employee engagement

How to Give Feedback That Empowers Employees

For many organizations, feedback is an annual event at which an employee is often shocked to hear that their manager’s assessment of their work doesn’t match their own. Recent research has found that roughly one in three annual performance reviews resulted in negative outcomes. Clearly, this isn’t the best way to provide meaningful feedback.

Effective feedback is an ongoing process, not an event. When done well, feedback is a consistent and predictable exchange of expectations, validation and recognition between the leader and their direct reports.

Why validation? Because research in neuroscience clearly demonstrates that we have a hard-wired need to know if and how we are valued. Am I a valued member of this team? Do my leaders know my special talents and am I able to use them?

Done correctly, feedback is offered consistently. Some form of validation (e.g., “Good Morning” or “How are you?”) should land daily on employees from their immediate supervisor or other people on the management team. Regular feedback allows managers and employees to discuss ongoing projects and check the progress of monthly goals. Quarterly feedback sessions should be reserved for big picture issues, like goal-setting.

Feedback should follow any triggering event–positive or negative behaviors that can be coached or recognized. Following such an event, especially when it poses a problem, the manager should arrange a timely meeting that is private and confidential. Employees must feel secure that they won’t be embarrassed in front of their co-workers.

To prepare for the meeting, the manager must collect information and make sure they are prepared to be calm, rational and supportive. No meeting should ever take place when the manager is angry or frustrated. Overtly negative feedback sets off triggers in the employee’s brain to adopt a defensive stance, making them less receptive to seeking solutions.

Once the meeting occurs, the manager should consider the broader underlying issues that might have contributed to the issue. Opening with a validating statement like, “I appreciate all the work you put in on this project,” and addressing the issue in “we” instead of “you” terms keeps the employee open to constructive engagement. The conversation should never point fingers and should always involve a quest for solutions.

If the triggering event is negative, the manager and employee should agree on action steps and a timeline. The manager must check in regularly to ensure that the plan is being followed. In this way, the feedback remains a process and not an event.

Leaders should understand that there is no safe landing in the brain for so-called constructive criticism. Anything overtly negative is met with a predictable defensiveness, a mental frame that is counterproductive to positive behavioral change.

Finally, managers often assume that feedback is only offered for corrective purposes. Feedback should highlight strengths and identify opportunities for improvement, as well as acknowledge stellar performance, celebrate success and recognize discretionary effort. High performers need validation just as other employees do. In addition, feedback should work both ways. A great manager would ask, “and how can I better support you?”

In a world where almost any organization can offer the same products and services that yours offers, one of the last key distinguishing characteristics among the winning companies is going to be who creates the better culture. Empirical research demonstrates that the more compelling the culture, the better able the organization will be in attracting and retaining the best employees. Learning how to offer constructive feedback that empowers employees is more critical to an organization’s bottom line than most leaders realize.

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.