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Giving Feedback that Works

If your team is typical, some of your team members will do excellent work, while others will be adequate, and a few will need coaching to improve their performance. All of them deserve to receive feedback from you about their job performance.

It’s easy to allow the inadequate performers to monopolize most of your attention, but the excellent performers, and everyone else, need to hear from you, too. It is important to provide feedback to your team members on a regular basis. This feedback should be honest, specific, and performance related. People need to know your standards for evaluation when a task is assigned, and then they need to know how you view their performance when the task is completed.

Part of your role is to provide performance appraisals on a regular basis. These formal appraisals are usually performed on an annual or semi-annual basis, and the organization often provides forms to be completed. You will meet with team members and give feedback to them about how you regard their performance, especially as it is related to stated goals and performance standards. Raises and promotions are often based on these appraisals, so it is critical that they be appropriate and fair.

There is also an informal aspect to providing feedback. Team members should know in advance if you perceive them to be having difficulties performing their jobs, rather than waiting until the formal appraisal to find this out. If you are appropriately monitoring the output of your team, you will know who is performing up to standards and who is not. Providing frequent and accurate feedback will enable your team to reach its highest potential.

Best practices for providing feedback include:

  • Make your feedback specific to the behavior that you are commenting on. Don’t say, “You’re doing well.” That’s nice, but what, specifically, is the person doing well? Likewise, saying “You need to improve,” is not helpful. In what aspect of their job does the person need to improve? Specificity is a key to good feedback. You might say, “Last week, all of your work was completed on time. That was great.” Or, “I noticed that the last two projects I assigned you were turned in a week late. That’s a problem. What happened?”
  • Give feedback as soon as possible after the behavior you are commenting on. If you are praising a particularly positive behavior, say, “You did a great job on that report,” as soon as you notice. Likewise, give feedback on problematic behavior as soon as possible. Telling somebody that they’ve been doing something wrong for a month, when you could have commented on it after a few days and resolved the problem, is both embarrassing to the team member and a waste of everyone’s time. Productivity and morale will be higher if you resolve problems right away and praise good behavior as soon as possible.
  • When you need to criticize a team member, make sure you do it in private. Nothing is more demoralizing than receiving criticism in public. Also, make sure you provide suggestions for how to improve the behavior you are criticizing, so the person will know what is expected of them in terms of improvement.
  • Meet with your team members throughout the year, not just at appraisal time. Sometimes people aren’t performing up to standards because they need something from you: direction, support, resources, etc. During your meetings, make sure you ask what people want from you in order to be more productive. You might be surprised at what they say.

Providing feedback is a skill that, if performed well, will keep everyone working at their best. Team members will appreciate your feedback rather than dreading it, and will reciprocate by providing you with helpful feedback about your own performance. When feedback is provided regularly, with more positive references than negative, people will feel good about coming to work and being on your team.