For many of us, “employee feedback” sparks memories of uncomfortable annual conversations with unapproachable managers. In today’s world, however, employee feedback has evolved into ongoing listening strategies that build trust between managers and employees. Regular employee feedback results in significantly higher engagement, with a plethora of attendant benefits. Let’s take a look at why employee feedback matters, how to deliver it, some real-life employee feedback examples, and how managers can respond and take action to build a culture of listening.
The importance of employee feedback
The value of positive employee feedback is obvious. It reinforces the right behaviors, and it is directly linked to increased employee engagement and productivity. Negative employee feedback is equally important. When provided constructively, it reduces negative behaviors and helps employees understand their strengths and weaknesses. The right feedback, given at a critical juncture, can have a significant impact on behaviors, skills, and ultimately careers.
With the gig economy growing and more employees working independently, building connections between employees and managers is more important than ever. Employee feedback is critical to building these connections. For managers, listening to employee feedback and taking action is just as important as giving feedback.
How to provide feedback to employees
Whether positive or negative, there are many ways of providing constructive employee feedback. The list below outlines best practices for employee feedback that apply to colleague and manager feedback as well.
Make it timely, specific, and relevant
Providing employee feedback on a project that happened six months ago will have little impact on either the employee or the project. Instead, give feedback right away. Top-performing employees who feel their efforts are unrecognized may disengage and look for other opportunities. Employees who are not performing well will continue to struggle until feedback points them in the right direction.
Specific and relevant feedback gives employees a clear understanding of the skills and behaviors that lead to success. Employees want to understand exactly what it is they are doing right — or wrong — and what changes they should make. A great way to do this is to keep the focus of the employee feedback on business outcomes; for example, “Because you did such a great job on this project, the client has increased their budget for our services.”
Make it a two-way process
Eliciting thoughts and reactions from employees allows a manager to understand how the feedback has been received, and the impact it will have moving forward. Asking questions like, “What are your thoughts?” and ”How do you feel you performed?” will lead to valuable insights and build trust.
Similarly, feedback between peers is important. Colleagues are often the best positioned to see others’ behaviors, performance, and skills. Providing positive feedback to colleagues builds stronger relationships and leads to top-performing teams.
Handle positive and negative feedback differently
Positive employee feedback is a joy to provide, and there are many ways to recognize and reward a job well done. A monetary bonus, team event, or simply providing social recognition are all great methods. Managers should find out what teams and individuals value most highly to ensure their rewards and recognition strategies are getting the highest motivational impact.
Negative feedback is more difficult to provide and should be addressed sensitively. Never provide negative feedback in public. Choose a private setting and do it face-to-face so you can have an honest, constructive conversation. Don’t pile on the criticism; instead, be very specific about the issue(s) and offer examples of how to improve. It often helps to write down what you are planning to say before the meeting, but practice it ahead of time to avoid reading off a piece of paper. Provided honestly and sensitively, negative feedback will not make an employee feel punished, but instead will lead to improved skills and behaviors.
Go beyond annual reviews
Annual reviews are an opportunity to look back over the previous year and assess accomplishments, skills, and areas for development. But packing everything into a single annual review can be overwhelming and hard to process. Giving and receiving employee feedback throughout the year offers real-time data on employee performance. Managers should provide feedback regularly, and open up channels to encourage employees to do the same.
Examples of employee feedback
While organizations vary widely and have different ways of providing employee feedback, the following examples offer some guidance that managers can use in providing constructive feedback.
Positive employee feedback examples
Whether it’s a recognition of good work or acknowledgment of perseverance, there are many instances where managers can take the opportunity to provide positive feedback. Here are some examples:
1. Express appreciation for employee performance
“What a great job you did on the presentation (March 05, 2020)! I hear the client was very pleased, and may significantly expand the project. Well done. I really appreciate all the hard work, creativity, and energy you put into it.”
When an employee succeeds, they should hear about it. Express your recognition of the right behaviors and celebrate positive results. If possible, be specific about skills, achievements, and business outcomes.
Employee success often goes unrecognized as managers can be complacent and forget to call out positive performance. We recently found that 58 percent of employees said their manager relationship would improve with more recognition. Showing appreciation reinforces the right behaviors, makes employees feel valued and motivated, and is directly linked to increased employee engagement.
2. Note an employee’s good qualities
“I noticed how well you responded to that customer’s concerns. You were patient, understanding, and resourceful. Customer support is an important part of our company brand, and you certainly displayed it.”
Let employees know what they are particularly good at, and what traits you appreciate. Tying good qualities to organizational values creates a line of sight to business results, and builds employee confidence.
3. Let employees know when they’re setting a great example
“Jane told me that she is using the new network tool to keep track of sales, based on your positive feedback on the application. Thanks for supporting our new technology, and setting a great example for others.”
When an employee does something that others should emulate, let them know. Colleagues tend to listen to each other, and setting a good example is the fastest way to incorporate the right behaviors into your workforce.
4. Call out actions you would like to see become habits
“Thank you for using a spreadsheet to keep track of all the project expenses. It was very helpful for the team and we were able to keep costs under budget. It was so effective, I’d like to use it on all our future projects.”
Positive employee actions are more likely to become habits if you call them out. 92 percent of employees agree when they’re recognized for a specific action, they’re more likely to take that action again in the future. Employees may not realize their efforts are valued unless they are recognized. When an employee’s actions are particularly important to job success, you should take the time to demonstrate the impact of their actions and suggest that the employee repeat them in the future.
5. Support employees when difficulties arise, and congratulate them when they persevere
“I understand there have been some very difficult days on the job due to the weather and short supplies. It’s remarkable how you have managed to keep everything running smoothly. I really appreciate your hard work and perseverance.”
Even the most successful businesses experience difficult times. It’s important to recognize employee resilience and congratulate them for their efforts. Acknowledging issues allows employees to open up about concerns they might have, which builds trust. This can be hard if the issues are personal rather than work-related, but in either case, let employees know that the way they’ve weathered the storm has been noticed and appreciated
Constructive employee feedback examples
When things don’t go as well as planned, constructive feedback helps redirect employees into adopting more successful actions and behaviors. Let’s review some examples:
6. Handle problematic behavior
“Several of your colleagues have reported hearing you tell jokes in the lunchroom that they found offensive. This organization has very clear guidelines. Any comments or jokes that might cause offense to others are not appropriate and will not be tolerated.”
Problematic behavior in the workplace must be addressed immediately to maintain a culture of respect, tolerance, and anti-discrimination. However, managers should not assume that offense was intended, as acceptable behavior for one individual may not be acceptable to another. Feedback should not be used to punish or blame the employee. Feedback should provide clear, specific guidelines as to what is acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace, and why.
7. Follow up when employees fail to meet their goals
“We set performance goals to ensure that both you and our business succeed. Your goals are tied to organizational objectives and affect our overall results. I am concerned that you fell short. Let’s discuss why that happened and what changes we can make to ensure you succeed in the future.”
When an employee fails to meet goals, feedback should be provided as soon as possible to understand the underlying issue and get performance back on track. Connecting individual goals to business objectives is key. Encourage input and have a two-way conversation to ensure a common understanding of the importance of meeting goals and the reasons for falling short. Focus on the actions and behaviors that will boost performance and lead to future success.
8. Address changes in performance
“You are one of our top salespeople and your results are always excellent. Recently, however, I noticed a decline in your numbers. I was wondering if there is a reason for the change and if there’s anything I can do to help you be successful.”
Good managers will stay on top of business results and individual goals, and check in with employees immediately if there is a change in performance. The goal is to uncover the reason behind the change and provide support to get performance back on track. Start with positive feedback to show that you recognize and appreciate previous efforts. This provides a launching pad for discussing changes in performance and what the employee and manager can do to turn things around and ensure success.
9. Touch base when there’s a disconnect
“The results of the IT project were not as successful as I had hoped. The team thought that you were going to be more involved and take on more responsibility. I would like to hear your perspective on the project and discuss how we can avoid misunderstandings in the future.”
In today’s digital world, team disconnects happen all too frequently. Managers should avoid personal observations but focus on the impact of the problem. Make sure there’s a clear understanding of team responsibilities, and the importance of being on the same page. Solicit feedback to understand why the disconnect occurred, and suggest strategies to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
10. Have a productive discussion about errors
“Unfortunately, the marketing materials that were recently mailed had the wrong logo. I understand that digital assets can be hard to manage but I thought we had a clear process in place. I’d like to get your perspective on how the mistake happened and how we can avoid it in the future.”
Mistakes happen, and, while no one likes to talk about them, without constructive feedback they are likely to happen again. Employee feedback should not be about finger pointing. Instead, have a productive discussion about how the error happened, the impact, and how to address it. Most importantly, you want to ensure your employee learns from the mistake so that it is not repeated in the future.
The need for two-way feedback
For managers, listening to employee feedback is just as important as giving feedback. Providing a platform to share thoughts and ideas is critical to building and maintaining employee engagement. It’s also a great mechanism for managers to better understand their workforce and potentially avoid costly errors and ineffective processes. Leverage the following listening tools:
- Pulse surveys include a short series of questions that are quick, easy to answer, and, ideally, distributed to employees regularly. With employee-centric topics like role, communication, and work environment, they provide a check on the health of an organization.
- Chatbots are becoming more and more prevalent. An HR chatbot, like Achievers’ Allie, will initiate employee engagement conversations and confidentially invite employees to share their feelings and observations about their job.
- Annual surveys provide an in-depth analysis of an organization and are useful for measuring engagement and identifying issues. The real value, however, comes from how a company uses the results: incorporating changes and communicating results back to employees.
In addition to scheduled employee feedback mechanisms, managers should incorporate impromptu opportunities for employees to provide their input. Engage in active listening and be prepared to hear both the good and the bad. When employees feel that they can provide feedback without negative consequences, they will be much more likely to speak openly and honestly.
Following up on employee input is equally important. Thank employees for their feedback and let them know what actions are being taken. Change can often take a long time to implement in an organization, but initiating and communicating a plan will let employees know that their feedback has been heard and valued.
“Thank you for pointing out the concerns you have with the new online tool. We rely on input from employees to ensure our technology is working effectively. I have escalated the issue and will let you know when a solution is in the works.”
“I really appreciate your feedback! I agree that the team did an outstanding job and I plan to celebrate the results at the next staff meeting.”
Establish a culture of listening and reap the rewards
Keeping a feedback channel open allows employees to flag issues when they arise and the chance to express satisfaction when things go well. It also allows you to address concerns raised by feedback in real time.