Managing employees means providing a feedback loop. Great employees expect and appreciate feedback—even if it’s criticism. There’s an art to providing gentle and constructive criticism. Done correctly, positive critiques can sharpen an employee’s skills without dulling their confidence. Providing strong feedback can also increase your colleague’s trust in your management skills and build their sense of teamwork.
It’s a daily practice that happens in the little moments
It’s important to realize that feedback isn’t something that just happens at an annual review – there is a constant give and take in healthy workplaces. In fact, those small, seemingly insignificant moments of interaction can take on an important role in how people feel about themselves and how they feel about the workplace.
Part of the art of giving good feedback is being cognizant of those teachable moments, because you’re giving verbal and non-verbal, active and passive feedback to your employees constantly, whether you mean to or not.
Feedback best practices
There are actually very simple rules to follow in order to give the right kind of feedback. Think of these feedback best practices as a guide, then incorporate them into your interactions both large and small.
- Be specific
Vague feedback like, “you need to do better” is frustrating to the employee and unhelpful, since the employee cannot act on it. The more specific the feedback you can offer to an employee, the more effective it will be.
- Don’t nitpick
It can be tempting to point out every little thing you disagree with. However, a good leader knows how to pick their battles—and only pick battles where the employee also comes out as a winner. Nitpicking over everything you don’t like can tarnish an employee’s confidence and dull their sensitivity to your advice. Sometimes, an employee may simply have a difference process than you, and that’s okay! Maybe you can even learn from them
Choose to point out areas for improvement when there’s a critical need, an area of particular expertise you’d like to share, or a great space for positive growth.
- For every negative, share a positive.
One of the biggest mistakes that employers make is that they don’t offer positive feedback as well as negative. Share at least one positive nugget about an employee for every negative thing that you ask them to improve upon.
One great strategy here is the sandwich idea – offer something positive, followed by something that requires improvement, followed by something that’s again positive.
- Be consistent
Don’t offer serious critiques to one employee and then leave another completely unscathed. Employers must be careful to offer equitable treatment to all employees, particularly when it comes to feedback. The same goes for the feedback that you’re giving to an individual employee – if your expectations are one way today, then they need to be the same tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
No one should be expected to hit a moving target. Offer a consistent level of expectations so employees know what to aim for. Understanding expectations lowers stress and anxiety. If a being late on an assignment by a day is generally not a big deal, then you’re showing your employee that this behavior is acceptable. If you’ve decided that you want to tighten up the ship, then give everyone advanced warning that it’s coming in order to avoid conflict.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t push your employees to do more and to work harder, it just means that you should offer a measured approach to changes in your expectations.
- Offer solutions
Leadership isn’t just about coming down hard on people when they fall out of line—a good leader increases employee skill, competence, and confidence. When you’ve got negative feedback to give, be sure to offer some positive solutions to help your employee improve!
What is your end goal? Is it to vent your frustration or to make things better? Most likely your goal is the latter. If you want to get things on the right track, then be solution-focused, not problem-focused when providing feedback.
- Don’t let it build
Keep it real with people you work with. Often we don’t express the little things, good or bad, until they overflow. For example, instead of telling an employee the reports aren’t filled out just right, we may initially simply fix the reports ourselves. After a while it becomes a serious problem, and we’re suddenly saddled with long-built frustration that explodes.
Don’t let things simmer in an effort to avoid conflict – it’s much better to just get it all out there early on. Better to nip it in the bud than to let it overwhelm us. Plus, a good leader doesn’t simply take on someone’s work for them; a good leader teaches employees how to improve upon their weaknesses.
The same goes for positive feedback. Just say it! Don’t keep the good stuff to yourself. Express your appreciation for a quick reply to an email, or praise that awesome customer interaction.
Whether or not you realize it, you provide feedback every day. Learning how to give positive and negative critiques will foster a healthy and trust-filled work environment, which leads to more productive employees and, ultimately, a stronger bottom line.