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How to Give Employee Feedback Effectively (and Why It Matters)

Seven ways to provide your employees with the feedback they need.

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If you hire and work with employees on a regular basis, you'll need to provide them with feedback. Feedback, whether positive or negative, informs employees about their performance and gives them an opportunity to improve. However, if you give bad feedback or give feedback in the wrong way, it could end up hurting your working relationships and compromising the effectiveness of your team.

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Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can help you give more effective feedback to employees.

The perks of effective employee feedback

Giving "good," or effective feedback means your message will be accurately and completely understood. It will also be taken well by your employees.

Ultimately this means:

  • Reinforcing good behaviors. Keep employees doing the good things that are beneficial to your organization.
  • Eliminating or reducing bad behaviors. Identify bad habits and behaviors before they get any worse.
  • Improving mutual trust. Establish an environment of open communication, transparency, and trust.
  • Boosting confidence. Make employees feel better about their work and their position within the company.

So what steps can you take to give better employee feedback?

Understand that everyone takes feedback differently

Everyone takes feedback a little differently, often stemming from their generational differences, their past experiences with feedback, and their individual personalities. One person may strongly hearing blunt, upfront feedback that's unambiguous and concise. Another may prefer a gentler, more subtle approach. Be prepared to adapt your style for each individual.

Related: Factors Damaging Employee Relations, As Defined by Industry Experts

Give feedback consistently

Feedback is most effective when given consistently; it's important to give each employee feedback, even if it's something simple like "keep up the good work." It's also valuable to give feedback regularly, at least once or twice a week for each team member, and once or twice a year for a formal session; this way, you can keep employees accountable and help them track their improvements.

Use both formal and informal feedback

Some entrepreneurs give feedback exclusively through formal performance reviews. Some give it only informally, as needed throughout the workday. However, the best approach is to use both informal and formal feedback. Formal feedback is great for providing high-level assessments and getting employees to take things seriously, while informal feedback is better for more frequent adjustments between formal sit-downs.

Keep positive feedback public and negative feedback private

Give positive feedback publicly when possible. Not only will it boost the recipient's confidence, it will also set a great example for anyone watching. However, you should try to give negative feedback privately to spare the recipient any embarrassment and minimize the potential for resentment to develop.

Try the "compliment sandwich" approach

One frequent suggestion on how to give feedback in the professional world is with a "compliment sandwich." The general idea here is to make negative feedback easier to take by juxtaposing it next to instances of positive feedback. In other words, you'll start with a compliment or point of praise, then move to a piece of negative feedback, then end with another piece of positive feedback. Here's a simple example: "Hey Jim! Great work on that report the other day. I just wanted to mention to you that you've missed a couple of important deadlines lately. We really need you to work on your time management. Your finished work is top-quality, though, so keep it up!"

There has been pushback to this approach in recent years. It can be confusing for an employee to be both praised and criticized; on top of that, this is such a common approach that it's often transparent. Employees may know they're being given a compliment sandwich, and it may come off as less sincere as a result.

Still, it's helpful to mitigate the impact of negative feedback with some kind of positive feedback or positivity in general. Try to create a positive, supportive atmosphere however you can when providing negative feedback.

Related: How to Bond With Your Employees Without Compromising Your Authority

Always couple negative feedback with specific suggestions

Nobody particularly likes negative feedback, but it's always much easier to take when it's coupled with specific suggestions for how to improve. For example, hearing "your emails haven't been on point lately" is both hard to hear and vague in its direction. Pairing that with "if you used bulleted lists to organize your thoughts, I think they'd be much more compelling" instantly makes this feedback actionable.

If you're not sure how your employee can improve, acknowledge that ambiguity. Then, work together with your employee to brainstorm ways they can be better. Treat it as an exercise in collaboration.

Investing time and effort into your system of employee feedback will ultimately bring better results to your business, thanks to higher employee morale in addition to better employee performance. It will take time to develop a system that works for everyone on your team, so be prepared for a learning curve along the way.

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