Giving Feedback to Employees: Tips for Positive Results

In our many years coaching and developing leaders, we have learned that giving feedback to employees is a major obstacle for most managers. Many leaders are uncomfortable with having frank conversations with their direct reports and especially delivering critical, or negative feedback. They are often afraid of the response they may get, and unsure about what to do if strong emotions show up during the conversation.

“…giving feedback to employees is a major obstacle for most managers.” 

In many of our conversations with them, the only solution these managers saw was avoidance, driven by fear of the unknown, and their lack of knowledge of how to navigate these tough conversations: “How do I tell someone something negative about themselves, that may potentially hurt them?”

Here are our tips for giving feedback to employees and getting positive results. 

Giving Constructive Feedback Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

The feedback process does not have to be difficult. The SAO Model—which stands for situation, action, and outcome – focuses on the specific details of the action, helps remove emotions from the situation, and helps you understand the other person’s point of view. Overall, it provides a useful guide for delivering effective feedback.

Methods of Providing Employee Feedback

When giving feedback to employees, it is best to always first ask the individual if you can give them feedback. This sets expectations for the conversation and prepares them mentally to receive the information. 

Then, move through the next steps of the SAO Model:

  • Situation: Be detailed about the specifics of the situation, which led to the action you are giving feedback about. When/where did the particular behavior take place?
  • Action: What is the specific behavior you observed?
  • Outcome: What was the impact of the individual’s behavior? What were the consequences on the business, clients, the team, the project, etc.?

After sharing your observations with individual team members, ask them what their feelings are in response to your observations. Is there something important you may have missed? Maybe the individual was having an “off-day” or was distracted by personal problems. What are some possible external factors that you might not be aware of? 

Come from a place of curiosity and never assume. (Remember, that makes an a** out of you and me!)

Giving Feedback Means Listening

As Stephen Covey says, it is best to listen with the intent to understand rather than with the intent to reply, which we often forget to put into practice. When giving constructive feedback, always try to understand where the other person is coming from, as you deliver what they may consider negative feedback. Be candid, but tactful. Don’t sugarcoat or dance around what needs to be said. People don’t want to have to guess what you mean. 

Examples are avoiding general statements such as “you never do that…” or “you always forget to…” (general statements) vs. “in the meeting yesterday, when you stated XYZ, after the client spoke…” (specific situation and action).

Also, be conscious of including positive feedback in your daily interactions with your employees. If there are more positive statements than negative in your relationship with your employees, there is a greater chance your more critical words will be better received. 

The Benefits of Employee Feedback

It takes a good leader to provide effective feedback. Therefore, when you practice giving effective feedback to people within your organization, you’re simultaneously developing yourself as a leader. Sure, the process isn’t comfortable, but the more you engage with people and exercise the valuable skills of listening to, and offering constructive feedback, the easier it will become. 

The benefit to your team members is that you help to build confidence by telling them what they’re doing right, and explaining what they could do better. Employees who receive regular feedback are more likely to increase performance and contribute to the overall success of your organization. Employee engagement is everything when it comes to your success as a leader. To engage employees, you have to get over the fear of feedback.

“Employees who receive regular feedback are more likely to increase performance and contribute to the overall success of your organization.”

Be sure to provide actionable feedback that gives them a step-by-step guide to improving performance. While feedback alone is valuable, it doesn’t convert to changes unless there are actions tied to it. 

Feedback is a Conversation

To put it simply—feedback is a conversation between two real individuals, with the intent to develop and enhance a person’s skills and potential. If, as a manager or a leader that is not the mindset or intention your feedback is coming from, you may need to check yourself. Then, it’s about remembering to add honesty, kindness, tactfulness, as well as candor.

We consider giving feedback as an art, or a dance. You can use the SAO model as a guide, but of course, each situation will have to be tailored to the individual’s style. 

Finally, ask yourself these questions: If you could give feedback to one person in your organization, who would it be? How different would things be for you if you did discuss the issue (results-wise, productivity-wise, relationship-wise, etc.)? 

Why haven’t you done it yet?

Use our tips for giving feedback to employees to start the conversation!

Related Articles

Ready to fearlessly provide feedback and get positive results?

Our Fearless Leaders MasterClass® Program will help you develop the emotional intelligence and leadership skills needed to have effective conversations.

Sign up to reduce manager overwhelm and employee turnover.

  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.