How to get the most out of giving feedback

Aaron Goonrey
Emma Lutwyche

By and

written on November 14, 2017

Our top tips for providing your employees with constructive, lawful feedback.

It’s pretty easy to give feedback these days. A quick remark in the online comments section or an angry emoji on a post, and you’re done. But this quick, faceless, no consequences approach to feedback can be problematic in the employment context.

At work, feedback needs to be well thought out, appropriate, timely and specific. Although overused, the term “constructive criticism” is apt. The purpose of constructive criticism is to help employees grow into better versions of themselves. If you want to help your employees become their most productive, efficient, creative and innovative selves, mastering the art of giving feedback is key.

From our experience, these the top three tips for giving masterful feedback.

Be specific

In order to be useful, feedback needs to be specific. Provide both examples of behaviour or practices that can be improved, and expectations that need to be met.

You also need to be clear about particular incidents that you’re concerned about. Tying the incident to its impact on the business can also be helpful; for example: “When you spent too long on the phone to your boyfriend on Tuesday, your client’s call went unanswered and now he is dissatisfied with the service and might cancel his account.”

Criticising particular conduct isn’t enough and may not be reasonable; you need to set specific expectations to help the employee understand how they can do better next time. You could say: “From now on, personal calls should be made during your lunch break. If you need to make an urgent call during your shift, ask one of your colleagues to cover your calls.”

Choose the time and place wisely

Feedback should be given as required, and not just in annual performance reviews. There’s no need to create a dossier of your employee’s past wrongdoings and save them up to discuss all at once. Addressing a particular issue when it arises means the employee remembers the incident, and they are more likely to appreciate the opportunity to improve.

That being said, you also still need to choose your time wisely. Yelling “I hate it when you do that” in front of everyone when an employee does something wrong is not ok. Feedback should be given in private, away from onlookers and office gossips.

Manage the performance, not the person

Finally, it is important to remember that you are (likely) not a psychologist. Your job as an employer/manager/HR wunderkind is to ensure that work is done in a reasonable, productive, safe, and efficient way. Feedback about an employee’s perceived personality traits or character flaws such as “you’re too shy in meetings, you need to speak up more” or “your ego is getting in the way of you listening to your colleagues” isn’t constructive.

Focus on the employee’s behaviour or practice, rather than where you think that behaviour might stem from. This will allow them to modify their behaviour in a practical way and avoids them feeling personally attacked. We often advise that the object of performance management is not to “set-up” a faultless process for dismissal, it is to help an employee get better at their job.

Ultimately, feedback should be a continuous, fluid process through which the employee is able to learn and develop their skills and improve their performance. Thinking about feedback like this is bound to help your business and employees improve throughout the employment relationship, without anyone needing to trash each other in the comments section.

Aaron Goonrey is a Partner and Emma Lutwyche is a Lawyer in Lander & Rogers’ Workplace Relations & Safety practice.

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