Giving Effective Feedback to Employees: Dos and Don'ts

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We’re all required to give feedback in our roles, and often, we do it without thinking about the quality of the feedback itself. But research tells us that the return on our investment in feedback can be huge - in one study, 69% of employees said they’d work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognised (1). Identifying what makes feedback good or bad is the first step towards giving effective feedback to employees, so that’s exactly what we’re doing today.

We’re sharing 20 rules for better feedback for employees, each one rooted in research and experience. When you’re done reading, be sure to hop on over to this article, in which we share 83 positive feedback examples to use when crafting your own praise.

Giving Effective Feedback to Employees: 14 Dos and 6 Don’ts

DO prepare in advance.

With constructive feedback in particular, it helps to be prepared. We’ve highlighted some feedback frameworks here that are really useful for giving structure to your feedback.

DO give feedback as soon as possible.

Strike while the iron is hot. The sooner you give feedback, the greater the opportunities for learning and development.

DON’T give feedback when you’re frustrated. 

While it’s important to be timely with your feedback, it can sometimes help to wait a while before delivering it, particularly if you’re feeling upset about some outcomes. This will help you keep your tone professional and your feedback rooted in fact.

DO give feedback regularly.

Once or twice a year just isn’t enough when it comes to feedback. One study found that the majority of workers wanted more feedback than they were already getting. You should aim to give detailed feedback to your people monthly, at the very least.

DON’T confuse regular feedback with micromanagement. 

Your people need to take risks and make mistakes in order to improve and grow. While feedback is an essential part of this process, that doesn’t mean you should be constantly stepping in to tell them what they’re doing wrong. Limit yourself to necessary interventions and you’ll likely find that your people will learn quicker.

DO be specific. 

General feedback like, “I love the energy you bring to the role,” or “I see room for improvement,” is useful, but the most effective feedback is specific. Linking feedback to specific projects or competencies helps your people understand the impact of their work, and identify exactly how they can improve.

DO root your feedback in facts.

We’ve discussed the benefits of specific feedback. Similarly, it’s important to focus on facts, rather than feelings. For example, “Your presentation lacked some data that our team needed to move forward,” is more useful to the recipient than “I was disappointed with your presentation.”

DO balance constructive feedback with positive feedback. 

Some studies suggest that the ideal positive to constructive feedback ratio is 3:1. This will vary from team to team, but it’s safe to assume that you should be giving more positive feedback than negative.

DO be direct.

While it can be helpful to balance constructive feedback with positive feedback, it’s important to get to the point quickly, and keep irrelevant information to a minimum.

DON’T rely on the feedback “sandwich”.

The feedback sandwich model suggests giving feedback in the following format: positive-negative-positive. While this can be useful in some situations, the addition of positive feedback with every piece of constructive criticism is unnecessary, and it can actually confuse the recipient, who’s probably trying to focus on improving their performance.

DO make it a conversation.

Truly effective feedback is a two-way street. Include questions in your feedback sessions (“Do you agree that we need to reshuffle our priorities?”, “How do you think you could streamline your workflow?”) and give the receiver time to respond, and provide feedback of their own.

DO accept feedback in return. 

The best leaders are happy to hear feedback from their people, and actively request it. According to one recent study, organisations that regularly listen to and act on employee feedback are three times as likely to meet or exceed their financial targets as those that don’t (2). You can do this in just a couple of clicks with Frankli’s Feedback feature. We’ve also created a talking point template for Manager-Led Conversations in 1:1 Meetings that prompts your people to share feedback with you.

DO link your feedback to goals.

It’s important to show how your people’s work fuels the team and company’s success, particularly the goals you’re currently working towards. One study tells us that feedback can be better received and inspire more change if it’s focused on the future (3). So, for example, you might tell your teammate, “If you can increase the number of sales calls you make next month, we have a higher chance of achieving our yearly revenue goals.” 

DO orient your feedback around solutions.

The best feedback is actionable. Try something like, “I noticed you missed a few deadlines this month. Do you think a review of our task management system would help?” or “I was really impressed with how you took the lead on this project. I’d like to see you do this even more in the future.”

DON’T assume your people only want to hear positive feedback.

As we discussed here, most workers actually crave constructive feedback that can help them improve and grow.

DO show empathy when giving feedback.

For some, feedback can be hard to hear, even when it’s largely positive. Gauge the recipient’s response by listening to them closely and noting their body language. This will help you identify any potential sensitivities and remind you when you need to be extra careful with your language.

DON’T criticise publicly where you can avoid it.

Few people appreciate being criticised in front of others - by and large, this makes the feedback less effective. Detail-oriented, solution-based and collaborative feedback are exceptions to this rule. For example, “I’m not sure about the colours on that design - let’s try a few more options!” or, “Can we ramp up progress on this project?” are likely to be received well.

DON’T focus on personality traits, particularly when giving constructive feedback.

While positive comments like “I really admire your drive,” are largely received well, negative comments around personality traits are another matter entirely. Instead of “You’re too timid,” try “I would love to see you be more vocal in meetings.”

DO follow up. 

If you can follow up with the recipient and show appreciation for improvements made, feedback becomes all the more effective. The 1:1 Meeting feature in Frankli offers teams automated scheduling, talking point templates, action points and both private and public notes. This makes following up on your feedback so easy, you simply add a related talking point to your next one-on-one meeting through Frankli.

DO educate yourself on feedback biases.

We know that gender and race biases often present themselves in feedback (3), so this is something we really need to watch very closely. Then there are recency, centrality and leniency biases to contend with. The first step towards avoiding these is to learn more about them.

Frankli provides companies with intuitive channels for giving, receiving and requesting feedback at all levels of the organisation. Learn more about Frankli.

60-Second Version: Giving Effective Feedback to Employees: 14 Dos and 6 Don’ts

Introduction: Research tells us that the return on our investment in feedback can be huge - in one study, 69% of employees said they’d work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognised (1). Identifying what makes feedback good or bad is the first step towards giving more effective feedback. That’s why we’re sharing our feedback dos and don’ts.

FEEDBACK DOS AND DON’TS

DO prepare in advance.

DO give feedback as soon as possible.

DON’T give feedback when you’re frustrated. 

DO give feedback regularly.

DON’T confuse regular feedback with micromanagement. 

DO be specific. 

DO root your feedback in facts.

DO balance constructive feedback with positive feedback. 

DO be direct.

DON’T rely on the feedback “sandwich”.

DO make it a conversation.

DO accept feedback in return. 

DO link your feedback to goals.

DO orient your feedback around solutions.

DON’T assume your people only want to hear positive feedback.

DO show empathy when giving feedback.

DON’T criticise publicly where you can avoid it.

DON’T focus on personality traits, particularly when giving constructive feedback.

DO follow up. 

DO educate yourself on feedback biases.

Frankli provides companies with intuitive channels for giving, receiving and requesting feedback at all levels of the organisation. Learn more about Frankli.

1. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give. 2. Perceptyx, Employers That Act on Worker Feedback Are 3x as Likely to Hit Financial Targets. 3. Jackie Gnepp, Joshua Klayman, Ian O. Williamson, and Sema Barlas, The future of feedback: Motivating performance improvement through future-focused feedback. 4. Harvard Business Review, How One Company Worked to Root Out Bias from Performance Reviews.

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