How to Give Feedback to Your Staff

Updated on July 4, 2018
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Sally is a writer, speaker, and communications coach. She teaches her clients how to express themselves with power and impact.

Strong workplace leaders have mastered the art of giving meaningful feedback to their staff. Here are some tips on how to help you communicate effectively with an employee during a performance review.

Smart leaders and supervisors know how to give clear feedback.

When supervisors and managers are skilled at providing feedback to their staff, the results are generally always positive for both staff and team leaders alike. Staff members achieve their goals. They learn new skills along the way when leaders provide guidance and feedback on what’s working and what’s not working. Their confidence is boosted and their energy and enthusiasm for their project is renewed every time they are recognized for their efforts.

In order for an organization to grow and thrive, its leader must be able to comfortably offer feedback to staff members. Effective feedback in the workplace generally focuses on four key things:

a) Staff member’s behavior: Does the employee show up on time? Is he carrying out his duties in a safe and conscientious manner? Is he following instructions and paying attention to detail?

b) Attitude: Is the staff members attitude positive and energetic? Or is it negative and sluggish? Does the staff member seem to take pride in his work?

c) Interpersonal relationships: How well does the employee get along with other staff members? How does the staff member treat customers? Does the employee show good boundaries?

d) Progress towards an established goal: How well is the employee performing compared to established goals and objectives?

Research indicates that employees have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.

— Zig Ziglar

When setting up, preparing for, and delivering an evaluation, by following these next four steps, managers can give their staff and volunteers feedback that is meaningful and appropriate.

1. Set clear goals. One of the first step to giving effective feedback is to staff is to set them up for success right from the beginning. And the best way to do that is to establish concrete goals and objectives and then communicate them clearly and concisely before a project or task is undertaken.

2. Observe staff performance without hovering too much. In order to be an effective leader who gives useful feedback to staff, it is important to be present and supportive while supervising staff. You can’t offer helpful suggestions for improvement if you haven’t spent time watching your staff perform their duties in as ‘natural’ a working environment as possible. As you observe the employee’s performance, make careful, thoughtful note on what he or she is doing well and what areas need improvement. The notes that you take will be valuable when you deliver your feedback to the staff member.

3. Check in regularly with your staff. Always provide feedback in a timely manner. The best way to ensure that your feedback to staff is understood and acted upon is to make sure that you give the performance feedback as close to the action or activity as soon as possible. By doing so, if the staff member is heading in the wrong direction, you can help steer him back on track as soon as possible. It’s incredibly discouraging than to be working on project, nearing its completion and then having a manager tell you that he thinks you are doing it incorrectly. The employee will probably be screaming, “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner!” in his head, if not saying so out loud.

4. Recognize performance. Good leaders know that appreciation and recognition are the cornerstones of creating a healthy team dynamic. Make sure that you always find positive things to comment on when evaluating an employee.

Giving clear, relevant feedback to your staff will not only improve workplace performance, it will also increase an employee's job satisfaction.
Giving clear, relevant feedback to your staff will not only improve workplace performance, it will also increase an employee's job satisfaction.

Always keep in mind that when feedback is delivered effectively, it always lifts people up rather than tears them down. Here are some tips and suggestions on how to keep the feedback helpful and supportive.

Acknowledge progress. Effective feedback must always include recognizing the improvement’s an employee has made over the course of the project or evaluation period.

Use recognition as a tool to inspire others. When delivered in a fair and respectful manner, sharing a team member’s accomplishments and success with other staff members can help inspire them to keep at it. Recognizing a staff member in front of other staff members should never be done with a goal of shaming poor performers. That will likely lead to feelings of resentment as some employees will be seen to be treated as better than others employees.

Give specific examples of what the employee did well. That way it will be easier for them to keep doing that particular task well. If you use broad statements and phrases such as “That was a great presentation you delivered to our stakeholders last week, you are simply giving praise and not feedback that can be used to help the employee continue on in the right direction. Instead, try saying something specific as “I can see from the infographics that you designed that you really have a strong grasp of the supply-chain management structure. I thought your slides were well-laid out, easy to understand, and written in a language that the audience could understand. You didn’t use too much jargon and I think that helps people absorb the information more readily.”

Express gratitude. Give thanks for your employee’s efforts. Give them one or two examples of how their good work had a positive impact on the organization.

"Wash. Rinse. Repeat." Be sure to encourage your employee to continue doing more of the same good work.

Taking the time to prepare and deliver a meaningful evaluation of an employee’s job performance will not only strengthen and improve the employee’s ability to do his job, it will help you as a manager or supervisor achieve the goals that your organization has set out for you!

Source material: Giving Effective Feedback, Toastmasters International

It's not just what you say to your employee but how you say it.

The way you speak to your employee during an evaluation can have a major impact on whether or not the employee is able to successfully integrate the feedback into their work.
The way you speak to your employee during an evaluation can have a major impact on whether or not the employee is able to successfully integrate the feedback into their work.

Be mindful of phrases that sound judgemental. Making blanket statements such as “Good leaders don’t ...” or “If you had just done this instead of...”.

Remember who you are speaking for: yourself. You are not evaluating the employee on behalf of the world. Use first person “I” phrases such as “I think...” or “In my experience...” Even if you are the top CEO of the biggest company in the world, you can still only speak for yourself.

Don’t belabor your points. When giving feedback to a staff member, stay focussed and don’t repeat an item that you’ve already discussed in the conversation. Doing so can sound like the employee is being berated. Your goal is to communicate your concerns, not harp on negative points over and over again.

Don’t use absolutes in your evaluation. Phrases that use absolutes include “you never” or “you always”. It is rare that people behave in the same way over and over. Be realistic about your assessments. To label and employee with an absolute, whether it is positive of negative, places an impossible amount of performance pressure on the individual. For example, if the employee hears that you believe he is always late, it sounds like you’ve already made a judgement about the employee so where is the incentive to correct behavior.

From the guidebook Effective Evaluation: Tips and Techniques for Giving Helpful Evaluations published by Toastmasters International.

An employee should feel empowered and motivated to do their best at the end of an evaluation.
An employee should feel empowered and motivated to do their best at the end of an evaluation.

Respect your employee’s dignity. If you need to give stern feedback on an employee’s performance, do so in private. There is no need to yell at, embarrass or humiliate an employee in front of others. Not only will treating an employee disrespectfully in front of others harm the individual’s confidence and motivation, other who witness your naming and shaming will be affected. Your job as a leader is to cultivate a respectful, safe, healthy atmosphere in the workplace.

© 2016 Sally Hayes

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