One of the most important tools in your business is employee feedback. We don’t often think of it as a tool, but it’s a critical one. Businesses that have the correct processes and tactics in place to effectively give and receive feedback typically see higher profits, more engaged employees, and a more successful business overall.
So what do you need to know to get there?
First, remember this: employee feedback is a two-way street. More often than not, it’s not something that is rigidly planned. You may use annual employee reviews and shared employee objectives as part of your formal process, but sometimes informal and timely acknowledgement can be even more powerful. If you catch an employee doing a great job, it’s time for feedback right then and there. If you find an employee struggling with something, that’s also a great time for feedback.
Now, let’s talk about the ways to make those conversations count.
Tailor your approach
Did you know that only one third of people believe the feedback they receive is helpful? Receiving feedback without context that helps turn words into action can actually do more harm than good. It can confuse our employees, break down our relationships with them, and put us in a worse spot than we were before the conversation started.
Feedback is all about empowering an employee to do well in his or her position. Providing good feedback first starts with building a relationship with that employee. Don’t be shy to ask how an employee wants to receive advice or feedback on their work. You might be shocked by how open they are in helping you deliver great direction.
When you understand how that particular employee registers and processes feedback, you’ll be able to more quickly deliver it which gives them the opportunity to act on it right away and succeed moving forward.
It’s easy to have broad stroke conversations. It’s much harder to stay specific about a piece of feedback you are giving.
When providing feedback to a team member, make sure to keep it as tactical and detailed as possible. You want to make sure that individual has the opportunity to understand exactly what area of their performance needs improvement through examples and how they can correct what they’re doing (or keep up the good work!).
Take the example of reporting. Let’s say you’ve sent an employee out to complete a sales report that will help you determine how many more leads you received this quarter versus last quarter. The report comes back with a lot of information that shows increases in sales, but nothing directly related to that question above.
You can say, “I took a look at the report and it didn’t have the information I need. Can you please check it out?” Or, you can give direct, specific feedback such as, “In your latest report, I needed to see the exact percentage increase of lead sign-ups compared to last quarter. Can you please add that in?”
Big conversations that have some ambiguity have a time and place, but not when it comes to feedback. Make sure that your team members get exactly what they need from you to confidently do a better job next time.
Cut the fluff
While we’re talking about being specific, another important thing not to do is to sandwich negative or critical feedback with positive comments. Sandwiching feedback means saying something positive, providing critical feedback, then saying another positive thing again.
It often leaves employees feeling confused about what the conversation was about. Even worse, it undermines the critical feedback you were trying to deliver in the first place.
Studies show this method of providing feedback will eventually train employees to distrust praise since they’ll start to believe that it’ll soon be followed by criticism. It can also dilute your message and give them a false sense of understanding where they stand with their work performance.
When it doubt, be direct and be kind. But don’t sugar coat it.
Have deep empathy
At the end of the day, we’re all humans with feelings. While many people say they can detach work from feelings, it’s hardly ever the truth.
Studies show that feedback is best handled one-on-one. This allows individuals to have genuine conversations where they don’t feel outnumbered or singled out. In fact,
Imagine if you were in this person’s shoes. If they’re receiving critical feedback, how would you like to receive it? What would make you feel inspired to do a better job versus brow-beaten and scared to try again?
When you’re providing any type of critical feedback, it’s important that you hold space in the conversation for the individual to digest what you’re saying.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Did you know that nearly 70% of leaders report feeling uncomfortable providing feedback? Things such as “giving clear directions” and “speaking face to face” were listed as stressors in the linked study above. While it’s no excuse not to provide great feedback, it does give us good insight into why so many employees report that they don’t have the critical conversations they need to do their job well.
One thing to help curb that is practice. The more we make giving feedback part of our daily or weekly routine, the less we build it up in our own heads. It’s also productive for our team because they’re consistently getting micro-bursts of feedback that help them improve their output.
Connect feedback to company goals and objectives
Psychologist Victor Lipman created a four-step approach to creating great feedback that targets exactly what you want to say.
“Feedback should have a clear business focus,” Lipman said. This helps take the pressure off of having hard conversations, since you’re simply tying employee actions into larger overall company goals.
According to Lipman, great feedback is specific, timely, meaningful and candid.
“It makes no sense to say, five months after the fact, ‘You know, Tom, you did a terrific job developing that new dog food back in April,” Lipman says. The window of time where that feedback would have actually been impactful has long past.
And of course, being candid, as we’ve mentioned before, is important. It’s easy to duck tough issues when they happen. But when you do that, you run the risk of losing the trust and loyalty of your team. As a leader, they expect you to tackle the big issues so they can continue to be effective at what they do.
Schedule time to follow up
All too often, we cut out the final and most important part of providing feedback: following up. Actually giving the feedback should be the first step in creating positive change or reinforcing great behavior.
Before you end the first conversation, make sure to schedule a meeting within an appropriate amount of time to be able to accomplish something from your conversation. This will give the employee a clear path forward and a timeline to get there.
Document or it doesn’t exist
A crucial part of following up is documentation. Here at Kin, we use our employee feedback feature to gather employee feedback and record both the manager and employee’s thoughts. This helps us have clear communication and not forget anything that was discussed.
Beyond following up, documentation is vital for employees so that they can see a history of their conversations with their managers, so managers have the ability to make decisions based on feedback over time, and so companies can justify raises, promotions and more within their team. If you’re not practicing feedback documentation currently, now is the time to start.