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How to Provide Beneficial Employee Feedback

How to Provide Beneficial Employee Feedback
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Sarah Keast |   September 13, 2022 |    15 min

One of the most challenging conversations for an employee or leader is giving and receiving constructive criticism and feedback. It can cause stress, anxiety, and general awkwardness if not done the right way.

Why does this occur? It’s simple. Feedback causes parts of our brain to shut off because we think we are under attack. Our body and mind turn defensive, causing a fight-or-flight reaction that makes it difficult to think clearly.

This is the same reaction our ancestors had thousands of years ago running away from predators. When we receive feedback, we react as if a lion is chasing us. Even giving feedback is challenging.

Research from NeuroLeadership Institute found that giving feedback causes increased heart rate and anxiety.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five things managers can do to build trust and make giving and receiving feedback a more positive experience.

1. Establishing relationships rooted in positivity

The most fundamental way to build trust with employees is to connect with them. As the number of positive interactions managers have with their employees increases, more trust grows. Research shows there should be three positive interactions with an employee before giving constructive feedback can be a learning experience. Positive interactions include recognizing good work when you see it or celebrating a career milestone or life event.

2. Embrace a coaching approach

When users take a coaching approach to feedback, the giver of the feedback sets positive expectations and shows employees they believe improvements can be made. One way to drive a coaching conversation is through guided check-ins, which focus on learning and growth by asking specific, open-ended questions.

3. Create a safe environment

When you encourage employees to be comfortable learning and making mistakes, trust and connection increase. This enables people to generate more ideas and collaborate more; feedback just becomes part of the routine of work. In a psychologically safe environment, feedback is an opportunity to grow, rather than a threat. Managers must set the expectation that they will give both positive and constructive feedback when appropriate because they want their employees to succeed. Additionally, you can use feedback opportunities to discuss the more human side of your employees. Creating a safe environment allows employees to discuss personal wellness and mental health, two essential aspects of productivity and growth. These conversations can reveal if an employee feels supported by the organization and what management can do to better support their wellness initiatives.

4. Model vulnerability

When managers give feedback from a place of vulnerability, this increases trust and employees’ willingness to be open.

Brené Brown writes that engaged, vulnerable feedback encompasses:

  • Talking about similar mistakes you have made
  • Acknowledging that you may not fully understand the challenge
  • Being willing to own your part in the issue

When employees understand that feedback is not a personal attack, but an open dialogue with their manager, collaboration and trust grow.

5. Demonstrate the value of feedback

Leaders can show they value feedback by asking others for feedback and then taking action based on what they hear. Leaders should be open with their teams about what they are learning and what changes they have made. When leaders ask for feedback from their direct reports and then take action, employees feel valued and heard.

Embracing culture change

Moving to continuous performance development requires more than processes and checklists. It often requires culture change, and the support to make it happen. Here are a few ways to create an authentic environment of feedback, learning, and growth.

Active involvement at all levels

Successfully building a culture of growth and continuous development requires that an organization goes all in. Everyone must be involved, from executive leadership to managers to individual contributors, and each has a unique role in the process. Having just a small part of the organization or one group learning how to give and receive feedback is not powerful enough to build support or momentum for the entire organization.

Growth mindset

To build a culture of continuous performance, organizations must embrace a growth mindset, where all employees are seen as possessing potential, are encouraged to develop, and are rewarded for improvement. Only when individuals feel responsible and believe they are able to grow and learn can continuous performance development flourish. Here are some tips for building a growth mindset within your culture:

  • Focus on one area of growth at a time, such as active listening or reflecting on mistakes. Discussing every potential area of improvement at the same time will likely discourage employees and lower engagement. We are all much more effective when we can focus on one area to reflect and improve on at a time.
  • Make learning social. When projects are completed, ensure there is time allocated to reflect as a group on what went well and what could be improved for next time. For example, at the beginning of a quarterly meeting, have a “mistake of the quarter” where the team can discuss learning in an open and non-critical way.
  • Embrace this mindset across various talent processes, including leadership development and hiring. For example, as part of the interview process, ask candidates about not only current skills, but which skills the individual is working on developing. Even further, ask how they hope to develop if offered the position. If this person is hired, use the information you gathered as a foundation for meaningful, personal professional development.
Ongoing communication

Reinforcing culture change requires ongoing communication and internal marketing, such as:

  • Reward and publicly acknowledge teams that embrace new processes. Take the time to praise team members, whether it’s through social recognition or a special shoutout at a company meeting. In fact, many companies have found it becomes even more valuable for the company culture and meaningful to an employee when praise is delivered even in the case success is not achieved, but progress or learning has come out of the situation. Creating an environment where it is ok to make a mistake allows people to feel safe failing forward.
  • Shifting culture takes time. Make sure you allocate a budget for the resources required to execute ongoing communication and marketing. And even more important, be patient as your employees adjust to this new process.
Focus

Similar to individual goal-setting, focus on one habit at a time across the organization. Build excitement, momentum, positivity, and community around one aspect of continuous performance development. For example, encourage managers to start having monthly check-ins with their employees – at a minimum. In fact, many organizations recommend weekly check-ins as the speed of business and the need for agility require frequent communication.

Accountability

Do not just tell employees and managers to have continuous development through check-ins. Guide them as to how often and what should be discussed. Be prescriptive about the types of questions managers should ask employees and what type of feedback they should ask for.

Patience Moving to a continuous development process takes time. You are changing behaviors and mindsets and helping people navigate an intrinsically uncomfortable process. Do not expect changes overnight. When you do finally see the change, however make sure to point it out. Employees throughout the organization want to see that what they are doing is working.

FAQ

Performance management is never a process that is set in stone. It’s constantly evolving based on individual performances and employee experiences. However, having an effective, flexible performance management system will set your team up for success. Here, learn the answers to commonly asked questions when it comes to navigating the world of performance management.