When it comes to giving employee feedback, there are many ways to go wrong and only a few to do it right. Some managers only focus on the positive and gloss over the negative, hoping endless encouragement inspires their employees and magically eliminates areas where they underperform. Others only focus on the negative and fail to acknowledge when employees do a good job. A third set of managers simply give neutral feedback, offering neither criticism nor advice for doing better.
All of these methods end up misleading your staff. Employees who receive the first type of feedback are never told how to improve and thus can’t reach their full potential. Meanwhile, those in the second group feel overlooked and burnt out from the lack of recognition. People who receive the third type of feedback never progress and risk growing disengaged.
The right type of feedback is a healthy blend of commendation and suggestions for improvement – that is, a good mix of positive and corrective feedback. In fact, according to one survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 57 percent of employees prefer corrective feedback over straight praise. That said, 92 percent of employees believe redirective feedback improves performance.
Keep this in mind during check-ins and performance reviews. Below are some examples of good and bad feedback:
- Bad: “You’re a great person, therefore you’re a good employee.”
- Also bad: “You’re a horrible person, therefore you’re a horrible employee.”
- Good: “Here’s how to improve your performance.”
Sometimes, we let our feelings toward an employee cloud our view of their work. When we like a person, we assume they exhibit all kinds of positive traits. Similarly, when we dislike a person, we see only negatives. This isn’t exactly right: A good person can be a bad employee and vice versa. It’s important to separate your perception of a person from their actual performance.
- Bad: “Your numbers are on the rise, which is great, but we have noticed you tend to avoid collaborating with your coworkers. That said, you’re also very punctual.”
- Good: “We want you to collaborate more with your team. That said, your numbers are on the rise and you’re very punctual.”
Most guides will tell you to use the sandwich approach to feedback, nestling a corrective or negative statement between two positive ones. It’s very easy to overdo this, however, and lots of managers end up suffocating constructive feedback under a mountain of praise. This increases the likelihood that employees will forget or overlook what they really need to hear.
- Bad: “Thanks for your time – we’ll review your progress again in 12 months.”
- Good: “Thanks for your time. Let’s talk again in a month or so and see where you stand.”
Frequent check-ins are more effective at encouraging better employee performance than annual reviews. They keep employees focused on the task at hand, and managers aren’t scrambling to remember all of what a person has accomplished over the course of a year. In addition, according to Gallup, the more employees communicate with their managers, the greater their engagement.
- Bad: “Your presentations are very confusing. We need you to write them better.”
- Good: “Your presentations aren’t as clear as we need them to be. Add concrete data to prove your point, and try using bulleted lists to make things easier to read.”
In a separate Harvard Business Review article, author and executive coach Deborah Bright noted the parallels between effective sports coaching and employee feedback. Both provide specific examples for improvement, not generalities. Simply telling an employee to do better leaves that person at a loss as to what the best course of action is.
- Bad: “You’re too abrupt during your phone calls with clients. We need you to change.”
- Good: “We’ve received feedback from clients saying you’re too abrupt on the phone. How do you think you can be more approachable?”
Bright also detailed the importance of engaging employees in creating their own solutions. You should provide answers where you can, of course, but getting employees involved in the problem-solving process gets them engaged and shows you care about their opinions.
Providing the right kind of feedback is one of the most effective ways to get employees engaged and improve their performance. During check-ins, try to have a healthy mix of positive and corrective comments with specific ideas on how to improve. Encourage employees to provide their own solutions, then make plans to meet again after a few weeks.
Download “The Executive’s Guide to Building a Feedback Culture” to learn how your company can start its own feedback culture.