How to Provide Constructive Feedback to Develop Employee Skills

These Tips Will Help You Help Your Employees Grow

Business man provides constructive feedback to his coworker in a meeting.
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Rajeev Behera, CEO of the performance management platform Reflektive, once commented, "Praise, by definition, is expressing the approval or admiration of something or someone. Feedback, on the other hand, is information about a person’s performance of a task used as a basis for improvement. In other words, both feedback and praise can be positive, but feedback is always designed to improve performance."

Feedback should be aligned with your employee's goals and skills, and designed to assist them with professional growth. There is much that is good about offering praise for those doing the work.

When praising your employees, keep in mind that it did not do anything to help their development or growth, it just lets them know you see and appreciate their work.

Develop Employee Goals

As you manage your workforce, over a short time you should notice the behaviors and job performance of your employees. As you notice these, you should begin to write down what you see so that you can begin to develop a growth plan for each of them.

After a time, you'll know your employees' performance goals—what sales targets they are supposed to reach, how many files they are supposed to process every day, or whatever your employees are working towards.

While you are observing, be sure to ask them what their personal career goals are, so you can address that during a feedback session as well.

These steps will help you to focus your feedback. Behera recommends taking these goals and dividing them into achievable tasks and skills so that they don't stay vague. For instance, if your employee's goal is to “give better presentations” you'll want to break down what skills are needed.

The skills needed for presentations could be:

  • Speaking confidently and clearly
  • Knowledge of the subject matter
  • Creating slides that convey data better than words can
  • Responding to questions from the meeting participants
  • Keeping the meeting focused by redirecting people back to the main topic

Next, you provide feedback for the employee on their presentation. Refer back to these skills. “You were confident with that data. You knew exactly what you were talking about and everyone at the meeting could tell you were prepared.”

Note that you're being specific, and focusing on the areas that your employee needs to improve upon.

Regular One-On-One Meetings

If you want to give positive feedback to your employees, you should take the time to do so. On-the-spot feedback is effective and necessary, but a quiet session where you can both talk is best.

A realistic goal for regular feedback sessions is once a month. This may not be achievable in some industries, so work to make them as often as you can. Regardless of the schedule you choose, you should try to meet with your employees often enough so that they benefit from the interaction.

If you hold all the information until the end of the year review, it won't mean much to the employee, and it won't help the employee improve any during the period. The end of the year review should be used to summarize all of the previous feedback sessions to show the employee the progress they have made.

Early and frequent feedback lets the employee know that they're on the right path and that they could employ the same strategies in other areas. You will probably forget (and so will the employee) most of the actions that deserved calling out if you only give feedback once or twice a year.

Avoid the Feedback Sandwich

Anyone who works in management or Human Resources has heard that you should sandwich "bad feedback" between two layers of "good feedback". So, for example, you say, “Jane, you did a great job on that presentation. However, you were late three out of five days last week, and I, uh, really like your email signature.”

This has no positive effects. It's only done because the manager felt compelled to provide feedback. This is usually seen when there are mandatory feedback sessions, managers don't have anything prepared, and they were taught to use the sandwich method.

Provide Developmental Feedback 

Something else to keep in mind is that there is no such thing as negative, or bad, feedback. A feedback session should identify issues but have positive ideas or goals as a result. If Jane was late three out of five days last week, give feedback to her. "Jane, I noticed you were late last week three days. Is everything ok, or anything I can do to help you make it here on time?"

"It was car trouble, but it's fixed now? Sounds great, I'm glad you got it fixed."

There was nothing negative about this, and Jane had an actual problem.

Now if Jane had woke up late those three days, perhaps a feedback session with some goals and steps designed will ensure she is on time. "Jane, what do you think about checking your alarm every night to make sure it's set, laying your clothes out the night before, and ensuring you leave at a time that allows you to make it through traffic to get here for work?"

Again, this is not "bad feedback", it is simply feedback.

Good Feedback Is Important

Managing isn't just about achieving the numbers and keeping executives happy. It isn't about the praise and thankfulness you offer employees when they do a good job.

Management is also about developing, motivating, and coaching employees. Feedback used properly will make your department a great place to work, and give your employees a chance to grow. As you nurture your employees, you will see improvements in your productivity. Everyone can benefit from specific and positive feedback.