How to give employee feedback that makes a difference

Knowing how to give constructive employee feedback is one of the most important skills a manager can have. Too much negative feedback can leave your team members feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, but not giving enough constructive feedback or having unclear expectations can be equally challenging for team cohesion and morale. In navigating the ever-evolving landscape of employee expectations, understanding current hiring trends becomes pivotal.

So, how can you regularly provide constructive feedback to your team?

Here are our best tips for giving employee feedback that improves performance and gives team members the tools they need to succeed, whether they’re on your sales team, customer service team, or quality assurance department.

Continuous Feedback vs. Performance Review

Before we go any further, let’s clarify the difference between continuous feedback vs. a formal performance review. Although both types of feedback can be constructive, they serve two different purposes.

Performance Reviews

A performance review is an in-depth discussion about how a team member is doing at work. It occurs on a regular basis, such as every quarter or once or twice a year. 

Performance reviews are documented and may be used to determine promotions or compensation. They can also be used to identify big-picture issues and skill gaps that are affecting the organization as a whole.

However, they’re less useful for giving employees real-time feedback, as they don’t happen often, and they may not align with when employees actually need feedback. 

Continuous Feedback

Continuous feedback, on the other hand, is delivered on an ongoing basis. This could take the form of weekly one-on-one feedback sessions, or casual conversations on an as-need basis.

Continuous feedback allows managers to check in with their direct reports more regularly and deliver constructive feedback whenever necessary. Unlike formal assessments that mostly rely on templates, this approach is more flexible, and can help to build trust and a more open company culture.

How to Give Employee Feedback

You don’t need to choose between performance reviews and continuous feedback — in fact, you can incorporate elements of both into your process. Having multiple ways to provide feedback can allow you to address employee performance in real-time and assist employees in their long-term professional development.

Here are six tips to help you deliver effective employee feedback:

1. Create a Habit of Giving Feedback

Developing good communication skills takes time and practice. It can feel awkward to give constructive feedback at first, especially if doing so regularly hasn’t been a habit for you or your employees. Remember that what you have to say can help your team members improve and have an easier time at work. 

Make a habit of speaking up in a constructive, professional, and supportive manner. You can even create calendar reminders to bring up feedback during your regular one-on-one sessions.

The more often you have feedback sessions, the less stressful they’ll be for both you and your team members. Make sure to regularly balance negative and positive feedback, so employees feel more receptive when they sit down with you for these conversations.

2. Choose a Private Setting and Set Aside Enough Time

Respect your employees’ privacy by delivering feedback in a private setting, especially if you’re dealing with constructive criticism. This could be in your office or on a one-on-one video call.

Recognizing great work during a team meeting can help to reinforce positive behavior, but delivering negative feedback in a public setting may be embarrassing and create resentments. 

Make sure to set aside enough time for any questions your team members might have, and to allow them to process the information.

3. Focus on Solutions

Team Manager teaching a team leader how to give employee feedback

When delivering negative feedback, it’s important to focus on the outcome you want to achieve, not just belaboring mistakes or shortcomings. Try to get to the root cause of the issue, and from there, offer potential solutions for eliminating it.

For example, a solution to a customer support associate’s low response rate might be as simple as giving them better training on how to use your customer service software. In cases where an employee shows promise but isn’t yet reaching their full potential, mentoring might be a more effective option. 

By offering a clear path forward, you show confidence in your employee’s ability to improve, and they’re more likely to feel like you’re on their side. Let your employee know that they can follow up at any time to ask for clarification or for additional resources.

4. Explain Your Reasoning

There’s a fine line between effective performance management and micromanagement. By properly explaining your reasoning for change, you can empower your employees to work with you to find a solution. Instead of just citing a process or a policy, talk about why that process or policy exists.

Here’s one example of explaining your reasoning when giving feedback: 

“I can see how this shortcut saves time for you. However, that means that [Team X] doesn’t get the information they need, which will create communication issues for all of us. Maybe we can discuss inserting [Step Y] back into your workflow?”

This type of feedback offers clarity. It gives the employee a reason to care about making a change in their work, rather than perceiving it as needless red-tape.

5. Listen to Your Team Members

When your company culture is receptive to new approaches and management actually listens to and acts upon feedback, team members will feel that they can be open and honest with you. 

Your customer-facing employees see things that you don’t. Their perspective may give you unique insights into your organization. These insights will help you be more proactive when it comes to understanding and resolving potential issues.
Effective employee communication software can help streamline the feedback process with your team members, ensuring that feedback is timely, accessible, and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

If you don’t yet have a company culture that encourages team members to be open about their experiences or concerns, consider providing an anonymous way for employees to submit feedback.

6. Be Respectful

When providing any sort of negative feedback, keep in mind that any direct attacks on personal attributes should be off-limits. 

Instead of saying, “Stop being so forgetful,” try, “I notice you haven’t completed the action items we discussed last month. Can I ask you to put those at the top of your to-do list this week?”

Using words like “forgetful,” “slow,” or “absent-minded” is disrespectful and will very likely create strong negative reactions. Be polite, and avoid naming their growth opportunities as problematic traits.

If you fear you might accidentally be too harsh on an employee while giving feedback, make sure to properly think everything through before the conversation. You can even write down the topics or phrases that come to you first, and rework them to make sure they come across the way you want them to.

How You Deliver Employee Feedback Matters

Team leader learning how to give employee feedback

Developing an effective employee feedback process takes time and effort to get right, but it can have a lasting impact on your company culture. Positive employee feedback helps to foster teamwork and employee well-being, while negative feedback can help you identify skill gaps and areas for improvement.

When delivered thoughtfully, constructive feedback leads to better employee retention and employee engagement throughout your company.

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