How Effective is Your “Feedback” Style?

5 Steps for Effectively Providing Feedback

A recent Gallup article revealed that only 14.5% of managers strongly agree that they are effective at giving feedback to team members.

While we all need feedback in order to grow and develop our skills, if that feedback is ineffectively delivered it can backfire. When a manager’s “feedback style” is overly negative (i.e., focuses on weaknesses) or aggressive it most often causes team members to feel demotivated, criticized, disappointed or depressed. In such cases, the manager’s attempt to bring about improvement or behavioral change has failed.

In fact, Gallup research shows that only 10.4% of employees whose manager’s feedback left them with negative feelings are engaged, and 80% say they’re actively or passively looking for other employment.

Conversely, workers whose manager’s feedback left them with positive feelings (i.e., they felt inspired to improve or positive about knowing how to do their work better) are 3.9 times more likely to be engaged than employees who felt hurt, and only 3.6% of them are actively looking for another job.

“Congratulatory or corrective, feedback should motivate employees to do better work, position them for success and engage them,” the article said.

However, authors Cheyna Brower and Nate Dvorak point out, “this doesn’t mean positive feedback is necessarily effective feedback. Employees can walk away from a performance review feeling more engaged than ever, but without hearing what they need to know to improve.”

Providing Effective Feedback
To effectively provide feedback, the goal is not to say a negative thing in a positive way, but rather to say both positive and negative things in ways that improve workers’ performance.

It helps if managers operate under the premise that people want to do good work but might lack information or specific skills for their role. This is critically important, as encouragement from one’s team leader is a powerful motivator and has a strong impact on confidence levels and attitude. When team members feel as though their manager believes in them, they tend to rise to the occasion!

Suggestions for keeping feedback sessions both positive and effective include:

  1. Start with wins; recognize and discuss successes; build upon strengths to help build confidence as opposed to starting out talking about weaknesses.
  2. Avoid the “but” approach; in an attempt to start on a positive note, managers often begin a coaching or review session with a statement of praise, and then immediately follow-up with the dreaded “but…” after which the discussion goes negative. This approach is ineffective, often expected, and destined for failure.
  3. Focus on specifics; telling someone their work is “mediocre” without identifying what “good” would look like is not effective.
  4. Combine encouragement with constructive feedback, as people generally want to learn how to improve.
  5. Conduct frequent communication – annual or semi-annual reviews alone don’t cut it; weekly (sometimes daily!) conversations keep all parties aware of performance, improvement needs, and accomplishment, and can significantly impact engagement and motivation.