November 1, 2023

How to Give Feedback to Employees: Top Tips for Managers

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Key takeaways

  • Some best practices for giving employee feedback include preparing what you will say beforehand, holding the conversation in private, and providing space for employee self-reflection.
  • For serious situations like workplace violence, harassment, and other criminal activity, refer to your workplace disciplinary procedures instead of employee feedback channels.
  • Tools like performance management software can facilitate employee feedback by managing private, one-on-one conversations and monitoring employee development goals.

How to give employee feedback in 8 steps

Feedback is an essential part of any manager’s position. You are doing a disservice to your employees if you never give them positive or constructive feedback when they exceed or fall short of expectations. This can result in decreased motivation, declining performance, potential disciplinary actions, employee resentment, or separation.

Instead, use these steps to provide effective employee feedback:

  1. Decide on a feedback framework and prepare.
  2. Involve the employee in the process.
  3. Decide on the time and setting.
  4. Be specific and empathetic.
  5. Give the employee time for feedback.
  6. Offer guidance and resources.
  7. Document the conversation.
  8. Set a follow-up cadence.

Check out our video overview below

1. Decide on a feedback framework and prepare

If you notice a behavior you want to celebrate or change, the first thing to do is decide the most appropriate course of action. For example, an employee who demonstrates some of the following behaviors might benefit from a feedback discussion:

Prepare what you want to discuss with the employee beforehand. Writing it down and reading it aloud is also a great way to practice and put yourself in your direct report’s shoes.

Think: how would you feel if you heard this feedback? If you don’t like what you hear, go back and revise as many times as necessary until you feel like it balances facts with recognition or empathy.

Remember to provide specific examples and focus on the impact of the situation. For constructive feedback, don’t overwhelm employees with everything they did wrong; instead, detail two or three examples so employees can focus on improving the areas that need the most attention first.

If you’re unsure how to start, explore our performance review templates and learn more about the various feedback frameworks to find one that works for you and your team.

The AID model stands for the following:

  • Action: Examples of current actions or behaviors the employee does well or needs to improve.
  • Impact: Description of how the employee’s actions affect working relationships, goals, or company success.
  • Do: Explanation of what the employee should do more or what they should do differently going forward.

With this model, the idea is to use past behavior to encourage future actions. As a result, you can use this to deliver positive and negative feedback to employees.

AID in action

Let’s say you want to congratulate someone for taking the reins on a project after a coworker takes an unexpected leave. Here’s how you can use the AID method to show appreciation:

  • Action: “I love how you took over the project after we were down a critical team member.”
  • Impact: “You stepped out of your comfort zone, ensuring the project met the deadline and to the client’s standards.”
  • Do: “I think you should start spearheading more of these projects and encourage your team members to follow suit.”

The SBI model stands for the following:

  • Situation: Explanation of the circumstances around which a particular positive or negative behavior occurred.
  • Behavior: Detailed description of the behavior you observed without judgment.
  • Impact: Description of the results of this behavior from your point of view.

Like the AID method, you can use the SBI model to highlight the positive or negative behavior you witnessed. However, this method is more collaborative, leaving off with the impact of the employee’s actions and inviting the employee to comment on what they should do next. This two-way conversation aims to understand the employee’s intent and inspire growth.

SBI in action

Pretend you are a fast food restaurant manager with an employee who is consistently late and does not notify you ahead of time of their tardiness. Using the SBI method, here’s how you can approach them:

  • Situation: “Yesterday morning and last week on Tuesday and Wednesday…”
  • Behavior: “… you did not notify me that you would be tardy for your 9 a.m. shifts.”
  • Impact: “When you do this, you put your teammates at a disadvantage since they have to work extra hard to deliver quality service, even when they’re a team member short.”

You can continue this conversation by reminding the employee of your attendance policy, inquiring about their side of the story, and asking how you can help. They may have a legitimate reason they are late, like childcare concerns. Together, you can work to find a solution, like changing their shifts around so they can take their children to school.

The Pendleton method is a series of even steps to outline the feedback conversation. This method allows employees to actively participate in the feedback session, encouraging self-reflection and an open dialogue.

The steps include:

  1. Determine if the employee is prepared to receive feedback.
  2. Ask the employee how they think the situation went and their behavior.
  3. Ask the employee what went well.
  4. Confirm or tell the employee what went well.
  5. Ask the employee what could be improved.
  6. Confirm or tell the employee what could be improved.
  7. Create an action plan based on the discussion to ensure the employee implements these improvements from now on.
Pendleton method in action

You currently have a mid-manager who talks over their junior direct report whenever the three of you are on client calls together. It is disruptive and doesn’t allow the junior employee to learn how to navigate these conversations. With the Pendleton method, you can have a productive feedback conversation like the scenario below.

(Note: In this example, Jack is a junior employee.)

You: Do you have a few minutes for some feedback about yesterday’s client call?

Employee: Sure.

Y: I wanted your take on how the conversation went with you, Jack, and the client.

E: I think we did well. The call was professional, and we answered the client’s questions succinctly.

Y: What do you think went well during the conversation?

E: We delivered all that they asked for and then some. I even highlighted how we’re ahead of schedule on the project, which I think they’re excited about considering their aggressive timetable.

Y: I agree. I’m excited that we were able to get ahead of schedule and prove to them how valuable we are as partners. It is incredibly commendable how you and your team pulled that off.

Y: Now, how do you think you could have improved that conversation?

E: Mmm, I think I could have clarified better when we will complete the project’s next phase. We still don’t have that completely outlined yet.

Y: I don’t think they expect us to have that all figured out just yet — they know our planning takes at least a week. But I do want to talk about Jack. I noticed you spoke over them frequently during the conversation instead of giving them a chance to answer. This can be disruptive and does not give Jack a chance to learn how to talk to clients. What do you think?

E: I didn’t realize I did that — I just wanted to make sure our client was getting the best answer.

Y: We do want to give our clients the best answers, but I think giving Jack a chance to try will help them grow and feel more confident in their role. You can always support Jack if necessary during those calls. Let’s come up with a plan to get Jack more involved in these conversations. How does that sound to you?

The conversation can continue by developing a plan to get Jack involved in more calls and help the employee take a backseat in these conversations.

2. Involve the employee in the process

Feedback works best as a two-way conversation; never leave it one-sided where employees have no say in when and how they get feedback. Establish this early on with your direct report so that they know what to expect when you are ready to give them feedback. To do this, ask your employee the following:

  • How would you like to receive feedback?
  • When is a good time to receive feedback?
  • Could you provide me with some feedback?

Giving the employee the option to set the how and when of feedback is a powerful way to establish employee-manager trust and illustrate your emotional intelligence.

Beyond that, it gives employees time to professionally and emotionally prepare for the feedback. Employees can self-reflect on where they succeeded and where they could do better so they can articulate these thoughts during the discussion. Moreover, they know they have a safe space to provide feedback, aiding your growth and development as a leader.

3. Decide on the time and setting

You should always give all constructive feedback in private. Even with positive feedback, ask employees how they would like to receive recognition. While many enjoy public appreciation for their efforts, others may shy away from scrutiny, preferring a private thanks or celebration with direct team members only.

Work with employees on deciding the best date and time to have your conversation, but make sure it happens as soon as possible after the incident, event, issue, complaint, or success. Doing so ensures that you recognize positive behavior or address problem areas quickly.

4. Be specific and empathetic

Don’t be afraid to be specific with your feedback. Vague statements, whether for positive or negative feedback, will not help the employee grow. For example, “your work hasn’t been great lately” doesn’t explain what work is in question, how it’s wrong, or why it doesn’t meet your standards.

Similarly, don’t make judgments on the employee’s personality or other traits they may not be able to change. Instead, focus on the facts in your prepared statement, including the following elements:

  • Specific examples of the behavior, either observed yourself or documented by others.
  • KPIs, OKRs, or other performance metrics.

When delivering constructive feedback especially, remember to be empathetic. We’ve all received feedback at one time or another, so it’s important to allow employees to reflect and react. Avoid accusatory statements like “you failed to meet this project deadline” and instead provide context on how their behaviors impacted the company.

5. Give the employee time for feedback

Offer the employee time to provide their perspective on their performance. Be patient and listen to what they have to say. You may uncover information that changes your perception, like:

  • Inefficiencies in departmental workflows.
  • Severe issues with coworkers, such as discrimination or harassment.
  • Personal issues, like a medical diagnosis or family problems.
  • A disability affecting their productivity.

Similarly, engaging in a dialogue gives you an opportunity to understand the employee’s thought processes. Growth in areas like critical thinking, strategic planning, and decision-making strategies may indicate the employee is ready for a promotion.

In some instances, this discussion may lead you to change your mindset or plan of action. For example, new awareness of a disability may prompt you to talk about reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) instead of zeroing in on productivity coaching.

Let this be a teaching moment for you to grow as a leader. You may learn how your own actions put a wrench in the employee’s workflow. Or, your conversation may lead you to reflect on the unconscious biases, like affinity, cultural, or proximity biases, that may cloud your judgment. Whatever the case, be open to their perspective and feedback so that you can, ultimately, help them thrive in their role.

6. Offer guidance and resources

After your conversation, propose solutions and offer the employee assistance to help them succeed. This lets you discuss what you hope to see from them going forward.

If you’re giving employees positive feedback, offer resources, like leadership training, so they can continue growing. If you’re providing constructive feedback, come prepared with options like:

  • Additional training courses.
  • Goal realignment.
  • Coaching or mentoring sessions.
  • Helpful productivity tools.

Alternatively, if you learn the employee has problems outside of their control affecting their performance, make sure to talk about additional company resources to help, such as:

7. Document the conversation

Although uncomfortable, it is imperative to document your conversation about the employees’ performance, whether for constructive or recognition purposes. Besides serving as a way to monitor employee behavior, it also provides historical evidence for future decisions like:

Performance management or employee engagement platforms offer ways to keep track of employee feedback, even anonymously. For example, Officevibe allows employees to respond anonymously to open calls for feedback, encouraging honesty without fear of retaliation. Officevibe also saves the feedback so employees can revisit for insights whenever. 

All-in-one HR suites let you tie employee feedback directly to other aspects of the employee life cycle. For example, Bob allows you to schedule one-on-one reviews with managers for regular feedback and recordkeeping. Plus, information from these sessions flows into understanding and taking action on company trends, like retention and turnover.

Bob displays dialogue boxes with feedback prompts for a one-on-one meeting between an employee and their manager.
Bob allows managers and their direct reports to prepare before their one-on-one sessions for the most impactful and collaborative conversations. Source: Bob

8. Set a follow-up cadence

Regularly follow up with the employee after you give them feedback. This is especially important if you give the employee constructive feedback since a good follow-up cadence allows you to monitor their performance improvement, provide additional support when needed, and celebrate their progress on a continuous basis. Typically, follow-ups are either weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

Best practices for employee feedback

Consider some of the following best practices when meeting with your employees:

  • Prepare beforehand. Don’t “wing it” — know what you want to say to your employee so your conversation will have the most impact.
  • Be timely. Offer feedback to employees as soon as the behavior occurs so they can course-correct or continue what they’re doing quickly.
  • Make the meeting private. This provides a safe space for you and your employee to be open and honest; even for positive feedback, not everyone likes to be recognized publicly.
  • Focus on objective metrics. Use KPIs, OKRs, or other performance metrics to avoid making judgments about their personality.
  • Propose solutions. Show employees you’re here to help them succeed by offering practical guidance.
  • Ask for employee feedback. Allow employees to give you feedback so you can grow as a leader and strengthen the relationship with your direct report.
  • Skip feedback only for serious issues. Violence in the workplace, theft, harassment, discrimination, use of illegal substances, and other serious incidents should follow your progressive discipline steps or termination in place of feedback.

Lastly, always practice your feedback before giving it — you can even leverage technology to help. Virtual reality, for instance, can simulate the entire experience, allowing you to practice the conversation without real-world consequences.

Alternatively, you can leverage AI tools like Skillsoft’s CAISY. These programs offer isolated chat environments so you can run through potential scenarios and prepare for various outcomes before approaching the employee.

See how CAISY works in the video below:

Employee feedback FAQs

Employee feedback is one aspect of your company’s broader performance management process but arguably one of the most important. These one-on-one conversations build employee trust and dedication to the company, preventing regrettable attrition. Additional benefits include:

  • Clarifies role expectations.
  • Aids in employee development.
  • Shows employee appreciation.
  • Fosters healthy working relationships.
  • Motivates employees to reach goals.
  • Informs performance appraisals and succession planning.

Positive feedback praises employees’ work.

Example: I like that you helped out during the meeting today.

Constructive feedback focuses on areas you want the employee to improve.

Example: We had to wait to begin the client presentation because you were late for today’s meeting. This made us look unprepared for the product demo. How can I help you be on time?

Directive feedback tells the employee what you want them to do.

Example: Please stop using your phone during meetings.

Contingency feedback states that if you do or don’t X, then Y will happen.

Example: If you don’t finish the design by Monday, then we’ll lose them as a client.

Attribution feedback uses labels to describe someone’s behavior.

Example: You’re disorganized and lazy. 

Impact feedback explains how the behavior affects the team or organization.

Example: When you added your input during the meeting today, we thought up a brand new idea for next week’s presentation, saving us time from brainstorming later this week.

Giving feedback is one of the hardest parts of HR or managerial duties. Some of the challenges we face when giving feedback include:

  • Fear: You don’t know how the employee receiving the feedback will react, and it’s not uncommon for their fight-or-flight response to activate.
  • Training: If you did not receive formal training on how to give and receive feedback, you may feel uncomfortable prompting the feedback dialogue.
  • Time: It can be easy for the day-to-day to take priority until you forget why you wanted to give feedback in the first place.

Start a culture of continuous feedback

Feedback should not be a one-off occurrence but an integral part of your workplace culture.

Continuous feedback encourages employees to grow, empathize with their peers, and understand their strengths and weaknesses. And it helps “leaders foster an environment where talent feels at ease sharing their ideas, asking questions, and being open,” explains Leena Rinne, VP of Coaching at Skillsoft. In fact, feedback makes managers become better coaches for their direct reports, inspiring growth and company innovation.

If you need help figuring out where to start, learn why performance management is important. Or, check out our Performance Management Software Guide for a complete list of tools that help facilitate employee feedback discussions.


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About the author


Featured performance management partners

ClearCompany

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Conduct better reviews, increase feedback quality, and simplify review cycle management. ClearCompany Performance Management helps you implement an employee-first approach by shifting the focus of performance reviews from evaluation and ranking to employee growth and future potential. ClearCompany helps your company drive engagement and focus with goal-planning tools while increasing the value and reducing the workload of performance review cycles.

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Performance Pro

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Performance Pro is a customizable, user-friendly, automated performance management platform. Save time with our customizable libraries of content from competencies to tools that help managers leave more meaningful feedback & establish smart goals. Empower your employees to pursue their own professional development, retain your top talent, provide a sense of purpose with goal alignment to strategic objectives, & truly drive an increase in performance & achievement throughout your organization.

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Peoplebox

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Gen-AI powered platform for performance reviews, aligned goals (OKRs), 1:1s, surveys, KPIs, initiative management, strategic meetings and People Analytics.

Unlike other tools, its integration with Slack/Teams goes beyond notifications and lets you do entire performance reviews, engagement surveys, and OKR check-ins right within Slack/Teams.

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