PM isn’t what it once was. Not that long ago, you might have met with each employee once or twice per year, provided them with a list of complaints (and maybe a couple of compliments) about their performance, and then expected them to act on those. Today, things have changed a lot.

Gone is the annual performance review for most companies. Instead, employers are following a continuous performance management model that allows regular touchpoints between management and employees. It’s about immediate course correction, employee development, and supporting your talent, rather than vilifying them.

One area where many managers struggle in this brave new world of performance management is in giving feedback. How do you strike the right balance between compassion and urgency? How do you give effective feedback without muddying your message? We’ll cover several critical tips in this post to help ensure that you’re able to master the art of giving employee feedback.

The Art of Giving Employee Feedback: Tips for Managers to Improve Performance

1. Be Constructive

This is one that’s often preached, but not so often implemented. Constructive criticism can be challenging. How do you come off as constructive rather than critical?

It’s a tough balancing act at times, but if you make kindness and compassion your focus, you can provide feedback that fosters change without being critical. Remember that you’re building up, not tearing down. A crucial part of delivering constructive criticism is realizing that too many people who value “the cold, hard truth” actually care more about the “cold, hard” part than they do the truth.

2. Specificity at All Times

Generic, unfocused, roundabout – these should never be terms applied to your feedback. For it to be effective, and for the recipient to really understand your message, it needs to be specific. It must be direct. It has to be crystal clear.

Here’s an example: Your report wasn’t all that clear. You need to improve.

What does that communicate to your recipient? It tells them you were unhappy with the report, but nothing more. It provides no guidance, no direction, and no value, ultimately. You could just as easily turn that around on yourself – “Your feedback wasn’t all that clear. You need to improve”.

So, how do you do that? To use the report example again, say something like: “The KPIs you highlighted in the report showcased a lot of important information. We’d like you to add 20 more to make sure that the team has all the information necessary to make upcoming decisions”.

That example clearly communicates what needs to be done without tearing down the other person. It offers direction, guidance, and clarity while supporting the other person’s initial efforts.

3. Always Be Active

You have a lot on your plate, but you can’t let that force you into a less frequent feedback cycle. It’s all too easy to scale back and rely on quarterly reviews. That’s the wrong road. It’s not much different than the annual performance review, because it eliminates your ability to provide timely feedback and course corrections.

If you want feedback to be effective, it needs to be delivered as soon as possible concerning the event/activity/performance that’s being coached. Waiting three months to coach on something that happened at the beginning of the quarter only dilutes your message and ensures that the employee doesn’t see the full value of what you’re saying.

Be active. Make time to touch base regularly – weekly is best. You don’t need to have hour-long sit-downs with every employee every week, though. Make these brief, a few minutes here and a few minutes there. You’ll be surprised at how much performance, morale, and productivity improves across the board when you do.

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4. Deliver It Privately

Sure, your company has probably moved to some arrangement where offices are the rarity and most people work in open, collaborative spaces. However, you cannot deliver employee feedback effectively in these areas. You need to do it privately.

When you deliver feedback in public, it’s open to everyone around. That’s embarrassing for the employee at best. At worst, it could cause serious damage to their self-esteem and cripple their ability to perform.

This doesn’t just go for course-corrections and constructive criticism. It also applies to positive feedback. Even praise should be delivered in a private situation.

Does this mean you need to bring every single person into an office for a closed-door session? You could do that. However, don’t neglect other tools at your disposal. It’s easier for some people to say what they really think and feel in an email instead.

5. Never End on a Negative Note

While you should never sandwich negative feedback between two elements of positive feedback (thus creating confusion about your message), your sessions should never end on a negative note. Always find a way to end on something positive, even if that’s just expressing your optimism about future outcomes.

End your coaching session with words of encouragement. Tell the other person how much you value them and their contributions to the team. Build them up so that they’re ready and willing to act on the other information you’ve provided.

6. Let Them Critique You

In every feedback situation, make sure that information flows both ways. Sure, you should be able to offer course corrections to employees, but they should be able to do the same for you during the session. It’s empowering, levels the playing field, and gives employees a sense of control over their own fates.

Ultimately, giving employee feedback is a balancing act. It requires taking a compassionate approach, understanding the person with whom you’re speaking, and realizing that negativity never really accomplishes anything.

Make the employee aware of the situation, provide constructive guidance, offer support and help, solicit their feedback, and end on a positive note. Follow that format and you’ll find that your sessions are much more productive and your team members much more engaged.

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