How to give constructive feedback to employees

TL;DR: “Feedback” can be a scary word for workers who suffered under old-school people management practices. But in the people-first world of work we should all aim to be part of, feedback should be a tool for growth and professional development in every organization’s culture. And it should be delivered in a timely, constructive manner.

What is constructive feedback and how can you provide your employees with constructive feedback to help your team grow?

Millennials make for the vast majority of the global workforce, and only 19% of them strongly agree that they receive frequent feedback at work. To make matters worse, only 17% of this generation perceives the feedback they get at work as meaningful. But why is genuinely constructive feedback rare? Why does it make managers and reports anxious?

For many people, outdated management practices turned the idea of feedback (both giving and receiving) into the stuff nightmares are made of. And that’s a real shame. Feedback should be an opportunity for alignment and growth for companies and employees alike.

When done right, constructive feedback is a means to encourage the growth of your team, not to “correct” poor performance. Constructive feedback fosters trust, ownership, and a sense of collaboration within teams. Increased performance and engagement are consequences. 

Understandably, those who suffered under outworn management practices may still need a nudge to give feedback a chance. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to get the right message across by practicing giving (and asking for) feedback that is timely, growth-oriented, empathetic, and followed by actionable suggestions. Think of yourself as a coach; it may be challenging at first, but results will come. 

“Great managers have frequent conversations — formal and informal — with employees about how they are doing. In short, they are coaches, providing immediate, constructive and motivating feedback to help employees achieve increasingly better results.” (Gallup, 2019)

These are some examples of constructive vs. destructive feedback: 

  • DESTRUCTIVE: “You’re way behind on your goals this quarter. You better do something about it.”
  • CONSTRUCTIVE: “I’ve noticed that this quarter seems a bit more challenging in terms of your goals, though I see you’re working hard. Is there anything I can support you with? Any roadblocks? How about we schedule an informal sparring session to exchange ideas?”

Keep reading this playbook to learn how to give constructive feedback to your employees and reports.

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

This playbook aims to empower first-time and seasoned managers to nurture a feedback culture within their teams and know how to deliver constructive feedback to boost the growth of their reports and the organization. It can be used for performance reviews, but ideally, you’ll implement this kind of feedback much more frequently.

Besides managers, reports can also gain valuable insights into giving constructive feedback to peers and managers, as well as advocating for people-oriented feedback processes.

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A culture of trust — and it’s OK if you’re not there yet 

Honest, constructive feedback can only happen in an environment of trust and psychological safety. Whether you’re already there or if you’re starting a cultural shift, you’ll need continuous efforts to show your team that the goal of feedback is growth and support, not punishment. The company should also be aligned and willing to make trust part of its culture.

Lead by example by continuously asking your reports for feedback on specific projects and on how you’re doing as a manager. Ask if there’s anything you could do to better support them, and don’t be afraid to show vulnerability and remind people that you, too, are human. Acknowledge it when you make a mistake and, if suitable, share that with your team.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Be kind and empathetic.
  • Never point fingers — accusations will take you nowhere. Show that the feedback comes from a good place, and focus on behavior. Don’t make it about the person.
  • Be timely. Don’t let too much time pass after a situation or project you’d like to share feedback on. This will ensure the topic is fresh in your minds and your suggestions are actionable.
  • Don’t address several topics at once. This will only overwhelm the other person. Being timely will help you avoid this kind of feedback overload.
  • Ongoing feedback is important, but don’t make it so frequent that it becomes a tool for micromanagement.
  • Share a balanced perspective between sharing constructive, development-oriented feedback and highlighting positive behaviors and results.
  • When relevant, present documented processes. This will help you focus on how something should be done instead of a mistake already made.
  • If suggesting that an employee improves different skills, consider current OKRs and development goals to prioritize what to focus on. Could one of these skills support a current goal? Don’t address multiple areas at the same time.
  • Consider investing in 360-degree feedback tools, to ensure employees receive regular, in-depth evaluations on their performance.
  • To share learnings in a lighthearted way and increase trust, some managers implement a “fail of the week” section in their weekly team meetings. Needless to say, be the first to share your “fails” if you choose to do this.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Look into past data

Once there’s a topic you’d like to share feedback on, evaluate if this is something you’ve already discussed. Look into relevant information like past feedback, performance reviews, and notes from 1:1 meetings

The intention here is not to be frustrated at someone if a behavior or performance didn’t improve, but to understand how you approached the topic in the past, evaluate if there’s additional support you can provide (e.g., learning resources, sessions with a coach), and highlight improvements when giving feedback.

Curating learning content for your reports is a worthy investment and shows you care about them.

2. Be specific and consider ways to be supportive

Few things are more frustrating than feedback without actionable insights. Only telling someone that a report they presented isn’t good enough isn’t constructive nor helpful. So be specific about areas for improvement, and before delivering your feedback, think of ways you can support your people. 

Some employee feedback examples:

  • Have you considered segmenting the data in your report? This would make visualization and data comparisons easier.
  • Your main argument is interesting, and I’d suggest expanding it further and delving deeper into the topic.
  • I feel that the introduction wasn’t descriptive enough for readers who aren’t familiar with the topic. It would be great if you could make it a bit more detailed and provide more context.
  • I’ve recently watched an excellent video on the topic. I’ll share it with you — I think it will provide interesting insights and make this task easier for you in the future.

Note: Being specific is also crucial for positive feedback. Telling someone what specifically makes something they did “great” can encourage them to keep focusing on that area of excellence. So don’t stop at “great job!” every time.

3. Decide how to share the feedback

Having regular 1:1 meetings between managers and reports is a best practice, and these meetings are a good time to share constructive feedback (besides, of course, the feedback you should give during performance reviews). 

But feedback needs to be timely, and waiting for a 1:1 may not always be an option. Giving feedback in writing may sometimes be preferable (e.g., on Slack, via email, or through Leapsome’s people enablement platform, which includes instant feedback features).

4. Clarify your intent

Once you’ve completed the steps above, this is how you should start delivering your feedback. Clarifying your intent means explaining the “why” behind sharing your opinion on a topic. Let them know why this is important in a sentence or two.

5. Provide context and describe the situation

This goes both for addressing a sensitive situation (e.g., conflict with another team member) or broader feedback, such as suggesting that someone changes how they prioritize their tasks. Saying “I feel that sometimes you prioritize less important topics” isn’t clear enough for effective feedback. Specify instances in which this happened. 

Providing examples will help mitigate the chances of your feedback being perceived as a personal attack.

6. Share your opinion

Part of what makes giving and receiving feedback uncomfortable for many people is that it might be based on your opinion. Of course, if addressing a conflict situation within the team, common sense makes appropriate and inappropriate behaviors clear. But when evaluating a project, there’s no going around the fact that you’re sharing your perspective. 

So be honest about this and use sentences like “I feel that…” and “I think that…”. Tell your report what your opinion on a matter is, what you think or feel about it, and share your interpretation/perception.

And it’s a good idea to start with what’s working and show that you’re thankful for their contributions instead of going straight for a problem.

7. Listen to what they have to say

Work on your communication skills to nurture transparency and be ready to listen actively to what the other person has to say. You may identify things you hadn’t considered before and gain helpful insights on the situation/topic.

8. Offer support

As explained in step 2, think of ways you can support the employee before giving constructive feedback and keep these suggestions in mind. To foster accountability and build trust, you’d ideally wait until your report shares their need for support first (but don’t expect this to always happen, and don’t shy away from sharing helpful suggestions).

9. Define the next steps

This won’t apply to every situation, but it will be very helpful for some. For example, agree on the next steps so that your report can revise a project or a timeline for them to complete a course.

Follow-up best practices for providing constructive feedback

Check in with your report

Reach out to them not too long after sharing the feedback and ask them if they have questions, how they feel about what you discussed, and if they need support.

Make feedback an ongoing practice — and make it go both ways

Be consistent with your feedback. If you only share it once in a blue moon, it’ll be much harder to establish a feedback culture. As you do that, keep leading by example and asking for other people’s feedback as well.

💡 Would you like to know more about nurturing a feedback culture? Here are 21 examples for giving feedback to employees.

Oh, and we also recommend checking out our free template with best-practice questions for performance reviews. 😉

Make feedback a part of daily work with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning. 

Keeping track of the feedback given and received within your team can help establish a beneficial feedback culture in your organization. Watch this video to learn more about using continuous feedback analytics in Leapsome.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I give feedback to employees?

Feedback should be continuous and timely. Besides performance reviews, you can share it in your weekly 1:1s, via instant feedback, and in other contexts. 

But if there’s nothing to address, don’t think of something random just for the sake of giving feedback. There’s no fixed recurrence you should follow. And remember not to do it so often that employees feel micromanaged.

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