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The Art of Managing People: How to Provide Feedback

Published: August 17, 2016       Updated: June 15, 2024

5 min read


Giving feedback can cause a lot of anxiety for all those involved. We all dread the closed office door and the “I’d like to talk to you about something” speech from our bosses, but it’s easy to forget how difficult and sometimes downright awkward the exchange is for managers. Many companies have implemented mandatory annual or semi-annual reviews. This is a great start, but to bring out the best in your employees, more frequent feedback is key. 

At Idea Grove, we use OfficeVibe, an anonymous survey service to help us keep a pulse on employee satisfaction. OfficeVibe discovered that companies that implement regular feedback boast a 14.9 percent lower turnover rate. Surprisingly, they also discovered that 65 percent of employees said that they wanted more feedback. My takeaway? The longer you go without providing feedback, the less motivated people will be to do their best work.

While it is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to provide spontaneous advice on occasion, it is always a good idea to put some thought into your feedback before approaching your employee. If you follow the tips below, you’ll increase the likelihood of a successful conversation and outcome.

Be purposeful about your goals

At the most basic level, you’re making observations about how a colleague operates in the workplace and possibly offering advice. Hopefully, your ultimate goal is to bring out the best in that person and help them grow professionally, motivating them to build upon strengths and work on weaker areas.

Although the purpose of the conversation is to provide feedback, it’s equally important to actively listen. Allowing the employee room to respond, provide context and offer a solution shows that you value them on a personal level and want to build their trust. Trust sparks engagement and opens up the door to a collaborative plan that will transform the conversation into action. 

Plan your delivery

Late last year, our agency hired communications consultant Ken Jacobs to conduct a training session on leadership. One of the most important pieces of advice he gave us was to ask employees if they are willing to hear feedback before jumping in. This tactic is a great way to gauge how receptive they will be, either priming them to receive information or determining that the conversation should take place at a later time. 

Once the discussion begins, it’s important to mix objective feedback with context. Certainly, you’ll want to use clear language and examples that resonate. However, direct the focus to the behavior, rather than the person. Good people managers also provide a framework for the feedback – why it’s important and who it affects – and infuse some empathy. I’m more than willing to share my past experiences with my colleagues – the good, the bad and the ugly – and more importantly how I learned from them. 

Each feedback session should pave the way for a future conversation, either following up on goals, offering encouragement or acknowledging wins. Frequent communication enriches the manager/direct report relationship and leads to better engagement and a more productive workplace.

Tailor your feedback

Once you study up on best practices, it’s important to customize your feedback for each employee. Whenever possible, relate feedback to that person’s goals and objectives as discussed in formal reviews. Instead of “I need you to assign more work to Ida Intern so she isn’t twiddling her thumbs all day,” try “I’d like you to mentor Ida Intern and guide her on how to execute a client project from start to finish. I know you’d like to be promoted later this year. This will provide you with some management experience so you can move up.”

Also, provide context on how implementing the feedback fits into a larger strategy. For example, “We want to train our interns, so we can alleviate your workload and encourage a culture of upward mobility within our team.” 

Another reason why feedback sessions should be collaborative is because it’s a prime opportunity to address any trends. In particular, when a manager notices a repeat negative behavior, it could be a sign that the employee doesn’t fully understand the issue or have the resources to make the change. At Idea Grove, semi-annual reviews are low-stress, because our management expects us to address issues as they occur.

Finally, I find it beneficial to tailor my feedback according to each employee’s temperament. Often, all one needs is a little reminder to get them back on track. Acknowledging an oversight and giving them an out – “I didn’t see your press release draft come through on Friday like you had planned. Perhaps I missed it since I was in so many meetings. Would you mind resending?” – while still allowing them to save face may just do the trick and eliminate future missed deadlines. Caveat: This advice is controversial, since many experts believe direct feedback is always the best course of action. 

The most important thing to remember when giving feedback is that the purpose goes far beyond addressing a standout issue or checking the box on the mandatory review. With more junior employees, it is tightly entwined with training and delegation. With more seasoned members of the team, it is a crucial part of professional growth and their value to the organization. Also, don’t forget – celebrate the wins as much as you address the challenges. When a colleague does something truly exceptional, sing their praises in a public way through a staff email or acknowledgment during an office meeting. It’s great for morale and serves as a good example for their peers. Remember, you are investing in your employees and giving them feedback because you believe in them.

Stay tuned for tips on how to best receive feedback.

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