The Best Practices of Giving Employee Feedback

Whether you’re tasked with giving employees positive feedback or negative, you need to get it right. Clear and accurate communication is one of the most important tools for any employee to master. As an HR professional, part of your job is to set the example for the rest of your organization. With time and practice, effective feedback exchanges can become an essential part of your company’s culture.

Let’s explore some best practices for offering employee feedback, as well as some bad habits to avoid.

Employee Feedback: What Not to Do

One of the most daunting tasks for any HR professional is giving negative feedback to underperforming employees. It’s easy for emotions to run high in these types of scenarios, so it’s important to handle yourself and your words properly. In other words, avoid these strategies:

1. Don’t Wait Until the Employee’s Annual Review

Waiting to offer constructive or corrective feedback is like waiting to tell a driver they’ve made a wrong turn. Bringing up an employee’s botched assignment from July during their annual performance review in December is not only pointless but also inefficient—it does not help them quickly improve nor does it raise the quality of your department’s overall work. Instead, provide feedback as soon as possible (allowing time for a heated situation to cool if necessary); this gives the employee an opportunity to change their behavior or practice new skills before their performance creates permanent problems.

2. Don’t Put Things in Absolute Terms

It’s rarely true that someone “always” or “never” does something. Statements like, “She always does her assignments like that” or “He can never do this quality check right” make employees feel undervalued. Using absolutes like these puts employees in a position where they stop listening to what you have to say and start thinking about examples to disprove you.

3. Don’t Feed Anyone a Compliment Sandwich

We’ve all experienced backhanded praise, and we’ve all heard of the “compliment sandwich” method. It starts something like this: “Your report was very well organized, but . . .” However, leading with a compliment to soften the blow of negative feedback is such a common technique that it’s easy for most people to see coming, and that defeats the purpose. Even if you complete the sandwich with more praise at the end, it doesn’t make anyone feel any better and can muddy what you’re trying to communicate.

4. Don’t Criticize Things Beyond an Employee’s Control

An employee, no matter how talented or experienced, can only control certain aspects of their job. Be sure that your feedback focuses only on those elements over which an employee has control. This might sound simple, but many managers fall into this trap when they fail to set clear expectations for an employee’s job. What’s one thing outside of an employee’s control? A task, duty, or goal that no one told them about. Perhaps they were assigned a task, but you never provided a hard deadline or the resources to achieve it. Punishing or criticizing employees for something of which they weren’t even aware is a quick way to send them scrambling for the door. Your goal is to help boost their performance—not undermine it.

5. Never Resort to Personal Attacks or Threats

Trust and respect go both ways. There is never an excuse for personal attacks or threats of any kind. And don’t bring up personal circumstances such as divorce or financial issues to use them against employees. No matter how serious the error or incident, limit your comments to known facts, job responsibilities, company policies, and stated expectations. Period.

Employee Feedback: What to Do Instead

Following these employee feedback examples and best practices can help you effectively communicate your feedback, whether negative or positive. Here’s what you should try as you focus on improving the feedback exchange within your organization.

1. Offer Feedback Right Away

As mentioned above, there’s no reason to wait for the end of the year to either offer correction or compliment a hardworking employee. A top performer who receives no recognition may begin to feel unappreciated and look for work elsewhere.

When employees reach certain milestones and/or receive positive marks from clients or colleagues, express your appreciation to them. You can also take this recognition to the next level by notifying other departments of their achievements. This will boost employee morale and motivate them to continue to deliver good work.

2. Meet Face to Face

Sure, a quick email will get the message across quickly, but perhaps not as effectively. When sent digitally, the meaning and feeling behind your words can get lost in translation. The last thing you want is for your praise or your suggestions for improvement to sound cold and insincere, or for employees to misunderstand what you mean. Make it a point to give feedback directly to your employees so you can communicate clearly the first time. Instead of using Skype or Slack, meet with your employees face-to-face, whether in a conference room or coffee shop, to create emotional contact. Conveying your appreciation or your concerns in person will help make a bigger impact that will foster bigger results.

3. Get Specific

Which would you prefer? “Good job” or “That presentation had compelling and clear research to support your ideas—I really learned a lot.” By including specific details of what you appreciate about the employee’s work (or what the employee could improve), the employee will know exactly what they did well and what they can work on for the future.

When pointing out an area for improvement, give relevant, specific details. It could sound like, “For your next assignment, try incorporating more research findings from reliable sources such as .org, .edu, or .gov. sites.” This will be much clearer than saying something like, “Incorporate more research sources.” Set your employees up for success next time!

4. Make it a Two-Way Conversation

Feedback should always be a two-way exchange. Whenever you offer feedback to an employee, take a few minutes to have an open conversation. These and other open-ended questions fuel an effective conversation needed to discuss favorable outcomes, and accept feedback from the employee. You will likely gain just as much from listening as talking.

5. Elaborate on the Impact

Employees want to know how their work contributes to the bigger picture. When you offer feedback, take the opportunity to link the employee’s individual performance to a broader outcome like a stronger culture, greater customer satisfaction, or team and department goals.

For example, don’t just tell an employee that they need to communicate more with other teams on a new project. Instead, explain how everyone’s feedback and collaboration are necessary in order to properly achieve all aspects of a client’s strategic roadmap and to efficiently communicate any foreseeable issues to the client.

6. Share Good News

There are many forms of recognition, and the best managers will know how their team members usually prefer to receive positive feedback. However, for some larger achievements, public recognition can be a powerful tool for increasing engagement and inspiring other employees to do their best work as well.
Want to boost morale? Conduct monthly meetings to share good news on the company and on outstanding employee performance. It’s a great opportunity to express gratitude and bring departments together for special activities.

The Value of an Employee Feedback Survey

If you’re curious to know how your HR department is doing with employee feedback, you might consider sending out an employee feedback survey. A survey like this can help you understand how employees experience the organization, including the how their peers and managers share their recognition and criticism. This is also a great way to gather feedback (instead of always giving feedback) and work on building a culture of effective and clear communication.