The 7-Step Process for Giving Great Feedback

This is another of my LinkedIn posts, which I’m cross-posting here. 

One of the biggest challenges new managers face is giving effective feedback. While most of us are comfortable giving positive feedback, many people struggle with giving constructive criticism that improves outcomes. Here are some approaches that should make things easier:

Step #1:: BEFORE you give feedback, objectively identify the problem. What performance metric isn’t being met? Is the issue causing measurable harm to anyone or anything? Is your feedback based on doing things “your way” or is there something objectively incorrect about the issue you observed?

Step #2: BEFORE you give feedback, understand the recipient’s motivation and how they receive information: Is this someone who takes feedback well? Is this someone ambitious (and possibly opinionated) or quieter and more subdued? How will they react to feedback? You will need to adjust what you say based on how the person receives information.

Step #3: BEFORE you give feedback, give yourself a sense of perspective on the issue at hand:

  • Does this happen all the time?
  • Some of the time?
  • Is this a one-off?
  • Is it a “once is reason enough to talk” type of situation e.g s/he said something unprofessional/inaccurate to a client or senior manager?
  • How big a response do you want to make? Does this conversation merit a separate meeting or does a quick by-the-way during your existing meetings work?

Once You Actually Meet:

Step #4: Give specifics: Objectively state the facts, i.e. the specific occurrence, the number of times this happened, etc. E.g.”You were late three times this week.”

Step#5: Give context: Explain not just what happened, but when, why, and how it became an issue. e.g. “It matters that you were late because it affects our clients’ ability to get their questions answered and use our service more easily.”

Step#6: Identify what change in behavior or action you want. Again, specifics matter. “Don’t be late next time” isn’t enough in some cases. It’s better to say “I expect you to be at your desk by 9am everyday so that you can provide the best service needed to our clients.”

Step#7: Provide feedback on why this behavior harms his/her reputation, work and success: Sometimes people aren’t motivated enough to change for the good of the job; but they usually are motivated to change for their own success.

Bonus Tips:

How to handle pushback:

  • If they’re arguing with your facts, make sure you have proof.
  • If they’re arguing with your perception of the situation, ask how their view differs.
  • If they turn around and blame you for what happened, ask what you can do to better support them. Also remind them that you’re their biggest advocate and you can help them succeed. 
  • In all the above cases, make sure to refocus on the impact of their actions. Even if they didn’t intend to do something that inconvenienced someone else or harmed the bottom line, the impact of their actions was just that. Delineate the difference between intent and impact.

Things to avoid:

  • Vagueness: The employee can then avoid the problem on the ground that you weren’t specific enough. 
  • Comparisons: “Employee X does this so well- why can’t you?” is an ineffective approach. It makes the employee shut down or get defensive or both. 

In short: be specific, provide context, refocus on the impact of the employee’s actions and remind them that it’s in their best interest to improve performance.