Giving Effective Feedback and Counseling Employees

Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is crucial to an employee’s development and performance. Feedback should be given as frequently as possible, both formally through the annual performance review, but also informally through ongoing conversations and coaching. Managers really lose a golden opportunity to motivate their employees if they forget to praise an employee on doing a great job, or ineffectively praise the employee by providing no personalized examples of how that employee performed well. On the other hand, there is nothing quite as disheartening as learning for the first time during an annual review that some aspect of your performance has been lacking for the past six months, but you were never notified. Feedback gives employees the opportunity to change behavior and also to charge forward; but if they don’t know, how can we expect them to perform to their full potential?

Perhaps many managers shy away from giving feedback because, for most people, talking about someone else’s performance is uncomfortable. Let’s break it down so that the feedback conversation can be more comfortable and effective for both the manager and the employee.

Here are some hints on how to give constructive feedback in a meaningful way:

  • Set the Stage—Positive feedback can be given in public, but negative feedback should be given privately. Determine a location with limited distractions (i.e. phone, interruptions, noise, etc. and turn off your cell phone).
  • Be Timely—In order for feedback to be effective, it should be given right after an action occurs.
  • Be Prepared—Prepare in advance what you want to say. Don’t launch into a feedback session unprepared, as your message will likely get muddled and you’ll be thrown off track. If you find it helpful, bring your notes into the meeting to keep the conversation on track.
  • Be Clear, Specific and Consistent—Make sure your words, body language and tone all reflect the same message. Provide specific examples so that the employee can fully understand what you are telling him or her; "You did a great job presenting that material in the meeting! It was clear, concise and informative and you were also well prepared with the answers when the more detailed questions were asked."
  • Make it about the Behavior—Feedback should always be about "behavior" and not about the person. Feedback should be based on facts, not assumptions or hearsay. Some effective frameworks for the feedback might be:

    Framework One Framework Two
    When you do _______, Describe the behaviors
    It causes/produces _______, Identify the situation
    I’d like it if you could ________. Describe the impact/consequences
    Discuss alternative behaviors
  • Listen Actively and Attentively—Encourage the employee to provide his/her input to the situation; however you should not put yourself in a position to defend your feedback. Actively listen to the employee when he or she talks, keeping in mind that your non-verbal, as well as verbal behavior is important to how the employee views your commitment to him or her. Listen beyond the words to hear the deeper meaning of what the employee is trying to say.
  • Document—For formal feedback discussions, be sure to document the conversation with the date, nature of discussion and outcomes to avoid any surprises at the time of the performance evaluation. You may or may not need to provide such documentation for informal feedback.

Remember, the goal of performance feedback and counseling conversations is always to work with the employee to improve their performance, in a dignified, constructive manner and to reward them for a job well done!