9 Ways to Give Effective Feedback as a Manager

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Giving feedback effectively is critical for the success of an individual and for an organisation. Whatever your management style, it’s your job as a manager to let team members know how they perform and contribute to the company’s overall goals. It also helps them understand areas that need improvement and take corrective actions in a timely manner.

But, unfortunately, delivery of feedback is often not very effective due to the fear of putting people in a place of discomfort and causing a strain on the employee relationship. A Gallup study found that only 26% of employees feel they receive effective feedback to improve and grow. This means managers cannot just point out what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but instead need to listen, understand the situation and develop an action plan to help their employees succeed.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that it involves a lot of emotions and feelings. You’re trying not to offend anyone but at the same time you want to be direct and honest.

So, how do you give feedback to help get the outcome you need?

Here are nine ways to give feedback as a manager.

1. Be direct

This type of feedback involves talking to the employee in question directly by pulling them aside or talking to them in private as part of your scheduled one-on-one meetings. It creates a safe space for more open conversations, especially when it relates to vulnerable topics.

Remember to make this a two-way conversation where you express your opinions by giving the other party a chance to ask follow-up questions, and ultimately have more discussions. The last thing you want to do is lecture the employee and treat them like a brick wall or, worse, a child.

2. Seek help from others to share your feedback

There are situations where you may notice positive or negative behaviours or actions and you need to let the offending employee know about it. Perhaps this person doesn’t report directly reporting to you; they instead might be part of another team with another manager.

During these situations, you could approach the employee’s manager and give them the feedback to reach them promptly. You could also send an email to the employee with their manager on CC. This is a good approach to use when you recognise good work and want to make sure it gets noticed by their boss.

3. Use the sandwich method

A popular approach for giving feedback is the sandwich method, where you slip in negative feedback in between two positive ones. This type of feedback is useful during performance review meetings or interacting with an employee who you know is sensitive to negative feedback. It helps to set a relaxed atmosphere for having serious discussions.

Keep in mind that this method may not work for all employees. Research has found that only novices prefer to seek positive responses compared to experts who are more eager to hear negative feedback to figure out where they’re making insufficient progress.

Overall, the sandwich method helps to make people more receptive to negative feedback and ultimately helps them come away from the conversation with a good feeling.

4. Be constructive in your feedback

Constructive feedback is supportive feedback you give to your employees to help identify solutions to improve on their weaknesses. It comes from a place of positive intentions to address specific concerns. This is also one of the hardest types of feedback to give, as it has to be carefully worded while also being valuable to the employee.

Your feedback to employees must be constructive to help them understand what they’re doing wrong. For example, instead of saying ‘You do not communicate well in meetings’, you could be more constructive and say ‘I noticed that when you are talking in meetings, you tend to digress from the actual topic at hand’. The latter helps paint the picture of what exactly the person is doing wrong and immediately take corrective action.

5. Focus on behaviour

There’s a big difference between giving feedback based on behaviour and giving feedback based on personal traits. Consider these two examples:

  • ‘You don’t listen in meetings.’
  • ‘I have noticed that, in meetings, you tend to reply before another person has a chance to share their thoughts completely. This prevents the free flow of ideas and coming up with solutions.’

The feedback that focuses on behaviour is the second. You’re specific with what problem you are noticing in the person. You describe why it’s detrimental to the team and, finally, highlight why it has to be corrected. This is a better approach instead of making vague accusations, which are not helpful for anyone.

Focusing on behaviour emphasises a specific behaviour that should change in the future and is less threatening to a person expecting to hear comments about their traits.

6. When you see something, say something

In this approach, an employee is given feedback based on a reaction to something they did. It could be as simple as ‘You did great in the meeting’, ‘It was a great presentation’ or constructive criticism such as ‘It was great what you told us, but next time we only need to hear X, Y and Z’ or ‘This approach seems to work better – what do you think?’

You should deliver this type of feedback on time. As soon as you notice something, take immediate action.

7. Involve the entire team

Group feedback is when give feedback to your entire team in a group setting.

A sensible manager will immediately start to figure out what are the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Focus the feedback based on these observations. This is best performed in the context of team meetings, daily stand-ups, retrospective meetings, planning meetings, all-hands meetings and other similar situations.

You want to be well-prepared for the meeting with data, agenda items, visuals, positive feedback and improvement areas. Usually, these meetings involve whiteboards and slide decks. Teams brainstorm ideas and collectively come up with solutions based on your feedback. You give the feedback to the team and facilitate the discussion.

8. Add empathy to negative feedback

No one loves hearing they’re doing something wrong or not meeting your expectations. Negative feedback can make an employee feel stressed, demotivated and depressed and stir up many negative feelings. It’s your job as a manager to ensure that you give negative feedback in a way that makes the employee understand that you’re coming from a place of concern and looking out for their growth and wellbeing. It’s your responsibility to establish trust and honesty during these uncomfortable situations.

One way to do this is by combining negative feedback with empathy. This involves carefully listening to what your employee has to say, not interrupting when they’re speaking; being fully present with them; taking a personal interest in their growth. All this while also paying attention to their body language, tone of voice and facial expressions while delivering negative feedback.

The goal is to make the employee understand why they have to improve in something and develop an action plan with them to make the necessary improvements. After the meeting, they should have a positive outlook and a clear idea of what is expected. The last thing you could do is to be too friendly and communicate poorly.

9. Use performance reviews to aid employee development

Performance review meetings may happen quarterly, biannually or annually. You gather feedback from different employees who work with a particular person to get an overall view of their performance in different areas, such as creativity, leadership, communication, problem-solving and decision-making. You rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 in each of these areas and write detailed descriptions on why you’re giving that rating.

Use these meetings to have discussions related to bonuses, salary increases and promotions. Formulate long-term plans to help the employee continue developing their strengths and taking gradual steps to progress through their improvement areas.

There are a variety of ways to give feedback to your employees. The timing of when to use these approaches may vary based on the context, but the goal remains the same: give constructive feedback that will help your employees know what they’re doing well and what they need to improve on. Through this process, your employees will develop and grow, and you will build trust, strengthen your credibility and demonstrate that you’re a great boss.

Remember that delivering feedback should be a continuous process and not a one-time event. After offering feedback, ensure you follow up with your employees to see how they progress in their work. This could be in the form of regular one-on-one meetings or ad-hoc check-ins with your employees to see how they’re doing more informally. Let your employees know that you are there to help, serve and lead them to a better future for themselves and the company’s growth. Be a great leader through your actions.

Which types of these feedback mechanisms have you personally used to help your employees? Why has it worked well for you? Please share it in the comments section below.