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A practical guide to giving employee feedback

Modern workforces are increasingly adopting agile workflows that call for continuous improvement of their processes and outputs. 

This style of work allows companies to quickly and efficiently churn out new work and outcomes while incrementally improving the efficiency at which they do so. A core element of this approach is providing ongoing, constructive, and honest employee feedback.

Employee feedback is at the core of almost all strong business cultures and high performing companies. 

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of employee feedback and provide you with a step-by-step guide for how and why you should consciously encourage it at your company. 

What is employee feedback?

Employee feedback includes any information exchanged between employees that discuss their performance, skills, or ability to work on the team. Traditionally, feedback has been a primarily top-down phenomenon. That is, managers give feedback to employees. In modern, agile workforces, employee feedback is given and received by all employees, regardless of title.

Feedback can be given and received at various intervals, depending on the policies at a given company. Traditionally, managers would provide annual or quarterly employee evaluations in a formal, top-down exchange of feedback. 

In modern workplaces, this practice has increasingly been replaced by ongoing feedback sessions like weekly 1:1s or daily 15-minute feedback meetings, or by nurturing a culture of constant, sporadic feedback as a component of daily work. 

Ongoing employee feedback is a key component of agile, development-oriented workforces. It’s an opportunity for employees and managers to provide insights into how each party perceives the other’s job performance and gives recommendations for improvement. 

The more this is done by all employees at a company, the faster that change and process refinement can be implemented. 

By creating a culture of employee feedback, managers (and companies) can effectively establish clear communication lines, honest goal setting, agile employee development plans, and process refinement. All of these outcomes are critical to a happy, healthy, and high-performing workplace. 

There are two main types of employee feedback that you should be aware of: reinforcing and redirecting. 

Reinforcing employee feedback acknowledges and encourages a positive trait or behavior. This feedback aims to give praise for a specific outcome or work habit that you and the company would like to see more of. 

On the other hand, redirecting employee feedback encourages an alternative approach or a stop to a specific behavior altogether to ensure better performance and development. 

This is harder feedback to give, but it can directly impact employee performance and team morale. 

Now that we’ve established what employee feedback is let’s talk about why it’s important.

Why is employee feedback important?

As mentioned, strong employee feedback is a critical element of ongoing development, improved employee performance, and agile teamwork. 

The advantages of employee feedback are many and include:

  • Fostering a culture of continuous improvements learning and growth
  • Helping people to feel challenged, supported, and accountable for their work
  • Demonstrating the manager’s commitment to employee success
  • Giving employees a voice about how their teams operate and how they are managed
  • Identifying and adapting to potential issues that arise in daily work
  • Creating an agile workplace that encourages continuous trial, measurement, feedback, and refinement 
  • Boosting staff engagement, morale, and commitment to the company vision

If you’ve ever worked for a company that does not give regular employee feedback, then you know how important this practice can be. 

Employees who don’t receive feedback have no reference point for whether or not their work is right, valued, and impactful. This is a slippery slope to disengagement and potential employee retention issues. 

But understanding that employee feedback is important isn’t enough on its own. Companies, managers, and employees should all actively encourage and participate in a culture of ongoing feedback. 

Let’s look at some ways to encourage employee feedback at your company. 

How to encourage employee feedback

Encouraging employee feedback requires an active commitment to open communication and formalized guidance on when and how feedback should be given. 

That’s not to say that feedback should only be given in formal settings, but there should be some active encouragement from upper management that outlines feedback expectations. 

Once this guidance has been set, it’s up to managers and employees to create and nurture a culture of ongoing feedback. Everyone needs to play a part in this process.

Here are some general tips for how to encourage employee feedback at your organization: 

  • Encourage open communication daily. Make honest feedback and candid conversations across roles and seniority a part of your daily work cadence. 
  • Develop strong working relationships with your employees and co-workers. It’s much easier to give and receive feedback when it’s coming from a place of mutual understanding and respect. 
  • Establish an employee feedback cadence that outlines when and how employee feedback should be given. This might involve encouraging regular, informal feedback conversations. Or, it could be a weekly or monthly meeting where you sit down with employees to give them feedback. The goal is to establish ongoing conversations with employees and create moments where feedback is welcomed and expected.
  • Don’t be afraid to give and receive feedback. Employee feedback is a two-way street for all employees. Encourage employees, regardless of seniority, to give you feedback as well to ensure that you are improving along with your team.
  • Use employee feedback software to schedule and conduct employee feedback sessions. These platforms can be used to record formal and informal feedback, which can then be turned into actionable (and trackable) tasks and goals for the months ahead. Here at Recruitee, we make good use of Lattice!

Now let’s turn our attention to how to give employee feedback.

How to give employee feedback

How you give employee feedback will ultimately depend on your employees’ preferences and the relationship you have with each of them. Feedback should come from a place of caring, and the goal should also be to help your employee improve.

As a general rule of thumb, feedback should:

  • Be future-oriented, focussing on tasks or outcomes that the employee can work towards
  • Be specific, clear, and contain immediate action items
  • Be tailored to the specific employee and directly relevant to their work 
  • Be actionable and applicable to their job description
  • Be intended to improve the employee’s performance, development, or well-being 

On the other hand, employee feedback should not:

  • Focus too much on what’s already been done
  • Provide vague or general comments on past performance
  • Lecture on what the manager or other employees would do
  • Be impractical, irrelevant, or create barriers to daily output 
  • Be an opinion or critique based on personal preference 

You should also make sure that the intent behind your employee feedback is clear and that it’s delivered in such a way that steers your team members toward improvement. Using this outlet to discourage or scold an employee runs against this activity’s purpose and is counterproductive to collective improvement. 

With that list in mind, here are some specific steps you can take to give constructive employee feedback: 

  • Always approach the conversation as a team member, rather than a boss or superior. 
  • Establish common objectives early on, agree about the feedback’s goal, and how it will be delivered. 
  • Connect your feedback to upcoming projects, initiatives, or goals. Make the feedback actionable and relevant to those desired outcomes to give the employee a clear roadmap to success. 
  • Be specific and give examples. It helps to make your feedback quantifiable, or at least in direct reference to a project or outcome. Avoid general terms like “good” or “bad.” 
  • Be conscious of timing. Gauge whether or not “now” is a good time to give feedback. Depending on the employee’s state of mind – especially during stressful times – giving unwanted feedback may do more harm than good.
  • Check that they understand. Ask the employee or team member to explain back to you what their takeaways are from the conversation. Make sure that you’re on the same page and that you both understand the action items. 
  • Always take ownership of your feedback. Use “I” statements, and acknowledge that your feedback is based on your own perceptions. This shows the employee that you know that your feedback is subjective and opens the door for two-way dialogue. 

We’ll provide some specific examples of how to give employee feedback at the end of this article. But first, let’s talk about how to receive feedback.

How to get employee feedback

As mentioned at the start of the article, high-performing, agile workplaces encourage multi-directional feedback, regardless of seniority. That means, as a manager, you’ll also need to understand how to receive feedback from your boss and your employees. 

Here are some general tips for encouraging employees to give you feedback and receive it gracefully. 

  • Actively encourage open, honest, and candid conversations with your employees
  • Establish 1:1 conversations with each team member, and use them as a space to build mutual trust and respect
  • Ask for direct feedback during 1:1 meetings or team sessions
  • Listen intently to any and all employee feedback, and be willing to learn from their comments
  • Ask follow up questions about specific points to ensure that you have a full understanding of the feedback 
  • Act on the feedback that is given to you, especially if it relates to how you manage or speak to your team members
  • Show gratitude for feedback – it’s not easy to give your boss constructive feedback, and that courage should be acknowledged 

It’s helpful to have a list of canned questions that you can use during 1:1 sessions or team meetings to encourage your employees to give you feedback. Two examples of these questions might be: 

“I’m prioritizing the development of [management skill] this quarter. Is there any feedback you can give me that will help me improve?”

“As you know, I’m always looking for ways to improve as a manager. Could you give me some feedback on something I do well as a manager? How about something I should do more of?” 

Each of the above questions approaches the ask for feedback from a position of personal development. Employees are much more likely to give you constructive feedback if it’s framed as a development activity.

In the last section, we’ll provide some more examples of employee feedback you can use in your workplace.

Employee feedback examples

These examples are split between reinforcing and redirecting feedback. The goal here is to show you how you should word each type of feedback and refine the wording to match your specific needs. 

Some examples of reinforcing feedback include: 

“I think you did a really great job when [insert activity/project/action]. It showed me that you [insert positive observation].” 

“I think you’re very effective at [insert task]. I would love to see you do more of that type of work.”

“Your ongoing work on [insert responsibility] has tangible impacts on our quarterly goals. Great work.” 

“You’ve proven yourself as a company expert in [insert task or subject]. I’d like you to take on more responsibility in [insert task or subject] in the coming months. 

Some examples of redirecting feedback include: 

“I’d like to give you some feedback on [insert issue]. Is now a good time?”

“While I appreciate all of your hard work on [insert task or project], I think we should shift you to a different focus that aligns with your goals and skills.” 

“Can we talk about [insert issue]? Why do you think it is going well, or what didn’t go well?” 

“In our last meeting, we had established [insert goal]. Why do you think we missed that target?” 

In each example, the goal is to focus on how the employee can continue improving in the future. Regardless of whether the topic of conversation is a positive or negative one, this should always be the goal of employee feedback.

Too often, employee feedback is seen as a scary necessity at work. It’s seen as a negative part of an employee’s work life. Every organization seeking to implement continuous improvement should be to dispel this myth and reframe employee feedback as a positive, necessary part of success. 

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