Phrases like “nice work” and “good job” are easy to say, but many managers aren’t nearly as comfortable giving feedback to their employees that’s not purely positive. That’s unfortunate, as this feedback is just as, if not more, important to the growth of employees and the health of companies.
And that critical constructive feedback you dread giving can be the one workers most want to hear.
The Harvard Business Review gathered data in 2014 and found that most employees actually wanted constructive feedback more than purely positive. Seventy-two percent of those polled (the multi-generational pool was made up of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials) “thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback,” and even more believed that that feedback, “if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”
So how, then, can you give employees constructive feedback in a positive way.
- Build a company culture where constructive feedback is accepted. The foundation is a great place to start. Employees who are secure in their positions and understand their goals, as well as those of the company, will be more receptive, not demotivated, by constructive feedback. Building a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes is equally important. Good employees should constantly be learning, and few can grow without making a few mistakes. Also, let employees know you regularly provide feedback to all employees, not just them.
- Understand what constructive feedback is. It’s not blame-focused, but useful, direct and about the action, not the person.
- Don’t sit on it. Give your employees constructive feedback in real-time. Make specific notes about what you need to discuss and give the feedback regularly. One-on-ones are a perfect time for this. Saving constructive feedback for performance reviews isn’t as effective.
- Avoid the “compliment sandwich.” Managers tend to think slipping constructive feedback in between the positive helps the medicine go down easier, but skip it. Be straightforward with your feedback. Positive feedback is extremely important as well, but save it for later in the discussion or for another conversation.
- Be direct and concise. Present the facts of your feedback with concrete examples. For example, instead of saying to an employee, “You don’t run meetings effectively,” give him or her a concrete example, such as “The action items from the meetings are unclear, and people don’t understand how to move forward.” Also, avoid using words like “but” and “however.” They reflect your uncomfortableness with giving the feedback. Oh, and they’re usually preceded by some form of praise (see compliment sandwich).
- Provide feedback with a path to improvement. Most employees seek constructive feedback as a means to improving their job performance and growing professionally. Without managerial coaching, guidance and goals, the feedback alone can be frustrating for employees. For instance, tell your employee, “End each meeting with a list of action items and owners, so everyone is clear on the go-forward plan. This way everyone understands next steps, and it will help you develop your leadership skills.”
- Face-to-face interaction is best — and preferably in private. Don’t send your constructive feedback in an email or toss it off publicly after — or even worse, in the middle — of a meeting