May 8, 2019
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Mat Vogels

Productive Communication: How to Give Feedback to Employees

Giving useful feedback can be daunting. Check out these communication tips, and learn to give criticism and praise without breaking a sweat!

In any management position, feedback is one of the most valuable things you can provide to your employees. It benefits both them and the company as a whole—that is, so long as it’s done right.

Consistent feedback that encourages growth and success is a cornerstone to employee engagement. By cultivating a feedback-friendly company culture, you can increase employee satisfaction and motivation, leading to a better work ethic for them and higher profit for you.

But it’s a difficult topic to broach, whether you’re receiving feedback or giving it. With all the associated stress, this vital tool for a business’s success may often be misused or neglected entirely.

If you find yourself uncomfortable with the concept of directly evaluating your employees, you certainly aren’t alone. Lucky for you, we have some tips that will make that bitter pill easier to swallow!

Having the right attitude

Everyone involved in a feedback conversation should feel safe and comfortable. The first obstacle in this is your own comfort as the feedback-giver. For many managers, be they HR or the CEO, providing direct feedback is a pretty tricky conversation. As described by Karen May, vice president of People Development at Google, it’s difficult to face the possibility of disappointing someone or creating interpersonal tension.

As the person providing the assessment, it’s important to remember that your employees deserve to hear the truth and that at the same time, honesty does not equate to brutality. Remain conscious of both your employees’ emotions and your own. Be civil and open, and make it clear to whomever the feedback is directed that at the end of the day, you’re here to help.

Feedback, at its core, is just another form of communication, and open communication in any workplace is vital in maintaining harmony and increasing productivity.  Keep that in mind, and let the feedback recipient know that that’s the goal. When engaging with them, be aware of what you want out of the conversation. Whether it’s fixing problematic behavior or simply maximizing skills that are already present, your ultimate end goal is improvement.


Keeping it constructive

When you invest in anything, you’re betting time and money on your belief that this something will someday grow in value. To a business, its employees are the most important investment of all.

By providing feedback, you can help your employees grow and improve. These evaluations should ultimately come from a place of caring and a wish for them to succeed, for both their own benefits and the company’s as a whole. It’s a matter of constructive vs. destructive—helping someone to better themselves, rather than shaming them for shortcomings.



Discussing low performance

Delivering bad news can be just about as stressful as receiving it. This distress is in part thanks to humans’ innate negativity bias, a little cognitive quirk that causes us to perceive negative stimuli as more valuable information than the positive.

Not only do our brains instinctively highlight negativity, but they’re also liable to register criticism as a legitimate threat, one that’s almost as dire as literal threats to our survival. If not phrased delicately, feedback that threatens our self-esteem can cause a spike in cortisol level. In turn, this triggers the fight-or-flight response and those levels can remain elevated for over an hour! That’s as opposed to your typical 40 minutes in response to a general sense of alarm.

To avoid triggering an adverse biological response, even the most constructive criticism should be delivered with the utmost care. Remember to make it clear that you’re criticizing the team member’s behavior, not their personality. Don’t phrase these critiques as failures, but as opportunities to improve performance that you’ll readily help them pursue.

Your feedback session isn’t a lecture, but a productive conversation. Keep it light, but direct; be tough, but soften the blows with just as much positive feedback—if not more!—to counteract that pesky negativity bias.


Motivating high performers

On the other end of the spectrum lies the struggle of providing productive feedback to employees who are already doing everything right. When it feels like there’s nothing to fix, you may not know where to start. In that sense, many supervisors may forego the conversation altogether. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, 47 percent of these star players don’t receive the amount of feedback they’d expect. This trend does a disservice not only to the employees in question, but to the company itself.

Managing high performers requires a focus on setting goals for self-improvement and personal success. It’s a practice that Gallup reports making employees four times more likely to feel engaged at work. Don’t just leave their reviews at simple praise; talk to them about their values and what they hope to achieve. Discuss how they can overcome obstacles in order to get there.

The purpose of reviewing these workers’ impressive performances isn’t to nitpick, nor is it merely to congratulate. You want to help them improve further, and motivate them to reach even greater heights.

The future of feedback

Gone are the days of waiting for annual performance reviews to tell you what’s what. With today’s success-driven youth and their hunger for evaluations, more companies are moving toward methods of continuous feedback. Their approaches are changing with not only the evolution of generational mindsets but with the never-ending advancements in applicable technology.

Outdoor gear manufacturer Patagonia, for example, implemented an online system in which employees can give or request feedback at any time, later reporting higher bonuses earned by employees who utilized the system.

Similarly, Adobe adopted their own modernized performance management model called Check-in in 2012. It was then released as an open source program to encourage other organizations to ditch annual reviews and move on to their own models of continuous feedback.

Communication promotes growth

Providing feedback is a regular exercise in sensitivity, motivation, and active listening. Though the conversation may seem daunting as you view it looming on the horizon, you as an administrator have the ability to make it easier on everyone. By following this advice to keep your feedback constructive and comfortable, you have the opportunity to build trust and understanding between yourself and your employees. You can also encourage growth in both them and your company.

In order to keep up motivation and reward employees’ developments, you don’t have to leave it at feedback alone. With Zestful, you can build a company culture of useful input and individualized perks, providing employees with ways to improve along with an added incentive to follow through. Sign up or try a demo to get started, and put employee satisfaction first.