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Feedback is a powerful management process. If used effectively, it will maintain or improve your employees’ output and, in turn, improve the overall performance of the organisation. Employees want feedback because it helps them learn about themselves and their performance. To provide effective feedback – positive or negative – consider these guidelines…

1. Provide feedback continually.

Whether informal, on-the-run comments or formal performance reviews, feedback will be less traumatic and more effective if it is given continually. Continuity of reporting is essential.

2. Provide immediate feedback if possible.

Feedback will have maximum effect if given while the behaviour is fresh in the minds of both parties. The most powerful feedback is given when you actually catch someone doing the right or wrong thing. Delayed feedback should occur only if it would embarrass the employee in front of others or if you require further information.

3. Be specific.

The more specific you can be with examples, the more telling the feedback will be. For instance, it would be inadequate to tell an employee that ‘Your manners leave a lot to be desired’. But if the person was told, ‘I was disappointed at this morning’s committee meeting when you kept talking while I was speaking’, the person could take some purposeful action to correct that behaviour.

4. Be descriptive, not evaluative.

Describe behaviour in observable terms, rather than use emotional, judgemental language. Refer to the observable fact that the employee ‘missed four deadlines last month’. Don’t use words like ‘lazy, slack, and irresponsible’ (even though you might like to). Labelling and character attacks only inflame the situation. Such judgements are merely your opinion anyway – you might be wrong!

5. Focus only on things that can be changed.

Some things about an employee can’t be changed – such as personality, or physical features, intelligence, speech impediments, shyness, left-handedness, and poor complexion. So don’t focus on such aspects unless they are somehow affecting the work environment. Concentrate instead on those areas where change can be brought about – output, writing style, dress, untidiness in the workplace, or behaviour.

6. Adjust feedback to individual needs.

Individual employees differ in their approach to feedback. Most people appreciate positive feedback; high performers usually like a good deal of it. Some employees are scarred for life by negative feedback; others simply reject all feedback if any of it is negative. You must learn to match the content and timing of feedback to the individual and the situation.

7. Try not to mix positive and negative messages.

When you have negative feedback to impart, do not sandwich it between positive introductory comments and glowing statements of appreciation at the end. This technique only dilutes the importance of the negative message and sometimes sends a mixed and confusing signal to the employee.

8. Ensure feedback is always constructive.

When used as a weapon rather than as a tool for improving performance, feedback can be very destructive. Both parties should see negative feedback as an important component of performance improvement and the ongoing review process. Here, the concept of ‘feedforward’ is gaining new life as a performance review tool. Unlike feedback, which assesses staff by past performances, feedforward involves helping employers to anticipate potential situations and problems.

9. And don’t forget:

  • See feedback as encouragement. Whether you’re giving constructive criticism or positive reinforcement, your message should be: ‘I know you can do better and that you want to do better – and I know I can help you do better.’ In this way, every time staff hear from you, especially if your feedback indicates progress and growth, they will be motivated and encouraged.
  • Make sure the employee is actually listening. Feedback not heeded is feedback wasted.
  • Make sure the feedback is understood. If necessary, check for understanding.
  • Guard against any hint of the ‘I am better than you’ syndrome which communicates your superiority in knowledge, wisdom, or power.
  • Be alert for an employee asking for feedback. It’s easier to feed a hungry person.
  • Feedback calls for objectivity. Don’t communicate if you’re upset, angry, or hurt.
  • Give the employee the opportunity to discuss the issue and to explore how the behaviour might be further modified. After all, feedback should be part of the employee’s learning experience.
  • Use the giving process as an opportunity to seek feedback yourself. The process is facilitated if you demonstrate that you are open to feedback.

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