The Art of Giving Great Employee Feedback

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Employee feedback should be a consistently used and fully integrated tool in every leader's toolkit. Leaders who regularly provide feedback to employees, both positive and negative, have a better chance of sparking positive growth and development in their team members.

As we've talked about before, feedback shouldn't be painful. At Bright Horizons, as in many organizations, we provide comprehensive training for managers on how to give great employee feedback. We stress being timely, being specific, giving someone the chance to respond, and then putting a plan in place to modify the behavior if necessary. It's a solid formula that yields much more positive results than inconsistent, one-directional course corrections.

Great Employee Feedback Starts Well before the Review

But recently, I got to thinking that the impact of great feedback is actually more related to the step before it's actually provided; it's about how we can best deliberately and intently observe the behavior of team members, particularly in the context of their interactions with others. Only when we take this step well are we likely to provide employee feedback that is insightful, detailed, and effective in helping the person embrace new approaches that might work better.

So how can you effectively take this step?

Create More Opportunities to See Your Team in Context

How often do you have a chance to sit back and observe team members either in meetings, or on calls? If your answer is rarely, you may want to consider delegating more often. When you do have these opportunities, try to pay attention to what you're seeing employees do; take notes, pretend you're an impartial observer. If you were meeting these employees for the first time, what would you say they are doing well and not so well?

Notice Your Reactions

How are you feeling about what you're seeing - which behaviors please you, which not so much?  This is an important step in filtering out your own biases about an employee's behavior. His or her approach may not be the same as yours might be, but if it's effective, let it go. Focus on those behaviors that are not working, rather than those that are different from your own.

Notice Other People's Reactions

How are other people reacting to your employee? Is there a lot of agreeing, a lot of challenging, a lot of awkward pauses? All of this provides great data points for your feedback, and provides helpful context for the information you provide.

Notice the Impact

What's the impact of an employee's behavior? Ultimately you want to be able to provide that information, including details about both your reaction and other people's, and ideally also a broader business context. If you need to, take some time to make those mental connections for yourself before launching into the feedback. If you can't make the connection from the employee's behavior to organizational effectiveness and efficiency, again let it go.

Catch Them Doing Something Right

We've all heard this great reminder that employee feedback should include telling employees what they are doing well in addition to ways they could improve. The true impact of this approach however comes from noticing something very specific that an employee may not have noticed on his or her own. Once you have observed the behavior, take the time to be specific about describing it and its impact. Try substituting 'Nice job on that project!' with, "The fact that you got everyone on board was a testament to how much time you took to meet individually with team members - well done!" You'll find such specifics go much further in reinforcing positive behaviors.

All this is for nothing if you don't follow observing with action. Build feedback into your regular leadership practices. If this is new for you, give your teams a heads up to limit any negative reactions. Start with "Is it OK if I give you some feedback?" and be open to finding a different time for the conversation if necessary.

Then provide feedback and encourage honest reactions. There's probably some information you don't yet know which completes the picture. Once you've had a frank dialogue, encourage commitments from your team member to try new approaches and then move on.  With these new tools in hand, you're on the road to providing employees with the best information you possibly can to continue to grow and thrive in your organization and beyond. And if you've done this right, it should be a positive learning experience for all parties.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.