Employee feedback demystified: a comprehensive guide for managers

The modern workforce calls for frequent, forward-looking feedback from managers to employees—and vice versa.

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Chloé Allard
Published on May 25, 2020 | Reading time: 9m

The word itself evokes a reaction—whether it’s excitement, fear, or a visceral rolling of the eyes, people have feelings about feedback. In the modern workforce, employee feedback is an essential element of ongoing development, improved employee performance, and agile teamwork. Yet, it’s one of the toughest things to get right.

From making regular feedback in 1-on-1s more effective to having difficult conversations about performance, having meaningful feedback exchanges with team members can be challenging for managers. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide on employee feedback, with everything you need to strengthen your feedback practices.

Let’s jump in!

Why is employee feedback important?

In the development-oriented modern workforce, where employees seek out dynamic roles that offer opportunities for continuous learning and growth, feedback is as essential as ever. People want to feel challenged at work, and with a manager who is personally invested in their growth, they’re well set up to realize their potential.

As a manager, you have the important (and ok, slightly intimidating) role of giving your employees the feedback that will help them develop their expertise and work in more collaborative, agile ways. This is just one of the ways in which managers play an indispensable role in organizational success.

The state of employee feedback

So what are some employee pain points regarding feedback, and how can you help counter them? We took a look at our Pulse Survey database to find out.

Feedback statistics

According to Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data…

23% of employees are unsatisfied with the frequency of feedback coming from their direct manager.

28% of employees report that feedback is not frequent enough to help them understand how to improve.

17% of employees feel that the feedback they get is not specific.

Feedback scores in the bottom half of our 10 Metrics of Employee Engagement

While there are issues with both the quality of feedback that employees are receiving and the frequency at which they’re receiving it, both need to be adjusted to make feedback truly effective. Great feedback doesn’t do people much good if they only get it once a year at an annual performance review, and on the flip side, having a 15-minute feedback session daily won’t help employees if there’s no substance to them. In this guide we cover tactics, tips, and examples to help you finetune your feedback in timing and value, so stick around.

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

When & where to give employee feedback?

Feedback Frequency holds the 7th lowest score of Officevibe’s 26 Sub-Metrics of Employe Engagement, and 21% of employees say they are unsatisfied with the frequency at which they meet their manager for a feedback session.

What does this tell us? Working on your timing is a good place to start. In the fast-paced workforce of today, employees don’t want to wait until the end of the year (or even the end of the month) for feedback. It’s important for managers to establish ongoing conversations with employees, and create dedicated moments for delivering feedback.

By setting aside a time and place for feedback, employees and managers alike can feel prepared—dare we say even excited—about their exchanges. Use recurring 1-on-1 meetings for giving feedback, or set up dedicated feedback sessions at an interval that works for each team member.

Tips banner Feedback

Timing tip: check in first
You never know what people have going on or what headspace they’re in, so be sure to ask if it’s a good time before diving into your feedback. Checking in shows that you care, which should ultimately be the intention behind feedback in the first place (more on that next).

What is good feedback (and what is it not)?

Feedback can take many forms, and the more practice you have with giving it, the more you can explore different approaches based on your employees’ preferences and the relationships you have with them. But before you get there, it’s important to nail down the basics. The following chart outlines some high-level ideas of what feedback should look like—and what it should not look like.

Good feedback IS…

  • Focused on future tasks
  • Specific and clear
  • Tailored to the receiver’s context
  • Actionable and applicable
  • Ideas or thought-starters
  • Intended to improve something

Good feedback is NOT…

  • Reviewing what’s been done
  • Vague or general
  • Advice on what the giver would do
  • Impractical or irrelevant
  • An opinion or a critique
  • Intended to get a point across

One of the most important elements here is the intention behind feedback. Genuine feedback comes from a place of caring and altruism, and should be intended to help the receiver improve or develop, and not for the giver to simply have their voice heard.

Good or bad feedback

5 principles of effective feedback delivery (with examples)

With the right intentions, a dedicated time, and a safe space, there’s only one thing left to prepare for: your delivery. So, how do you ensure your feedback resonates? Here, we outline 5 key principles for giving effective employee feedback, with examples for each.

1. Establish a common objective

You may know what your motivations are, but you want to be sure to clearly communicate them to your team member and reach a consensus on the goal. Agreeing on the objective of the feedback sets clear expectations for both parties, and lays the groundwork for more meaningful conversations.

Example: “In our last 1-on-1, we decided you would start presenting your user research findings at the team’s weekly meetings. I’d love to share some feedback on your first presentation, to help you continue to refine your delivery.”

2. Own your observations

Remember that your feedback is subjective, and offer it as such. Using “I” statements and taking ownership of your observations and perceptions shows self-awareness, and helps build trust.

Example: “I noticed that you referred to your notes frequently during your presentation, and I felt that more eye contact would have increased my engagement with the information you were sharing.”

3. Focus on the future

Be forward-looking in your feedback, and connect it with their upcoming initiatives or the goals they’re working towards. If your feedback isn’t actionable or relevant to their context, it won’t be as impactful.

Example: “Your messages to the team have been really clear lately and I see that they bring a lot of value. Since internal communications are a new part of your role, I’d love to discuss how you can continue to leverage this strength as you grow in this area.”

4. Be specific and give examples

Vague or general statements are difficult to interpret, and without examples it can be hard to see how feedback translates in our day-to-day. Avoid unquantifiable adjectives like “good” and “helpful”—what makes their work or behaviour “good” or “helpful”?

Example: “When you stepped in to help troubleshoot the email glitch last week even though you weren’t on the project, it helped the team reach a solution faster. That kind of support really exemplifies our company values, and shows your commitment to the broader team goals.”

5. Check for a common understanding

After you give feedback, it’s important to check in with the recipient to make sure they’ve understood and that you’re on the same page. Have your employee explain back to you what they’ve taken from the conversation.

Example: “What do you think of that? How is this landing with you? Does my example make sense to you? Where do you see this applying in your day-to-day? What are your key takeaways from this conversation?” (maybe not all 5 at once, though 😉).

Delivering feedback effectively is a key management skill, so you can look at each exchange with your employees as a development opportunity for both them and yourself.

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Giving critical feedback with compassion

Critical feedback can be a hot-button issue: some camps argue that honesty is the best policy, yet an increasing amount of research shows that negative feedback is less effective than positive feedback and can even be detrimental to performance. While feedback should primarily aim to build on strengths rather than scrutinize weaknesses, there are moments when sharing constructive criticism is necessary for your employees’ growth, or the wellbeing of the team.

Examples of when to give critical feedback

  • Someone is unaware of the way their behaviour is perceived by others.
  • An employee’s actions are counterproductive to reaching team objectives.
  • Someone’s behaviour is causing conflict between team members.
  • You’ve heard the same feedback regarding an employee from two or more sources.

When these moments arise, it’s important to have an honest conversation without trying to disguise the negative feedback as positive—or worse, saying nothing. It all comes back to the intention behind the constructive feedback, and the way that it’s delivered. By the Radical Candor model, you want to care personally and challenge directly. We’ve broken these concepts down for you:

Care personally
Constructive feedback should come from a place of genuine support. This is when foundations of trust will serve as a platform for honest and authentic conversations.

Challenge directly
This doesn’t mean being confrontational or aggressive. On the contrary, sharing your feedback directly shows that you respect the person enough to be candid with them.

The best practices of delivering negative feedback are much the same as delivering any kind of feedback, but there are some additional things to keep in mind.

Tips banner Feedback

Tips for delivering critical feedback

  • Give yourself a buffer to regulate your own emotions and prepare.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to be a sounding board if you feel uncertain.
  • Discuss actions and behaviours, not personality traits.
  • Focus on the outcome of actions, and assume positive intentions.
  • Use clear language, avoid generalizations, and stay focused on the topic at hand.
  • Be direct in your delivery; don’t take a roundabout approach.

Part of coaching your team members is challenging them in a way that’s supportive and helps them grow. This is one of the incredible things about being a true leader, so keep your eyes on the main objective: developing a happy, high-performing team.

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

Building a feedback loop with employees

Last but certainly not least, it’s important to remember that feedback exchanges are a part of the greater communication structures you have with your employees. 1-on-1 conversations are a great opportunity to build mutual trust and respect, and one of the best ways to do this is to establish a common ground.

Offering feedback is an important part of coaching employees, but it’s equally important to seek out their feedback in return. Not only does this “even the playing field,” it opens up conversations you might not otherwise have with your team members. Making space for people to speak openly with you shows that you’re receptive, open to learning, and willing to be vulnerable. This can truly deepen your connections with employees, and the insights you’ll gain will make you an even stronger manager.

Questions to ask when seeking out feedback

  • “I’d like to work on my ability to [name a management skill], is there any feedback you can give me that might help me improve?”
  • “Could you give me some feedback on something I do well as a manager, or what I should do more of?”
  • “What feedback can you offer me that you think might challenge or confront me, but is important for me to know?”

Leading by example and soliciting feedback from your employees is the first step in building a strong feedback culture on your team.

Build collaborative agendas, ask the right questions, and turn goals into action with Officevibe’s 1-on-1 tool.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be frightening. When we begin to see it as the gift that it is, it helps build on our strengths and develop our skill sets. Make time for employee feedback, and approach these exchanges with care, empathy, and a commitment to bettering both your employees and yourself.