggesting an adjustment is often all your employees need to keep moving in the right direction.
The goal should be to continually communicate openly and honestly about ongoing projects. You'll soon get to a point where you don't even think about it as giving feedback.
2. Be Specific, Avoid Vagueness
Broad, general feedback isn't helpful because it provides no context and can be misinterpreted. Try to address actual situations. Give your employees specific examples of things they've done that you like and those things they've done that could have been better approached. Which means skipping phrases like, “You always” and “You never.”
For example, let's say one of your employees handed in project deliverables later than the agreed upon deadline. Instead of simply telling this person they need to work on time management, talk to them about that specific project. Outline what your expectations had been, recap the ways in which you communicated the deadline, and ask them why they were late. This makes the situation very real to them, helps them understand the seriousness of it, and gives you an opportunity to help them identify why the deadline wasn't met so that they can plan better next time.
Then the next time you catch them meeting a deadline, let them know how much you appreciate it. Tangible examples stick with a person, vague generalities don’t.
3. Try to Keep it Positive
Not to say that you always need to be positive, as that’s nearly impossible. But a University of Minnesota study found employees reacted to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they reacted to a positive interaction.
Which means, when it comes to feedback, your criticism will be six times more powerful than your compliment.
In other words, if you want to motivate someone, show them what they’re doing right.
When you need to give negative feedback to a staff member, do so wisely—and privately (no one likes to be berated in front of their teammates). If you don’t, you may see them start to turn out less than stellar work, which won’t help you or your business. Use the steps outlined here to help you carefully plan how you’ll give your feedback judiciously.
The key takeaway of this point is to give praise generously and publicly. It’s not only beneficial for your staff, it’s also a great way to remind yourself of the positive contributions each person makes on your team.
4. Create Next Steps
If you’ve given a staff member corrective feedback, make sure they have realistic, actionable next steps they can take to improve their performance. Doing so can turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one.
Be honest and clear about what needs to be done and how they should meet your expectations. Once again, focus on being specific. Create timelines, milestones, and deadlines so you both can track progress.
Achieving concrete goals and focusing on solutions, rather than problems, will make your staff member a stronger employee and a better teammate.
5. Listen to Your Staff
Remember that a feedback loop is—in fact—a loop. If you want to lead, motivate, and inspire, you not only need to know how to speak, you need to know how to listen.
Learning to actively listen can be difficult. For many people, especially leaders, hearing feedback from their staff can make them feel defensive. If that’s you, make sure you’re “in a good space” before you meet with a staff member and ask for feedback. That means few electronic distractions on your desk and making an effort to control your emotions as you hear them speak their mind. To make sure you’ve understood them correctly, be sure to ask clarifying questions and repeat points back. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s a skill well worth pursuing.
If that seems a bit too much to tackle right now, you may want start your listening process by using anonymous surveys; a place for employees to weigh in on topics like satisfaction with their managers and happiness in their jobs. You can then publish the results and let your staff know what actions you’ll take to address their feedback.
We hope we’ve given you some good pointers on managing feedback with your team. If you need more advice on talent management or just need creative talent fast, fill out our Request Talent form and we’ll get in touch ASAP!