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Opinion: 10 tips for giving better employee feedback

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Handling feedback with an employee isn’t one of the easiest responsibilities of a manager, but it is one of the most important.

Despite the popular developments in people-first work cultures and collaborative workspaces, many employees are fed up with feedback.

Some of the more common complaints I hear concerning a manager’s feedback include being overly negative, too vague, unfair, inconsistent and late.

Giving quality feedback should be one of the most effective skills managers possess because of its critical value in the manager-employee relationship.

While writing this column, a client reached out for advice regarding a performance issue he had discussed with an employee. Together, they reached an understanding and identified a solution. The next day, however, his employee felt the need to make certain there weren’t any additional undisclosed issues and said, “Have I upset you? Let you down, or disappointed you?”

My client wasn’t sure how to handle this, so I suggested having another discussion to discover what was prompting the employee’s concerns, thank him for asking questions rather than keeping it to himself, and for the manager to reiterate his own commitment to be open and honest about any future concerns.

Their conversation went great, but it illustrates the potential significance employees place on management feedback, and likewise, the need for managers to be highly effective at delivering feedback.

Here are 10 tips for giving better employee feedback.

1. Speak with the employee regularly. The best managers develop a positive working relationship through consistent, meaningful conversations. This prepares the way for more productive dialogue whenever you must give negative feedback.

2. Address performance issues early. Don’t allow problems or concerns to worsen. Bring issues to the attention of an employee and help them find specific ways to improve.

3. Address one issue at a time. It’s a mistake to store up a long list of performance issues and dump them abruptly onto an employee. Besides being a ridiculous approach, it’s overwhelming and unfair. People usually make changes that are best gauged in inches not yards, so discuss a longer list of issues over several meetings.

4. Support conclusions with facts. A client of mine once identified three areas for his employee to improve but then couldn’t relate it to specific instances. The lack of specifics frustrated the employee greatly. If you want an employee to improve, validate your views with sufficient examples.

5. Choose your words and emotions wisely. Avoid making claims like, “You never” or “You always.” Use the right words with the right emotion.

6. Use a future-positive approach. Good managers focus 30 percent on the problem and 70 percent on the solution. They set a positive tone, have more check-ins than checklists and do more coaching than complaining.

7. Reinforce the importance of the employee’s role. When employees don’t feel like they matter in the big picture, it provides little incentive for improvement. Periodically highlight individual roles and link this to helping the organization achieve its goals.

8. Explain the consequences. Respect your employee’s feelings, but don’t soft pedal the message so much that the changes you expect won’t be taken seriously.

9. Be patient. Most employees need some time to absorb what you’ve said and to process their emotions. Later, follow up to listen and discuss their thoughts.

10. Choose the right place. I was shocked when a business owner told me he emailed performance reviews to his employees, especially since they worked just down the hallway. Get face to face to give feedback whenever possible.

Feedback shouldn’t leave an employee feeling devastated or discouraged; if it does, the manager failed. Wise managers give clear, honest, timely and constructive feedback that leaves an employee feeling motivated to do better work.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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