The secret to giving great employee feedback

This is a guest post from Totara Learning

Even the very best managers sometimes struggle with giving feedback. A lot of managers don’t like giving negative feedback, while many don’t even feel comfortable giving positive feedback. 96% of employees want to hear feedback regularly, and doing so ensures that managers and employees alike are aligned when it comes to workplace performance.

In this post, we’ll reveal the secret to giving great employee feedback, whether it’s positive or negative.


Address difficult topics directly


Your employees can tell when you’re tiptoeing around a difficult topic. It’s much better for both of you to simply address this head-on, and a huge 92% of employees say that negative feedback (when delivered appropriately) is effective at improving performance.

One way to do this is by making it the very first thing you speak about in the conversation where you address it. Starting the conversation by saying “I wanted to talk to you about project x” or “I wanted to share some feedback on your work on project y” steers the conversation in the right direction from the very beginning, and means you won’t end up avoiding the subject.


Consider your tone


It’s a cliché, but it’s completely true that often it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Take a look at the difference between the same feedback delivered in two different ways:

“I was concerned to see some errors in your last report, as you’re normally so meticulous. Can you tell me why you think that happened?”

“I’m really disappointed with all the mistakes in your report. I can’t tolerate carelessness, and the CEO was furious when he realized what you’d done.”

The tone of the former is open, recognizes the context and invites the employee to share their side. The tone of the latter is accusatory, aggressive and almost threatening. Your tone can make the world of difference when you’re delivering (particularly negative) feedback, and can spell the difference between your employee feeling motivated to improve or dejected and anxious.


Make it a two-way conversation


When giving feedback, the best practice when implementing continuous performance management is to always give your employee the chance to have their say and add context. For instance, if you found lots of errors in their last report, maybe they will tell you that they had less time than normal, or the usual reviewer wasn’t available, or somebody else added content after they had compiled the regular data. This helps build openness, trust and respect into your working relationship, and ensures that employees know they’ll be able to share their side of the story.

This also applies when you’re delivering positive feedback. For instance, saying “I thought that your LMS RFP proposal was written exceptionally well! What do you think you did differently this time?” gives employees the opportunity to reflect on their performance and share what worked for them. As an added bonus, if they recommend a specific resource, such as a video, a checklist or a mentor, you can make a note of this to share with other employees who may wish to improve in the same areas.


Actually give positive feedback!


69% of employees say that they would work harder if they felt that their efforts were better recognized. Yet so many employees only ever hear from their managers when they have a criticism of their work. This makes employees feel anxious about speaking to their managers, and creates a tense, demoralizing work environment. AskAManager’s Alison Green recommends aligning the proportion of positive feedback you deliver to employees with the positive proportion of your assessment of their work.

The trick is to ensure that your positive feedback is specific enough to be meaningful. While “I appreciate how well you communicate with your colleagues” is positive feedback, consider specifying exactly how that behavior has a positive impact. For instance: “Your communication style is really clear and easy to understand, and we’re meeting around 50% more of our deadlines than before you took this role”. Quantifying positive behaviors makes your feedback more meaningful, and this type of feedback should be recorded for future reference.


Keep track of your conversations


One of the main problems with employee feedback is that it’s delivered once in a meeting and then forgotten. Whether it’s positive or negative, giving great employee feedback means actually keeping track of the feedback given. 

Opting for a performance management system, such as Totara Perform, is the ideal way to record feedback for great employee experience management. 

After each performance conversation (bearing in mind 80% of millennials prefer on-the-spot feedback to the traditional annual appraisal), record any feedback in your employee’s record. Then you can draw on this feedback in future conversations, use it to ensure that necessary continuous performance management improvements are actually happening and refer to it in your formal performance reviews.

This is also beneficial for employees, who can see any feedback given to them as a reminder about what to focus on, or to motivate them to continue their positive work. They can then use this feedback when they’re applying for promotions or seeking extra responsibilities.


Want to know more about giving great feedback using Totara Perform? Contact us, Totara's Top APAC Seller.