Employee feedback is critical for letting workers know their strengths, weaknesses, and development goals. It’s equally critical for managers to understand how to deliver such feedback in an optimal way. Being able to genuinely hear, internalize, and implement such comments can have a powerful impact on individual performance, and with it, that of the entire organization.
What Is Employee Feedback?
Employee feedback is made up of recommendations, comments, compliments, instructions, and grades provided by managers to employees. This is in contrast to “reverse feedback”, (AKA upward feedback or feedback to managers), where employees comment on managers.
Feedback can be supplied in many settings. Every organization should have official employee review sessions at least once per year, but half-year and even quarterly reviews are common. This is particularly true for startups and other companies experiencing rapid changes.
Learning and development initiatives also require employee feedback. Before, during, and after an L&D program, HR relies heavily on direct managers to assess employee performance, attitude toward learning, and skill requirements.
Employee feedback also happens informally. Any recommendation given by a manager to a worker is considered feedback, and so it really is something that happens all the time. The question is, how should it be given?
Employee Feedback Best Practices
Managers are human, and not every employee is perfect. Managers can be tempted to use feedback sessions to take out their frustrations on someone. It’s a tendency like this that makes “bad manager” one of the top reasons for quitting a job.
But even good managers make mistakes during feedback sessions. Even when they are not conscious of this, it’s often the case that managers provide feedback about things that are:
- Ancient history
- Beyond the employee’s control
- Part of a problem that goes beyond the individual worker
- Issues that are important to the manager, but which don’t reflect any problems with productivity or behavior
To make the most out of an important opportunity, feedback should instead focus on the following elements:
Actionable. Feedback needs to go somewhere – a change in behavior, improvement through reskilling/upskilling, asking for help, etc. As part of their advice, managers should not only mention what the problem is but also how to fix it.
Measurable. Actions taken in response to feedback should be assessed. It’s easy to tell a production employee to increase the number of units they produce. But what happens in the case of qualitative challenges, such as clear communication or a better attitude? In such situations, it can help to use a number of stakeholders to aid in assessment. For example, a manager can ask both another manager and a senior employee to review before-and-after output.
Consistent. There should be agreement among managers about what constitutes good performance. If an employee thinks they are doing great, but a new boss brings the roof down on them, that’s a managerial problem. Managers need to communicate and establish standards, plus consult with each other before giving feedback to new charges.
Empathetic. An important opportunity for showing empathy skills is during a feedback session. Delivering negative feedback without a critical tone will help the message be accepted more easily. Adding a compliment or two doesn’t hurt either.
Regular. It’s a good idea to provide feedback regularly, and more often than the annual review. For example, during a one on one meeting, employees should be anticipating that comments are on the way. Stated properly, such feedback will become an expected and far more useful tool for improving performance. In addition, this avoids more stress placed on the employee if they are given a negative review when they are not expecting it.
As a final note, managers should think seriously about their role in employee performance prior to any critical comment. What could they have done to improve a worker’s output before feedback was necessary? A classic example is a project that is done unsatisfactorily by an employee but is only addressed during an official review. Instead, the manager should have made comments immediately after seeing the results of the worker’s efforts.
Why Is Employee Feedback Important to Employees?
The need for feedback is obvious from the viewpoint of a manager. They need performance, and through feedback, employees understand how to deliver it. But feedback is also necessary in the eyes of workers.
Managers are usually more informed about the “big picture” than lower-level employees. In addition, an experienced manager has a better feel for what good performance looks like, and the skills and behavior that produce it. For employees to understand how their work stacks up against their peers, and how it meets organizational goals, they rely on managers.
Effective feedback is forward-looking. Once again, a manager should know what strategies and changes are in the making, and how these will affect daily tasks. For employees to understand what challenges to expect (and prepare for), managers must keep them updated.
Feedback makes employees feel that managers are trustworthy. By keeping employees in the loop about what changes the worker needs to make, managers ensure that everyone will perform as needed. This is in contrast to a manager who waits with feedback until there are real problems, and everyone suffers. For reasons like this, companies with regular feedback programs have a turnover rate that is about 15% lower than those with infrequent reviews.
Most workers actually like to receive feedback because engaged employees want to advance within an organization. Actually, 43% of engaged employees receive feedback on a weekly basis, whereas only 18% of poorly-engaged employees get the same treatment. Feedback gives workers the information that they need to improve their skills and knowledge to become better professionals. This is true even for positive feedback because it lets the worker know that they are doing well in a particular area, and can now focus on developing other areas.
Employee Feedback Examples
There is an art to giving employee feedback. One of the secrets is to develop rapport with an employee by including positive comments. This is a must-do for any annual review, but can also be beneficial during less formal reviews and feedback that is delivered in the moment. Positive employee feedback examples can include situations where:
- Individual performance has been good
- The employee worked late, covered for a missing coworker, or did something beyond their normal duties
- Showed exemplary skill in a particular area
- Advised and supported a coworker
In each situation, there are certain positive employee feedback phrases that can be used. Say “great” instead of “good”; mention how their effort benefitted the manager and the team; and talk about specific skills.
But the most genuine feedback is something that is highly personalized. A manager who can detail the challenges that the employee overcame, or how they resolved a specific problem for the department, will come across as more honest and informative.
Of course, there is the other side of feedback. Hearing that your work is not up to standard can be hard to take – depending on how that message is delivered. But talking about employee weaknesses and poor attitudes is also hard on a manager. In fact, almost half of managers feel that delivering negative feedback is difficult.
But using certain phrases can help the medicine go down smoother. There are no “problems,” only challenges; if an employee fails a task, the discussion should be about doing better the next time; and correcting any weakness that the employee has is a task that the manager is also responsible for.
Real World Examples of Effective Feedback Programs
The reasons and facts behind employee feedback programs seem right, but do they work in practice? Here is a sample of major organizations that are applying employee feedback in transformative ways. You will notice that feedback seems to affect the entire organization positively, showing that its benefits go beyond individual performance.
Cargill is a US food producer and distributor which employs 160,000 internationally. At one time, Cargill relied on an annual performance review as its main feedback tool because it felt that examining past mistakes was the way to go.
But then the company decided to take a different approach. It created an “Everyday Performance Management” system. This involves moving from yearly review sessions to daily conversations that involve feedback and positive reinforcement. Comments are focused on future behavior, not past mistakes, and feedback occurs whenever it is relevant.
The Israeli Air Force
This one seems out of place in the human resources industry, but the Israeli Air Force (IAF) actually follows many modern HR principles. For example, it provides equal opportunities for both men and women to be pilots, and there are even female pilots in top fighter units. This diversity is one of the reasons why the IAF is considered among the best in the world.
Another reason is its famous feedback system. No matter what rank a pilot has, or how good their record is, every mission is followed by a feedback session. Even if the mission was considered perfect, the IAF believes that there is always room for improvement. It also uses a system of reverse feedback. Pilots of even junior rank can comment on and criticize the performance of the most senior officers.
Another world leader in their particular field is Google. Google has actually never used annual performance reviews as a feedback mechanism. Like Cargill, it takes advantage of on-the-spot reviews and advising. This is backed up by a system where employees set their own goals and receive extensive L&D programs to make sure they reach them.
Employee Feedback Templates
There is no set way to provide feedback. Some managers and HR staff simply jot down a few notes and use them in a conversation. Others want to check off every box and have a customized form. There are also plenty of templates out there to give you a basic idea of which points to hit, often with spaces for notes where you can include things that the form does not. One important idea is to have the employee sign the form to show that the manager delivered the comments, which were understood by the employee.
Skills and Feedback Go Hand in Hand
From both sides of the equation, skills are essential to reducing the need for negative feedback. And, when having tough conversations, skills also play a vital role.
To make sure that employees are ready for any job they take on, L&D-based initiatives such as career management can work wonders. If any deficiencies are noticed after the employee has started, analysis using a skills matrix, followed by continuous professional development, can remedy the situation.
For developing the communication skills that support a good feedback session, managers can turn to coaches and mentors. Similarly, to avoid any bias that might be getting in the way of a truly honest review, DEIB concepts might help.
Act on Feedback with GrowthSpace Skills
No two feedback reviews are the same, because no two employees have the same skill requirements. For companies where even dozens of workers need to boost their abilities, delivering L&D is extremely complex, if not impossible.
That’s why there’s GrowthSpace, a completely scalable talent development platform which matches employees to experts and experiences. With GrowthSpace, workers gain the precise skills they need according to the goals you set.