Giving Constructive Feedback – 10 Tips

constructive-feedbackHow to give constructive feedback is a great question to ask and an important soft skill to develop especially if you are now managing a team.  The abiliity for coach and mentor  well each of your team members is essentially to your and your team’s success.  To be a great team leader, you need to be able to provide constructive feedback that meets two objectives

  • Provides clear, specific feedback that is understood by the team member
  • Motivates the team member to improve instead of de-moralizing him or her

Giving constructive feedback takes time and care.  Most people are not born with this skill.  Here are 10 tips on how to best give constructive feedback to one of your team members.

Prior to Feedback Session

  1. Set regular feedback schedule ahead of time – for example, every quarter or half year, so that each team member understands how often feedback are given and expects it.  Also be open to give feedback if a team member request it off schedule.
  2. Communicate your expectations of their work – As each person joins your team or progresses in responsibilities, proactively communicate what key skills/traits you expect them to demonstrate in their work.  This should be communicated well before any feedback sessions, so the team member has a chance to demonstrate them in their work.
  3. Always do a face to face feedback session – Many things can be lost in translation over the phone or by email.  A face to face session is best as it communicates its importance and makes it easier for the receiver to ask questions and communicate their reactions.
  4. Given everyone a chance to improve – It’s much more expensive for the company and time consuming for you to train a new person than help an existing person improve.  So never put anyone on probation based on an improvement area you are communicating to them for the first time.  It’s the fastest way to de-moralize someone on your team that is trying to achieve.  Give the benefit of the doubt.  If someone is severely not doing well in one area, warn them early, tell them how to improve, and give them some time to show improvement (30-60 days).  Only after that if nothing happened, then it’s fair to put them on probation.

During Feedback Session

  1. Give balalnced feedback – No one is perfect but almost everyone has both strengths and improvement areas.  Make sure you start with what you think they are good at to set the right tone for the feedback session.  You want your team member to leverage their strenghs in their work while working on improving other areas.
  2. Be thoughtful and specific in your feedback on improvement areas – This tip is key as you don’t need to list every single thing a person may need to improve.  Use the following rule of thumb.
    1. Prioritize 3 areas based on what’s most critical for them to develop at their responsibility level.
    2. Make sure you have seen a pattern in lack of skill – meaning don’t jump to conclusions if you only observed it once.  That may just be a bad day.
    3. Provide concrete examples of what you observed, describe why it needs to be improved and how it helps this person’s career if it is improved.  Also communicate how they can best improve (for example:  tell him or her what you would have done instead in that situation)
  3. Use neutral words and keep a positive tone – For example –  Instead of saying “You are a bad facilitator or you need to improve your facilitation skills.”  You can say ” I think you have 3 areas where you can improve.  First, it’s your facilitation skills.  I observed last week in our meeting with 2 cross functional teams, you had a difficult time keeping the conversation on point….” By using specific facts and neutral words like “I observed”, the feedback receiver is more likely to listen
  4. Keep communication two ways – Just because you are giving the feedback doesn’t mean the other person doesn’t have questions or unexpected reactions.  Give the receiver room to ask detailed questions and potentially disagree with you.  Not everyone always agrees with the feedback even if you are being constructive.  Typically, there two reasons.  1) Their ego is hurt regardless of what you do and just want to defend themselves.  2) Their perception of their work differ from yours.   Either way, let them know that you are providing this feedback based on your perception.  Perception is reality to you.  If they have a different perception of their work quality or skill level, then what they do still need to work on is making sure their perception is aligned with yours and do more to show their work quality and skill level to you directly
  5. Offer help and suggesitons on how to improve – even when the receiver agrees with your feedback, he or she may still not know what to do to improve.  Offer suggestion on courses they can take to improve as well as ask them to think about what support they may need from you to improve.
  6. Communicate severity and next steps – While you want to be constructive, it’s important to be geniune and straightforward as well.  If an area is a deal breaker if they don’t improve, you need to tell them they are at risk or on probation for xx days unless you can see improvement.  This may not be pleasant but it is sometimes necessary.  Then help them develop a plan to show improvement so they know you have not given up on them.

These are still general tips.  The best advice I have ever received for giving constructive feedback is put yourself in their shoes and assume the best in people – assume they want to achieve and your job is to show them how to develop their skills from point A to point B.   Point A is not bad, but point B is even better for their career.  When you have this perspective, then you can show each of your team members that while not all the feedback is rosy, you have their interest at heart and you are there to support them in improving.

Your comments: Do you agree with these tips?  Did I miss any? Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

I am always in your corner.  Best wishes to your career success.

– Lei

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