Great managers understand the power of giving employees quality feedback. They’ve mastered the art of doing so regularly, not just at annual performance review time.

This article explores why it’s important to give forward-looking feedback to employees and shares tips on how to do so.

Why ongoing feedback?

Strengthens organisational performance

Organisations that provide ongoing, constructive feedback are in a stronger position to continually improve. Those that drag the chain miss out on implementing positive change and efficiencies.

Motivates employees to improve

Ongoing feedback motivates employees to improve on multiple levels.

Let’s look at Matthew whose manager met him right after an important project to give feedback. They worked through Matthew’s strengths and discussed how he could enhance his performance. Matthew didn’t feel threatened. He appreciated the quick feedback, when everything was fresh in his mind. He was motivated to implement change immediately.

Now let’s look at Wendy who believed she was performing well. Next thing, Wendy hears in her annual performance review that she missed targets eight months earlier. Wendy was caught off guard. The project was so long ago she could hardly remember the details. She was baffled by why management wouldn’t have told her earlier so she could have improved. Wendy was demotivated.

These two scenarios paint the picture, don’t they?

Supports a healthy culture

When employees are well informed, they’re more confident about making decisions. They feel respected. This helps build a healthy culture and loyalty.

Mastering the art of employee feedback

  1. Provide ongoing feedback as part of your leadership style

This doesn’t mean eliminating annual performance reviews, but why should your employee only hear from you once a year? Don’t they deserve more?

  1. Make the feedback forward-looking

Focusing performance feedback on the distant past isn’t valuable. Some Gartner research reveals that organisations with forward, not backward-looking performance reviews can expect to improve employee performance by as much as 13 per cent. Those providing ongoing feedback could get a boost of as much as 12 per cent.

  1. Never provide negative feedback by email.

Always provide feedback in person and be in the right frame of mind before doing so. Check your emotions. Never use a feedback meeting to vent.

  1. Be fair, open, honest and provide examples

When providing feedback, be fair, open and honest. Be constructive and illustrate with examples.

Blanket statements like ‘We need you to improve’ without pinpointing how isn’t helpful. Don’t say ‘I wasn’t impressed with xx and want you to do better.’ This just leaves the employee to guess how they need to change.

A more constructive approach could be:

‘I’m impressed with the job you did on xx. Especially when you did xx and xx. This turned things around and made a difference. Within the organisation we always ask how we can improve. Is there anything you can think of? [Let the employee provide their thoughts first and discuss them. Then you comment.] Thanks for your input. Something else we could improve is xx and xx.’

Round off the feedback session with a general overview summarising what the employee has done well and what needs to improve.

  1. Focus on performance, not personality

Providing quality, timely feedback should never involve attacking an employee’s personality (what they’re like). It should focus on their behaviours (what they do and how).

Attack

‘You’re very timid which causes poor communication with team members.’

Constructive

‘When you’re not communicating regularly with your team, they don’t know where you’re up to on a project. This leads to confusion. Let’s talk about how to regularly communicate.’

  1. Avoid the sandwich approach

Once upon a time this was the preferred method of providing feedback—start with praise, add the negative, end with praise. Uncomfortable content is sandwiched between two layers of praise.

Instead, still start with praise. Then move into areas of improvement allowing the employee to first provide their thoughts. If they’ve missed something you can cover that off. Finish with a synopsis of key points raised.

  1. Reality check the employee has understood

Two-way communication is invaluable. Test that what you’ve said is understood, without doubt. Make sure you hear the employee and understand what they’ve said, without doubt.

  1. Be empathetic but don’t avoid the hard discussions

Negative feedback is difficult to give but even more difficult to receive. Be empathetic and understanding while saying what you have to say.

  1. Don’t just drop the ball

Strong leaders understand the power of ongoing conversation and ‘checking in’. Quality employee feedback isn’t one discussion. Great managers keep the conversation going, to test if improvements are being made, if the employee needs additional help or has great ideas they may not yet have raised.