Providing high-quality feedback is crucial to any employee development process. Without a clear assessment and feedback process, employees can be left adrift, without clear information on how they can improve. A good assessment process identifies areas of strength and development needs, helping to inform employee development plans.
Providing effective feedback, however, can often be challenging. The person delivering the feedback needs to keep a few key points in mind to ensure that the recipient will both accept the feedback and make an effort to follow through on any recommendations.
The best time to give feedback of any kind is as close to the situation as possible. While it may not always be possible to give feedback the moment an event takes place, letting too much time go by will diminish whatever impact the feedback might have. This is especially important when it comes to constructive feedback. As time goes by, memories have a way of creating different interpretations of events. People may also struggle to recall specific issues in question or feel like they’ve been ambushed when feedback focuses on something that no longer seems relevant to them.
More importantly, putting off feedback creates the opportunity for the behavior in question to continue. If someone is performing below expectations, allowing them to go on may create additional problems that will also need to be dealt with. Addressing issues promptly ensures that the changes needed to resolve them can be implemented faster.
For feedback to be useful to employees, it must highlight specific behavior with clear recommendations for solutions. A vague or broad criticism often fails to identify the real problem, making it hard for someone to understand what they could do to improve. It also leaves far too much open to interpretation, creating the possibility that the feedback will be misunderstood. This can leave the recipient feeling frustrated, powerless, or even unfairly attacked.
Focusing on specific behavior also keeps the feedback centered on facts instead of opinions or projections. If a team member isn’t completing their work, for example, the feedback should focus on how that affects the rest of the team, not on whether or not they care about their job or have a good work ethic. By referring to easily verifiable facts (did the work get done or not?), effective feedback avoids becoming a semantical debate over whether or not someone is interpreting the situation correctly.
Provide Balanced Feedback
Delivering too much negative feedback can undermine the entire process by causing people to become defensive. There is also substantial evidence that the human brain has a hardwired “negativity bias” that gives more weight to negative information than positive information. While there is debate over the ideal mixture of effective feedback, positive comments should be at the very least equal to critical comments. In addition, opening a feedback session with highlights of what someone does well will often make them much more willing to accept criticism too.
More importantly, criticisms should be framed as problem solving opportunities. Rather than dwelling upon what an employee isn’t doing, the emphasis of feedback strategies should be on what they can do to improve. This has the added benefit of providing specific, positive goals they can work toward in the future.
But purely positive feedback is important as well. All too often, employees come to view an assessment as a negative or critical experience when it should be a chance for them to hear their contributions are valued by others. Positive feedback reinforces desirable behavior and sends two key messages: “You can do it” and “That’s what good looks like”.
Make It a Two-Way Dialogue
Feedback should not be a one-sided conversation. Once the necessary points have been delivered, it’s important to give someone a chance to respond and share their thoughts about the issues raised. Active listening skills are important here because it’s vital to listen to what they have to say about the feedback and acknowledge how they feel about it. The response may not change the implications of the feedback, but people are more likely to accept it and follow any recommendations for improvement if they feel like they’ve had a fair hearing and had a chance to participate in identifying development actions. Again, it’s very important to keep the emphasis on the facts at hand because these observations are less likely to provoke a defensive emotional response.
When providing suggestions for improvement, the person receiving feedback should be encouraged to take part in coming up with ideas. Involving them in the process makes it easier to get buy-in when potential solutions or changes are recommended. This also allows them to take a more proactive role in their own development.
Track Development Actions
Regardless of whether the feedback is positive or negative, every formal conversation where feedback is given should be documented for future reference. If regular performance reviews are being conducted, feedback delivered throughout the year needs to be saved along with any recommendations for improvement. Making this information available for employees helps them to manage their development process, focusing on immediate areas of need while also identifying long term goals. In the unfortunate event that an employee must be disciplined or fired, having a record of feedback that documents problematic behaviors or events may prove valuable if any legal actions result from the situation.
Properly delivered, assessment feedback helps employees identify their strengths and develop a plan for addressing their weaknesses. Far from a negative experience, effective feedback should be an opportunity for people to get a snapshot of where they stand in terms of skills, competencies, and performance. Good feedback strategies can help improve retention and ensure that employees get the appropriate development resources.