How to give constructive feedback as a manager

January 14, 2022 - 12 min read

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Why should I give constructive feedback?

The benefits of constructive feedback

5 steps to effectively give constructive feedback

Why should I give constructive feedback?

While you may feel uncomfortable giving candid feedback, studies show that it’s exactly what the majority of people want.

A 2014 assessment of employee attitudes towards “positive” and “corrective” feedback by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman revealed that 57% of respondents preferred receiving corrective feedback. When given properly, 92% believed “negative” feedback was effective in improving performance.

Interestingly, those who favored constructive feedback also rated their managers highest for being honest and straightforward in their reviews.

The key takeaway here is that most employees want to know what they can do to improve their performance. Waiting for an annual review risks slowing down their professional development to a snail’s pace.

Common mistake managers make is to focus constructive feedback on those who need the most improvement.

Failing to provide your top performers with feedback can jeopardize your retention rates, and replacing them can cost your company 400% of its annual salary. That’s why it’s important to invest in helping your top employees hone and broaden their skills.

Similarly, failing to respond promptly to behavioral issues can have a greater impact on your team. For example, if an employee tends to lose their temper, failing to address the situation may cause tension to boil over by the time performance reviews come around, causing negative long-term effects.

Pointing out negative behaviors in time will help people realize the impact they’re having in the workplace and encourage them to make changes.

Listening will help you better understand the situation and any deeper issues which need to be resolved.

As a manager, you are responsible for ensuring that your direct reports are working towards a common goal. When there is little communication between you and your team, they may drift off in different directions, prioritizing different objectives.

Regular constructive feedback helps guide everyone in the same direction and communicate what they should be working towards.

Clear guidance and objectives will enable your team members to streamline and coordinate their efforts for greater success. If you avoid giving any type of feedback to your team it will do more harm than good both to the individuals and to the team as a whole.

The benefits of giving constructive feedback

Though it may feel easier to wait until 360 and performance reviews to give constructive feedback, there are three reasons why it’s important to keep a balance between these moments, and regular 1-on-1s.

There may still be some people who view feedback with a fixed mindset. Make sure you handle their reviews carefully and look for signs that they may be resisting your advice. The more you get into the habit of giving feedback, the easier it will become for them to transition their way of thinking.

But regardless of whether people have a fixed or a growth mindset, it’s crucial that you take the appropriate steps to make sure your comments are received well.

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5 steps to giving constructive feedback effectively

1. Schedule a 1-on-1 feedback session

Whether in your office, an empty meeting room, or a café, the best way to give feedback is face-to-face. Giving someone constructive feedback in front of others can undermine their confidence and put them on the defensive. When asking your direct report to meet you, be sure to frame it in a way that doesn’t make them nervous.

Instead of saying “can you come by my office so we can discuss your performance”, ask if you can catch up later to discuss progress. Keeping your request informal and positive will make sure they feel more relaxed about the prospect of meeting up with you one-on-one. Read further on how to lead effective 1-on-1s.

2. Tone and delivery

Using the correct tone and delivery is the most important step to giving effective feedback. Keep in mind the following:

Start positive

Balance your constructive feedback by leading the conversation with something they’re doing well. This will give an example of what your expectations are. Make it clear you want to help them continue performing and developing these types of skills.

Be clear and specific

It’s important to clearly explain why this is hurting their performance. The best way to do this is to provide actionable feedback and specific examples.

Frame your feedback using a growth mindset

Remember that the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset is that people with a fixed mindset see their abilities as static, so feedback can be perceived as a personal attack.

Framing feedback in a way that focuses on behavior rather than traits emphasizes that you are drawing their attention to certain areas because you believe it will help them improve their performance.

3. Don’t overdo it

Though you may see several areas for improvement, avoid overwhelming people with feedback. Avoid confusion by focusing on improving one or two areas at a time. Wondering where to start? Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot Mark Roberge, suggests using what he calls metrics-driven sales coaching.

This method evolved from his experience taking golf lessons. Most golf instructors would tell him to turn his grip, change his stance, shift his weight and turn his wrist to improve his swing.

This became confusing and didn’t lead to any improvement. Instead, one instructor had him turn his grip and practice his swing one hundred times. Then he continued to add and practice one new skill at a time until he finally saw results.

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4. Find a solution together

Give people a chance to respond to your comments so you can see them from their perspective and properly address the situation. Remember your job is to give them perspective on their actions.

Once you’ve gathered the facts, create a plan together. Give suggestions of ways they could adjust their performance and ask what steps they think they could take to improve. This is also a good way to make sure they understood and will take the necessary action.

Ask them how you, as their manager, can help them achieve this goal. This will reinforce your willingness to help them and demonstrate your receptiveness to receiving feedback yourself.

5. Follow up by recognizing achievements

Managers often struggle to know how to follow up, without giving the impression of micromanaging.

If you confirmed the person understood your feedback during the meeting and created some clear goals and objectives together, you should be able to step back and let them implement them. The best way to show them they’re on the track is to follow up by recognizing when they’ve implemented changes effectively.

Start giving effective constructive feedback

Giving constructive feedback to your team members is an essential part of your job. Though you may be hesitant to point out areas in need of improvement, people are increasingly looking for this kind of advice to help them develop and hone their professional skills

Learning how to give constructive feedback effectively will help you address tensions in the workplace, and improve employee retention rates.

Giving (and receiving) feedback can help strengthen your employees' mental fitness. With the right tone, delivery, and intentions, you can make your workforce more mentally fit. And in the end, you'll see your organization's performance only grow.

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Published January 14, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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