8 Tips for Delivering Constructive Feedback to Employees

By Robert Half on October 6, 2022 at 10:30am

Providing constructive feedback to employees about their performance is much more than a routine staff management responsibility. If you want your workers to take on more advanced roles in the organization and meet your succession planning objectives, feedback is one of the most valuable things you can offer as a manager.

Helping staff members advance to the next level depends on your ability to identify specific areas for improvement and inspire your workers to take ownership of their development. And when you deliver constructive feedback to your employees, it can motivate them to elevate their performance and help them better understand what they need to do to succeed in their jobs and the organization.

Here are some tips for providing feedback that is meaningful and actionable:

1. Prepare for the discussion

When offering constructive criticism to employees, you want to show that you’ve given the matter careful thought. One strategy for preparation is to develop a clear and detailed outline of what you want to communicate. Ask yourself these core questions: What are the issues I want to raise, and how would I like to see this employee improve?

2. Present the ‘big picture’

Your feedback is likely to resonate more when you provide context. So, your planning should include organizing specific examples that help demonstrate how the employee’s performance impacts your department and your team’s ability to meet specific business objectives.

For example, if an employee has a habit of missing deadlines, you might say, “When you’re slow to complete your portion of a project, everyone is affected because we all have to stay late to meet our obligation to the client.”

3. Be tactful

Aim to be kind but candid when delivering constructive feedback to employees. You don’t want to be overly harsh, but you also can’t afford to sugarcoat your messages, especially when addressing serious issues.

Vague language (“You’ve been arriving a little bit late every day.”) may provoke a shrug and a “So what?” from the employee. By contrast, clear language (“I’m concerned your chronic tardiness is starting to hurt your performance and reputation.”) leaves no doubt in the employee’s mind about what the problem is and why they need to resolve it quickly.

4. Meet face-to-face

In the era of remote and hybrid working, in-person meetings with employees aren’t always possible. So, you may be tempted to fire off an email when an issue arises.

This approach can backfire in several ways. For one thing, a written critique can seem excessively cold and formal since you don’t have the chance to temper it with body language and non-verbal cues. You also risk kicking off a lengthy back-and-forth.

When you need to give feedback to off-site workers, a better approach is to arrange a one-on-one video call.

5. Focus on the fix

When giving feedback, don’t just address the problem -- offer solutions. Whether you have to provide the employee with additional training, give more frequent direction or streamline a flawed system, do what you can to help the employee rectify the problem quickly.

6. Offer clear guidance

Round off every piece of negative feedback by expressing confidence in the employee’s ability to improve. (The exception to this rule is if the worker has made zero effort to act on previous criticism, in which case you may need to take more formal action.)

Your employee should leave the meeting with a clear idea of where they are falling short and what they can do to get back on a positive track. They should also be buoyed by the knowledge that you have faith in their ability to course-correct.

7. Make it a conversation

When providing feedback to employees, keep an open mind and allow your team members to explain their side of the story. You may learn of legitimate circumstances that have made it difficult for the employee to deliver their best performance. You may even realize that the issue is a symptom of a more significant underlying problem affecting other team members.

Making the meeting a conversation will also help the employee feel more comfortable overall — and likely more receptive to your feedback. In some cases, workers will be more inclined to make a change for the better simply because they’ve had an opportunity to explain to you, person to person, why they’re struggling or what obstacles impede their success.

8. Follow up

Consider scheduling a follow-up meeting — but be sure to give the employee a reasonable amount of time to make measurable changes. Depending on the type and level of constructive feedback you provided, your staff member may need a few weeks, or longer, to fully process your comments and incorporate your guidance into their daily routine.

Again, thorough preparation can make all the difference in whether your messages will be well-received. But know that some workers will be embarrassed, or even upset, to hear their professional performance is not up to standards. So be sure to underscore all along the way that you are taking the time to offer feedback precisely because you want to help them succeed.

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