How to Give Feedback Your Employees Will Hear

Posted August 30, 2017

Feedback helps teams and employees improve their performance and get results. Employees expect it and managers are expected to give it — so why is it so hard to get it right? Few people enjoy confrontation, but muddling through feedback — whether constructive or reinforcing — makes it ineffective and can even confuse employees.

“Feedback is the fastest way to engage employees,” says Amber Hunter, director of employee performance at A Plus Benefits, a benefits outsourcing service.

No matter where it happens — in regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, at the end of a project, through an assigned mentor in the organization or through an online tool — you need to get it right, she says.

Here are 3 ways to make sure your employees hear what you’re saying when you give feedback.

Set expectations.

If you want employees to hear the feedback you’re giving them, they have to understand what you’re saying, experts say. Too often managers have trouble speaking directly and will be vague about feedback, no matter the topic. As a result, employees often come away unsure of what actions need improving and what might happen if they don’t change.

Instead, make a list of the expectations you have for performance, and then identify how the employee’s actions did or didn’t meet those expectations.

“Provide very specific feedback — what happened, where, when and what outcomes to address,” says Cheryl Chester, organizational effectiveness practice leader at KardasLarson, an HR consulting firm.

This will help employees understand what’s expected of them. Be sure to give employees an opportunity to ask questions to ensure they understand, Chester adds.

Provide action steps.

The best feedback should be actionable — it should provide clear information on what an employee can do to improve or replicate strong performance.

“A common mistake is to deliver feedback that reflects on a past behavior, and the only takeaway is don’t do that again or do more of that,” says Todd Horton, founder and CEO of KangoGift, an employee recognition and rewards platform.

The employee then can be stuck not knowing how to move forward.

Instead, provide feedback that focuses on creating a future behavior that is repeatable, Horton says.

“To ensure an individual gets it, offer examples of what would be a good outcome,” he says.

Outlining action steps that are within the abilities of the employee will help illustrate how the expectations you set can be met.

Be a good receiver as well as a giver of feedback.

One of the best ways to ensure employees hear feedback when you provide it is to take feedback seriously when it comes your way. Reacting personally or as if an employee’s concerns don’t matter when they communicate issues to you sends a message that feedback isn’t important at your organization, and that people shouldn’t take each other seriously when they give each other feedback.

Hunter recommends asking for feedback of peers and direct reports, and being open to the message.

“The more openness and transparency you can create on your team, the more quickly you’ll be able to drive to results,” she says.

Serving as a model for receiving feedback shows employees that it doesn’t have to be an emotional process; you’re all in it together and helping each other succeed.