Using Positive and Effective Feedback in the Workplace

And Some Things You Should Never Say

how to give effective feedback: be specific, be sincere, offer help, and be timely

Image by Ashley DeLeon © The Balance

What exactly is feedback and what's the best way to give it for the best results? From a managerial perspective, feedback is your evaluation of an employee's work quality and performance, given to that employee.

Feedback lets an employee know what they did right or wrong, and gives methods to improve upon the tasks they didn't complete or did incorrectly. Given in a positive manner, feedback is one of the key methods of developing an employee.

The Purpose of Feedback 

The purpose of feedback is to reinforce positive behaviors that contribute to performance and eliminate negative behaviors that can detract from performance. Good employees need and want to know how they're doing, and effective managers work hard to master the art and process of ​conducting difficult conversations and offer meaningful assessments. 

Giving feedback is one of the most important parts of a manager’s job.

Feedback is a useful tool when you have identified an employee's blind spots.

Blind spots (in a work-related context) are areas that someone may not know exist, may not understand, or be unable to address by themselves. We all have our blind spots, and a manager who is focused on employee development can help an employee become aware of and address theirs. 

Effective Feedback

There are some general methods for giving effective and positive feedback:

  • Get to the point and be specific. Don't drag other semi-related or similar incidents into the conversation. Focus on one event at a time, and be sure all events are related to the period being discussed
  • The feedback should directly address the job or how the individual is handling the job 
  • If you have a personality conflict with an individual, consider working to overcome your differences before offering feedback. Try to understand where the employee is coming from. Much of the time a personality conflict can be resolved by simply listening to what an employee has to say
  • Regular, scheduled feedback sessions are effective for employee development. However, you shouldn't wait for scheduled feedback sessions to address an issue. Address any issues as they occur
  • Ensure you show appreciation after an employee has achieved goals set during feedback sessions. The event will still be fresh in the employee's mind so they can put it in context and take the same approach again 
  • If change is a difficult challenge, offer suggestions and assistance at the very least. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty showing someone how to do something difficult

There are different types of feedback you can give. Job performance, behavioral, career, and personal feedback are some examples.

Job Performance Feedback 

When giving feedback, you should be wary of how you word and portray it. Try to think about how to address the individual and circumstance before providing the feedback.

A positive example of feedback could be: “Alex, you exceeded your production goal by 20% last week. Great job. That’s really going to help us meet our overall plant production and financial goals. How did you do it?”

You may not want to reward hard work with even more hard work: “Chris, I just noticed you exceeded your production goal last month. Great job. This month’s goal will be increased by 20%."

The first example shows an interest in your employee's skills, whereas the second example gives the employee a negative feeling. The last response probably convinced them not to work that hard again. 

Behavioral Feedback

Behavioral feedback is feedback that is focused on an employee's specific behavior that needs adjustment. If a sales-person is not meeting their weekly contact goals, it may not be effective to tell them they need to do better. A manager should find out why the calls being made are not as effective as they could be.

A positive behavioral feedback example could be, "Nancy, I noticed in the last few weeks that you struggled to meet your contact goals. I was looking over your numbers, and it seems as if there might be something we could do to improve. It appears that you may be making sales calls at the wrong times. What do you think?"

A poor example might be, “Nancy, you need to work harder to make more contacts with our prospects.”

It's already been established that Nancy may not be doing well. You won't convince her to improve her behavior by telling her to work more. The first response identifies a possible problem while getting her thoughts also. 

Career Feedback

If you had an employee showing potential for leadership, you could try this example: “Matt, I think you have leadership potential. You’ve demonstrated an ability to motivate teams, you can deal with ambiguity, and you're a quick study. Is leadership something you're interested in exploring?”

If you give the employee an option and time to think about it, you may be surprised at the response. This gives Matt something to consider, build on, and be proud of rather than putting him on the spot with a sudden promotion. He may turn down the offer, but you didn't force him into a corner and make him do something he wasn't ready for.

Personal Problem Feedback

Everyone has times of personal struggle. If you notice a difference in an employees performance, demonstrate your support and offer assistance. “Ann, I’ve noticed that you haven't been yourself for the last two weeks. You made two significant errors on your last two proposals, you missed an important deadline, and when we met yesterday, you didn’t seem to be paying attention to me. I had to repeat myself twice. I’m concerned because this isn’t like you at all. If there’s something going on in your life, I realize that it might be private and none of my business, but I’m concerned that it’s impacting your job. Is there anything I can do?"

A poor approach to a personal issue would be: “Ann, are you and your husband having problems?”

Note that the first approach did not try to identify the personal problem. The employee would feel respected that her privacy was being honored. Stick to addressing job performance, and offer assistance if you can. Make a referral to an employee assistance program if you have one available. 

Final Thoughts

The way feedback is delivered and how issues are discussed will certainly depend on the context and the level of trust between the manager and employee. Used positively, feedback can bring managers and team members closer together and improve employee performance.