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HR How-To: Give Employees Effective Feedback

Want your employees to work more effectively and efficiently to churn out the product of your dreams? Turns out there is a key to achieving this holy grail and it lies almost entirely in YOUR ability to give feedback! Indeed, when provided properly, feedback can be a truly transformative tool for your company. The trouble is getting it right!

Below, we outline some useful tips on how managers and supervisors can give feedback that will prove meaningful to your employees and produce the types of results your company needs.

Be specific:
Telling an employee that their work isn’t up to par is not very helpful if you’re hoping that this pep-talk will incite a change in their behavior. Instead, be specific and let them know that their last report was riddled with typos, that they fudged the numbers on the last spreadsheet, or that their failure to follow up with a client in a timely fashion cost you the account. Providing this specific information on where they went wrong can help your employee to see where corrections need to be made moving forward. This is especially useful if you can have a two-way conversation where you mutually agree upon some stop-gap measures to prevent the issue from occurring in the future, such as turning the reports in early so someone can double check the numbers or setting up a shared calendar so that deadlines aren’t missed in the future.

Be timely:
Sure, an annual review is a great time to give your most formal feedback, but you should also recognize the contributions or foibles of your staff in the moment. Giving feedback as soon as an event takes place can help people course correct a failing project so that it can become successful, or perhaps even serve as an informal intervention for an employee who is struggling and desperately needs to pull themselves up by the boot straps. Similarly, employees and especially millennial workers respond favorably to recognition in the moment, resulting in greater engagement and productivity.  

Be private:
Giving someone feedback, whether positive or negative, should be done in private away from prying eyes and the ears of the office gossip. Obviously, if you are delivering negative news, it is less embarrassing for the worker to receive the feedback in private as they will not want their peers to know that they fell short on the job. On the other hand, while some folks want their accomplishments shouted from the rooftops, others feel uncomfortable receiving praise in the group setting and would prefer a conversation in private. In short, take any feedback conversation to a secondary location.

Be receptive:
Giving feedback is best done in a two-way conversation. This is particularly true if the feedback is negative as employees may want to give their side of the story or explain why they made the choices that they made. In some cases, the employee may be unclear about the expectations of their role, warranting a conversation where both parties hash out what is required and how it can be achieved. Feedback conversations are also an important time for both parties to ask questions and gain clarity about the issue and move on.

Be objective:
Calling out someone’s faux pas and chalking it up to a personality difference is not helpful and it can land you in a spot of legal hot water. Keep the conversation focused on actual behaviors that you have witnessed and why they are proving problematic, versus making emotional statements about the type of personality this individual has. Further, it is easier for said employee to actually modify their behavior, especially since you can create specific metrics to measure their performance, versus being able to orchestrate an entire personality overhaul by their next review meeting!

Be kind:
Sure, it may be Ellen’s tagline, but a little bit of empathy and compassion can really take you far during negative feedback conversations. Even when feedback is delivered carefully, it is still a criticism and it is only natural that an employee will internalize the message and may be hurt by your words, particularly if it is unearthing a deficit in their knowledge or skill set. However, you can soften the blow by choosing your words wisely, delivering the message with sensitivity and perhaps most importantly, allowing the employee to be upset about the news. In all cases, but particularly if they appear very defensive, let them know that you will be giving them some space to process the feedback and that you’re available to talk and trouble shoot the problem at hand whenever they are. Which brings us to our final point…

Be full circle:
Whenever you provide feedback, you will want to circle back with the employee at a later date and check in to see how their work is going in the aftermath. This is particularly true of those negative conversations because, if you followed the above outlined steps, you’ve asked them to make significant shifts in how they work within your company. Circling back is important to check that they have been able to make the changes, trouble shoot any issues that are slow to resolve, and ultimately to praise them for being able to course correct their problem areas.

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