two people talking happy

Feedback is one of the most powerful tools managers and leaders can use to successfully direct their teams. It’s also commonly overlooked, underutilized, and misunderstood. In a recent survey conducted by Office Vibe:

  • 83% of millennials say the feedback they receive from managers is not meaningful
  • 25% feel like the feedback they receive is frequent enough to help them understand how to improve
  • 75% of employees who display low engagement levels or leave their jobs say that it’s due to their manager or leadership
  • 72% of employees get praise less than once a week

Training leaders on feedback can be difficult because the word itself can invoke negative feelings in some while others presume to be feedback experts. Many leaders and managers struggle to know how to give constructive feedback that manages any performance issues while still making the employee feel their value.

While it’s true that some people may be great at giving feedback, it’s important to note that providing feedback is a constantly developing skill that requires daily practice – it’s like riding a bike, but with higher stakes that can unexpectedly happen at any time, so it’s important to be prepared!

What’s the big deal?

Let’s begin with impacts on the organization because the stakes for poor or negative feedback reflect in some major ways, such as:

  • High turnover
  • Increased hiring and training costs
  • Stunted production
  • Lower year-over-year growth
  • Difficulty finding qualified candidates

Feedback almost always feels personal to the recipient, which is why good intentions alone are not enough when providing criticisms or instructions.

Think of feedback as the railings on a narrow bridge between your employees and the desired outcome.

Technically, someone could walk across that bridge without assistance given that they have incredible balance, focus, and courage, but odds are, most people are going to slip several times before making it across or will give up trying altogether.

They are also more likely to slip if they feel an immense amount of pressure, fear failure, are micromanaged, or are receiving instructions in a negative tone or context.

Every time that happens, it causes interruptions that can translate to real monetary losses to the organization.

These interruptions can result in high turnover, low engagement, and costly mistakes. Whereas organizations that employ meaningful, positive feedback methods tend to show low levels of turnover, positive company culture and morale, lower costs in areas like training and retraining, faster project completion rates, and higher ROI.

One way to improve feedback in your organization is to provide managers and leaders with training on coaching skills, feedback, and management styles. Check out our ebook for tips on how to upskill your managers.

Mentorship programs are also shown to be extremely effective in creating highly skilled team leaders and managers. Mentorship and coaching programs allow leaders to learn how to provide feedback. It’s a mutually enriching program for mentors and mentees. Individual contributors can practice giving constructive feedback to managers as well on their leadership and management skills. Constructive feedback for managers is just as important as feedback for individual contributors. Consider how mentorship can make a significant impact on giving and receiving feedback at your organization.

Bad feedback can take many forms. The most common examples of bad feedback include:

  • Blaming/shaming language
  • Blindsiding the recipient
  • Providing only negative comments
  • One-sided conversations
  • No actionable items or direction for the recipient

The effects of bad feedback are noticeable. Look for departments that have chronic turnover or a high volume of incidents. You may just find that with a little more constructive, positive feedback you can transform these departments from notoriously difficult into stories of success.

When it comes to giving feedback that drives positive results, there are two common categories to be familiar with: constructive and positive.

While the two can go hand-in-hand, there are a few distinguishing factors for each.

What is constructive feedback?

The definition of constructive feedback could also be described as coaching, which is what we most typically think of when hearing the word feedback.

To define constructive criticism, think about how it is delivered. Its delivery is concise and focused solely on a given behavior, project, process, or product that needs to be changed for the employee to be successful in their endeavors. The last part is key because it gives the employee a vetted interest in enacting the suggested feedback.

Delivery of constructive feedback should be laser-focused on the desired outcome, and should never be blaming, shaming, or attacking someone personally.

What is positive feedback?

Positive feedback is an acknowledgment of a job well done! It’s also been called praise or a shoutout. You may think that positive feedback isn’t as important to hitting your KPIs as constructive feedback. In actuality, positive feedback can be just as important. It not only communicates what someone is doing well but provides vital encouragement that boosts company culture and morale!

Providing constructive and positive feedback

1.    Use Positive Coaching

Libby Mullen-Eaves, BizLibrary’s Senior Director of People Operations & Culture, and a skilled employee coach, told us this:

“To give constructive feedback, avoid starting sentences with the words ‘you’ or ‘your’ (which are verbal equivalents to finger-pointing) to prevent employees from feeling attacked. Focus on the behavior, rather than the person, to keep defensiveness at bay.”

**Pro-tip: Encourage managers to use “I” statements when giving feedback and always ask if the employee has questions or needs further clarification. Remember, it’s about making sure they have the information and tools they need to execute the desired behavior change or project successfully.

2.    Be Specific

Vague feedback is frustrating and leaves too much room for misinterpretations or errors. Eliminate the space for mistakes through clear, concise instruction. And again, encourage managers to ask if they understand! Managers can even request the employee explain the feedback they just received back to you in their own words to see that they understood the information and expectations.

3.    Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

Feedback is a natural part of communicating with others. We see it at home, in schools, and even out in public, so there is no reason to be afraid to let someone know how they’re doing at their job! It’s all in the way it’s communicated, just note that honesty without compassion is cruelty, and that never sparks long-lasting positive change.

Renowned social scientist and researcher, Brené Brown, had this to say about giving feedback.

“We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Some leaders attributed this to a lack of courage, others to a lack of skills, and, shockingly, more than half talked about a cultural norm of ‘nice and polite’ that’s leveraged as an excuse to avoid tough conversations.”

There are noteworthy skills and strategies for providing great feedback.

Necessary skills for giving constructive feedback include communication, emotional intelligence, discernment, sensitivity, patience, and problem-solving.

To help your managers and leaders be expert feedback givers, prioritize assigning training content in each of these skill categories! Ongoing development and practice of feedback skills ensure long-term impacts in your organization like reduced turnover, increased productivity, and a company culture of positivity.

Consider sharing these strategies with your leaders for providing great feedback:

  • Using inclusive language
  • Giving feedback at appropriate times- i.e. in private, not during another task, not when the employee is overwhelmed
  • Set up a meeting with an agenda and recap of action items
  • Providing a recap of the next steps
  • Providing space for recipient questions or requests for clarification
  • Two-sided conversations
  • Intentional, achievable outcomes

Real, honest feedback executed with kindness builds trust. Research shows that employees who trust leadership to be supportive and feel their managers believe in them are the most powerful tool for cultivating expert talent and a thriving company culture. By following these simple tips, you will lay the groundwork for long-lasting, positive change in your organization.

Learn more about leveraging vulnerability to build trust amongst your teams in our Expert Insight Series on Exceptional Leadership Skills with Brandon Smith. Check out a preview of the course below.