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“Great feedback changes our behaviour in a way that later on we’re grateful for, and believe made our lives better”
– Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design at Facebook

Contents

1. Defining instant feedback

2. Feedback culture: friend or foe?

3. 5 key reasons your employees need instant feedback

4. When should I give instant feedback? 

5. The ultimate feedback formula with feedback examples

6. Giving feedback to more than one person

7. Using positive and negative feedback at the right time

8. Common misgivings about instant feedback

9. The feedback sandwich and other mistakes to avoid

10. Employee corner: how to give feedback to your manager

11. Using feedback to create a dynamic work culture

12. Over to you 

13. Further resources

Defining instant feedback

When hearing the word “feedback,” many CEOs, managers and employees think of the annual performance review. That’s not surprising considering the fact that, in some companies, the once-a-year review is the only opportunity employees get to receive feedback – and even then it’s often a one-way exchange from managers to direct reports. 

Here we talk about a feedback method that’s more fit for the 21st century: instant feedback (sometimes also known as continuous feedback). This regular, timely feedback still has a strong supporting role when it comes to performance reviews, but it also has some unique benefits which can’t be gleaned from annual performance reviews alone. Instant feedback works alongside 1-on-1 meetings and fortifies goal alignment – and, when done right, creates an environment of trust at work. So whether you’re interested in maximising your reviews or 1-on-1 meetings, or simply curious about improving your company culture with instant feedback – you’ve come to the right place. 

Read on to find out how to give each other feedback at work: along with tips, industry advice, feedback quotes, statistics and more! 

“Care personally; don’t put people in boxes and leave them there” 
– Kim Scott, former manager at Google & author of Radical Candor
Feedback should come from empathy and respect, and ask questions about the other person's needs

Feedback culture: friend or foe?

In recent years, instant feedback has become popular amongst corporate giants like Microsoft, Adobe and Google, with many others following in their footsteps. Amidst this rising success, however, some have questioned the feedback cultures of organisations like Netflix and Bridgewater Associates, which encourage their employees to give each other constant critical feedback. How can people learn if their brain’s fight-or-flight response is always working to prevent them from absorbing feedback?

The key is empathy: at Leapsome, we talk about exchanging feedback as a way of improving work relationships, not just transmitting valuable data. With compassion for one another, we can overcome our fears of receiving feedback and reach the lesson at the heart of feedback – so it’s important to consider the personal dynamics of giving and getting feedback, too. 

To echo Kim Scott’s quote above, effective feedback shows you care enough about someone to pull them out of a rut. Generally, we follow Brené Brown’s maxim, “clear is kind; unclear is unkind.” That means striving to be as considerate in our feedback as we are specific and effective. 

So how do you strike the right balance between firm and sensitive feedback culture? First, let’s clarify the fundamental purpose of instant feedback. 

Feedback isn’t about instructing or scolding: it’s about giving someone the information and tools they need to develop their strengths and get over their hurdles
– Jenny Powedils, Co-Founder of Leapsome

5 key reasons your employees need instant feedback

  1. Instant feedback guides people in the right direction
    Whether you’re a CEO or a new hire, it’s hard to get an accurate picture of your performance based on your own perspective. Everyone has their blind spots and imperfections: instant feedback clarifies expectations and areas for development as you go, not at the end of the year.

  2. It creates a climate of transparency and trust
    When employees know that they’ll be pulled up on their weaknesses, it assures them nothing important is being withheld from them. The fact no one is left in the dark leads to trusting relationships, stronger teams and a sense of psychological safety at work.

  3. It shows you care about the receiver of feedback
    It takes time and energy to give someone useful feedback. When delivered appropriately and with care, feedback truly is a gift. It shows investment in the other person’s progress, rather than a lack of concern for them and their actions.

  4. It reinforces good performance
    Praise is just as important as constructive feedback! It emphasises great behaviour and gives people confidence in their work, making it easier to retain talent. Praise is a resistance-free way to give feedback because instead of igniting a “fight-or-flight” response, it stimulates the brain’s calmer “rest and digest” nervous system.

  5. It motivates both managers and employees
    No one wants to trundle through a career in which their work won’t be noticed. Feedback drives employees (and managers) to do better – especially millennials. One study found that people would rather get negative feedback than no feedback at all!

The human brain feels relaxed and receptive when taking on positive feedback
92% of respondents agreed with the assertion, “Negative or redirecting feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance” (Inc.)

When should I give instant feedback?  

Like most things in life, there’s a time and a place for instant feedback. Don’t use feedback culture as an excuse to make personal remarks or pedantic criticisms about someone.

Before giving someone feedback, ask yourself whether: 

  1. Their actions are having a significant impact on coworkers or the company 
  2. You’re feeling calm and invested, rather than stressed or antagonistic
  3. The employee has the capacity to hear and take on your feedback
  4. The feedback can be given in a quiet, discreet place
  5. You have a firm idea of what you want to say

What do we mean by “significant impact”? For example, if someone is late to work once, it might be over the top to take them aside and ask them to work on their time management skills. However, if the employee was late to work two days a week, that would probably make a bad impression on their team mates or have an impact on the start time of morning meetings. In that case, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask the employee if they need help to organise themselves better. Explaining the impact of someone’s behaviour places the feedback in context, and helps them understand why the subject is being raised. 

“If someone doesn’t have a clear understanding of what they are doing wrong, how can they be expected to fix it?” 
– Jared Narlock, former VP of Talent Development

Notice how we’ve used the word help here. Feedback isn’t about instructing or scolding: it’s about giving someone the information and tools they need to correct unwanted behaviour. 

Here are some examples of other situations which might prompt you to give someone instant feedback instead of waiting for their next performance review.

  • Keeps missing deadlines
  • Often switches off in meetings 
  • Doesn’t get along with another employee(s)
  • Gets distracted easily and prioritises less important tasks 
Don't use feedback as an excuse to make personal comments or share an offensive opinion


And of course there’ll be times when you should give employees instant praise as well: 

  • Went above and beyond in order to manage a particularly stressful week
  • Helped a colleague overcome a difficult roadblock
  • Nailed a presentation that inspired the rest of the team
  • Completed a long, tedious task that will speed up future processes
  • In need of a confidence boost (more relevant for new hires)

The ultimate feedback formula with feedback examples

Now we know when to give feedback, let’s take two of those examples and see how we might approach giving the feedback itself. 

When giving constructive feedback, remember these four steps: 

Situation – impact – pause – solution

And when giving positive feedback, remember these three steps: 

Situation – impact – gratitude

Case study 1) Your employee often switches off in meetings. 

Describe the SITUATION from your perspective

i) “whenever I see you in a meeting (situation)...”
ii) “...you seem to switch off (behaviour).”
iii) “I often notice you looking at the clock on the wall or checking your phone. Sometimes you seem tired or distracted. I’ve also noticed you never have questions to ask at the end.” (your perspective with examples) 

Explain the situation's IMPACT

“That can make whoever is speaking feel like they’re not being listened to. It can also be a distraction for the other participants.”

PAUSE for the other person’s input
“Does that seem like a fair comment to you? What’s your experience of our meetings?”

Employee: “I find it hard to engage when I don’t feel like my input would be valued.

Find a mutual SOLUTION

“Your input is definitely valued! Why don’t you try leading the meeting next time?”

Case study 2) Your employee doesn’t get along with a coworker

Describe the SITUATION from your perspective

i) “whenever I see you and Michael together (situation)...”
ii) “...it seems like you don’t get along (behaviour).”
iii) “I notice you interrupt him quite regularly and often shut down his ideas. It seems as if you’d rather work on your own than with him.” (your perspective with examples) 

Explain the situation's IMPACT

“That creates an uncomfortable atmosphere in the office, as well as making Michael reluctant to work on the project. I feel like the project is suffering because you’re working against him rather than with him.”

PAUSE for the other person’s input  

“Does that seem like a fair comment to you? How do you feel about what I’ve just said?”
Employee: “You’re right, I’ve found it difficult to work with Michael ever since we had an argument about something back in June.” 

Find a mutual SOLUTION

“Let me have a couple of mediation sessions with you and Michael to resolve your differences.” 

Case study 3) Completed a long, tedious task AND in need of a confidence boost! 

Describe the SITUATION from your perspective

i) “Over the last two weeks you’ve been working so hard on tidying and transferring our sales data to the new CRM” (behaviour)
ii) “I know it’s a really tedious process and maybe it feels like you’ve been in the background while your colleagues have been working as normal.” 

Explain the situation's IMPACT

“Thanks to you we can now move forward knowing that all our data is in the right place, and we have a much more accurate overview of our sales pipeline!”

Express your GRATITUDE

“Thank you for working so hard: it hasn’t gone unnoticed and I’m really grateful. If you have any ideas for the next project you’d like to work on, just let me know!”

Giving feedback to more than one person

As a rule of thumb it’s best to give constructive feedback in private, with only the person you want to give the feedback to. However, in the second example we dealt with a situation which involved more than one person. Although in theory you could start by raising the situation with each person separately, there should always be a feedback session where all relevant parties are in the same room. This is to avoid falling into the trap of making feedback about hearsay, which author of ‘Your Brain at Work’ David Rock calls “one of the fastest, easiest and most consistent ways to make someone deeply anxious.”


“Mastery requires feedback. I don’t care what we’re trying to master… it always requires feedback.”
– Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead

Using positive and negative feedback at the right time

There are some companies that focus on giving their employees constructive feedback because it feels more practical than celebrating good work or positive behaviour. Other companies shy away from giving constructive feedback, choosing to emphasise praise and positivity over awkward or difficult conversations (one writer claims that, unless it’s positive, millennials don’t actually desire feedback any more than previous generations).  

So where does that leave you? Does it have to be a trade off between a practical, constructive feedback culture and a comforting, positive feedback culture? 

Fortunately not. A recent study observing the effects of feedback on language learners revealed that praise and criticism has different motivational effects depending on the recipient’s level of expertise. For relative novices, positive feedback is necessary to increase their sense of motivation, faith in improving ability and commitment to new challenges. Experts, on the other hand, respond better to constructive feedback as they seek to eliminate blind spots on the way to mastering their skills. The study remarks that:

As people gain expertise in pursuing a goal, they shift toward seeking negative feedback […] Positive feedback might be more informative for novices — those who are less likely to perform a task well — whereas negative feedback might be more informative for experts — those who are unlikely to perform poorly.

This doesn’t mean you can’t give constructive feedback to novices or praise to an expert, but it’s something to keep in mind when assessing how much and what kind of feedback to give to each employee based on their level of seniority and expertise.


Human beings in a number of instances prefer negative recognition as opposed to no recognition at all. (Research Gate)

Common misgivings about giving instant feedback

  1. Fear: “My employee won’t like me as much if I’m honest with them”
    It’s totally normal to worry about your employee’s reaction to feedback. People are biologically programmed to get defensive about getting constructive feedback, and that’s probably a feeling you can empathise with. However, it’s kinder to give someone feedback in the long run: so put your fears aside and tell them what they need to hear.

  2. Indifference: “If I don’t have this conversation they’ll probably get better over time anyway”
    It’s not fair to the person (or your organisation) to leave their improvement to the trial and error of time. While it’s possible for mistakes to correct themselves, there’s no guarantee the person won’t slip back into old habits if they’re doing it unawares.

  3. Denial: “I’m probably making a big deal over nothing”
    It’s easy to downplay the need for feedback – after all, you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings for no good reason. But while this comes from a place of empathy, keeping quiet can lead to growing resentment at the expense of good quality work. Instead, bring your empathy into the feedback conversation.

  4. Embarrassment: “It’ll seem like I'm gushing if I praise someone directly”
    79% of Americans leaving a job cite under-appreciation as their reason for quitting; and according to this study, employees covet recognition over any other perk – financial or otherwise – so there’s a high chance your employees would appreciate some positive feedback! A culture of positive feedback also makes it easier for employees to take on constructive feedback further down the line.


Adam Grant’s Top Tip —
Open a feedback conversation with these 19 words: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations of you, and I’m confident you can reach them.” 

The Feedback Sandwich

There’s a cookie-cutter approach to feedback which you may be familiar with. Known colloquially as the sh** sandwich, it consists of buttering up the feedback receiver with praise before serving them whatever negative feedback you came to give; then returning to a positive note to ease the burn.    

Our advice? Do NOT use the feedback sandwich! 

Don't use the feedback sandwich if you want to communicate your feedback meaningfully!


It’s a notorious method which most employees can smell from a mile off. It leaves them waiting anxiously for negative news and makes them feel cynical about praise (even if you really mean it!)

Instead, say what you need to say and wrap up your session on a forward-facing note. There’s no need to downplay negative behaviour or over-inflate praise: just reiterate what the employee should keep doing and what they should begin doing.

Other things to avoid when giving feedback

  • Raising your voice or acting aggressively in any way

  • Forgetting to let the other person have their say

  • Cornering the person when they seem stressed or in a hurry

  • Postponing feedback until it’s no longer fresh in the receiver’s mind. Be timely with feedback, rather than surprising the receiver with an event that happened a while back

  • Commenting on what others have been saying – only share your own perspective. And definitely don’t give the feedback to their peer instead! Feedback should be as private as possible to respect the other person’s feelings.

  • Assuming your perspective is 100% right. Always listen to the other person’s experience. Remember: constructive feedback; not instructive feedback!

Julie Zhuo’s Top Tip —
When you ask for feedback, keep it positive by asking not what went badly, but “what could I have done twice as well?” 

Employee corner: how to give feedback to your manager 

Feedback doesn’t just travel one way. In fact, considering top managers are the managers who ask for more feedback, feedback should also be travelling upwards from employees to managers. The question is, just how do you give feedback to a superior? 

Especially if you’re new to feedback culture, giving constructive feedback to your boss probably feels like the last interaction you want to have at work! Luckily, there’s a tactical way to give your manager instant feedback that doesn’t step on anyone’s toes: gently ask questions. 

Asking questions is a more indirect way of calling attention to your boss’ missteps. It suggests there might be another way of going about things while leaving their authority intact.

Example 1) 

NO: “I noticed you took the credit for doing my work!”

YES: “Hey, thanks for telling the executives about that project! Did you give them my name in case they have any questions about the research I did?”

Example 2) 

NO: “I noticed you frequently cancel our 1-on-1s at short notice.” 

YES: “Do you think we should schedule our 1-on-1s at a different time so they don’t interfere with your schedule as much?”

Using feedback to create a dynamic work culture

At the end of the day, giving each other instant feedback is just one way of reinforcing honesty and collaboration between employees and managers. Rather than working under the assumption that everything is as it needs to be, robust feedback culture creates a sense of contact between colleagues. 

And ultimately, successful feedback cultures foreground the positive. That’s why within the  Leapsome platform, we make sure that all instant feedback is private between the sender and the receiver. At the same time, a public praise wall reminds teams of their ongoing achievements, showing that feedback can be celebratory as well as constructive. 

“Life is not about things going perfectly the first time – it’s about how we adapt to what we receive” 
– Joy Mayer, TEDxCoMo

Over to you & next steps 

The Leapsome team is mad about feedback, and we want to spread the feedback gospel far and wide! Now that you’ve read this blog post, you’re probably feeling a little more clued up about how and when to give constructive and positive employee feedback. But if you feel we’ve missed anything out, or if there are still parts of instant feedback that don’t add up to you, tweet us at @leapsome with the hashtag #InstantFeedback. 

Feedback culture can be so rewarding when done well – so let us help you get it right. Leapsome’s Instant Feedback feature makes giving, getting and tracking feedback easier than it’s ever been. Plus, it integrates with apps like Slack and Gmail to help weave feedback into the fabric of your work life. Check out our eBooks and blog posts to learn more, or sign up for a free demo to test the platform’s awesome features!   

Further resources

  1. Leapsome’s Instant Feedback tool

  2. The Ultimate Guide to Building Feedback Into Your Company Culture (eBook)

  3. Why Good Leaders Don’t Just Give Feedback, but Ask For it Too (blog post)

  4. 4 Tips That Will Help Your Company Build a Successful Feedback Culture (blog post)

  5. “Closing the Loop on Feedback” (TED Talk) 

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