Providing thoughtful, constructive feedback is one of the most valuable ways you, as a manager, can help your employees grow, improve and advance – but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy! Many people, from new managers to experienced leaders, find giving constructive feedback challenging, but don’t fret: like most things in life, all it takes is a little practice.
First things first: what is constructive feedback, anyway?
Well, if you’re after the ~*official*~ definition, it’s “a particular style of feedback, given with the goal of achieving a positive outcome by providing an individual with comments, advice or suggestions that can be used to build or improve on skills and behaviors that will contribute to that person’s professional growth and future success.”
More simply, constructive feedback is a super handy tool that, when done right, managers can use to help employees fine-tune their skills, improve their work habits and boost their performance.
This is the foundation of all healthy relationships, in life and in the workplace. Think about it, whose suggestions are you more likely to take to heart: the comments of a near stranger, or the thoughtful insights of a trusted mentor? By fostering an open, trusting relationship with each of your employees, you’re setting the stage for much more effective communication in general, something that’ll make important conversations much easier for the both of you.
Do it in person – or at least via Zoom
We love text, Teams and email as much as the next person, but in this particular situation, we highly (highly!) encourage you to go the in-person route. Not only is it more personal, but the likelihood of you both walking away feeling positive about the interaction is upped big time when you’ve had the discussion face-to-face.
Like an order of salmon sashimi, feedback is best delivered fresh. The sooner you can sit down with your employee and share your feedback, the better it’ll be for the both of you, allowing you to effectively discuss the work, project or issue at hand effectively, while the details are still clear in your mind.
Tailor feedback accordingly
When it comes to constructive feedback, one size definitely does not fit all. Each of your employees is different: while most will welcome a constructive critique of their work, others may be, erm, less receptive.
In preparation for the meeting, as yourself these questions:
- How do you anticipate them responding to the feedback?
- How can you ensure the conversation is positive and productive?
- How can you best help your employee feel comfortable and supported?
If you leave a restaurant a 5-star review on Yelp and simply write, “Good,” – who are you helping, really? The point of sharing your experience is to give specific, pointed feedback that allows the recipient to identify what they’re doing right and where they can improve moving forward.
So, sticking with our restaurant example, a more helpful review might read: “This place is so neat: the decor is fun and quirky and the service is impeccable. We went for happy hour, but ended up staying for dinner, too – it’s that good! Highly recommend the calamari and the veggie quesadilla, both were stand-outs for us. The bison burger was nice, but a bit small for the price point. Overall, lovely little local spot and will definitely be returning.”
In a workplace setting, it’s the same idea (just less focus on outstanding appys and more on, you know, important job stuff).
It’s a balancing act
Even if the goal of your feedback is, ultimately, to address areas that need improvement, it’s a good idea to include some positive notes about your employee’s performance, as well.
That’s not to say that you should sugarcoat the issue at hand – it’s critical that you’re honest and candid about what you’ve been seeing; however, you also want to make it clear you appreciate your employee’s contributions, recognize their strengths and want to support their growth both in the role and the organization.
If you can, really try and emphasize the big picture: how your employee’s role, performance and actions affect the team, department and company, in general.
Open the floor
This is a meant to be a productive, open conversation, not a lecture, and it’s important that the employee has the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. Encouraging a candid back-and-forth will allow you both to share your perspectives and, ultimately, help you gain a better understanding of the situation.
Discuss next steps
Don’t let the meeting come to a close without ensuring your employee understands the feedback you’ve provided and has a very clear idea of performance expectations moving forward. In some cases, you’ll also want to work with them to put together a game plan and set some achievable, actionable goals. Based on the timeline you’ve discussed, set check-in dates for the coming days or weeks so you can touch base, discuss any obstacles or challenges and offer advice and your continued support.