Make Giving Employee Feedback a Top Priority!

It is not surprising that most leaders are reluctant to give feedback, especially negative feedback, to their employees. Next to firing someone, giving negative feedback is the one thing leaders dread.   The challenge for leaders is that feedback, both negative and positive, is highly valued and desired by most employees. It is one of the key elements in sustaining an employee through the employee life cycle. So herein lies a key leadership challenge – how do leaders provide enough quality feedback to successfully sustain and grow employees when they are fearful or insecure in navigating this delicate role.

The good news is, that while giving quality feedback does take practice, like most other leadership competencies, it gets easier with more experience and seeing the (mainly!) positive results of candid conversations.

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Early in my career I was in a supervisory role where I had to provide feedback regularly to numerous employees. Some of the feedback was extremely difficult to share. I was fortunate in that the organization I worked for provided me with extensive training on how to give feedback, which included role playing using the most difficult examples. It was very tough at first. However, the more feedback I delivered, the more I improved and over my tenure with them I learned to expect the best, and the majority of outcomes were favorable and mutually beneficial.

Here are some best practices I have learned over the years:

  1. Be tough but show compassion. It is not about you; it is about them. Do not start off with “I am so sorry to have to tell you this” or “I have been dreading this conversation” etc. It is your job to help this employee develop, modify and/or correct their behavior. Toughen up and own this part of your role but have compassion. Deliver it in a fair and human way.
  2. Prepare. If you are new to giving feedback, make sure you think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Don’t rush in if you are not ready. Make notes if you need to and practice the delivery. Keep your emotion out of it.
  3. Tailor your feedback to the individual. If you know how your employee responds to constructive feedback (i.e., through experience or insights from a leadership assessment such as Birkman), leverage that knowledge and craft your feedback for maximum impact. Each person receives feedback differently and the more you know about your employees the better able you are to motivate them and improve performance.
  4. Quantify your feedback where possible. Rely on data, standards and policies that are in place whenever you can.
  5. Make it less personal. Avoid using “You” and “Your” – practice using “I” to make it firsthand feedback and less personal.
  6. Deliver the feedback in a timely manner. Do not wait until you have too much feedback to give all at once. You will overwhelm your employee. It is not fair and less effective. The large majority of employees come to work to contribute. Help them by giving feedback when you feel it will be most useful.
  7. Let the employee share. Allow the employee a chance to comment, provide information.
  8. Check for understanding with the employee. Don’t end the meeting until you check for understanding. Have them reframe the feedback in their own words.
  9. Train& Coach. If necessary, arrange for further training or coaching.
  10. Follow up. Always schedule a follow up discussion – even if it is very short, only to say “I appreciate that you have corrected this situation as quickly as you have.”
  11. Let it go. Once the situation is resolved, release and let go of it. Do not allow yourself to continue to think about the employee in terms of this constructive feedback. You will still have your notes to rely on later on if the behavior continues. However, in most situations, you won’t need them if you follow the above best practices.

Feedback is always a gift – if it is done with integrity. It is also a core part of a leader’s role. And please remember – it is just as important, or even more more so, to give favorable feedback on a regular basis. Many leaders could do this more often, too. Make positive feedback specific where possible, timely and have some fun with it! You will feel better and believe me your employees will feel and appreciate your sincerity.

For other thoughts on leadership, click here.


Sandra Hokansson

Sandra Hokansson
Sandi Hokansson is a certified executive-level coach and principal of SoundLeadership. Reach her at sandi (at) soundleadership (dot) ca.

Sandra Hokansson

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