How to effectively give feedback? Expert tips
What is feedback and how to provide it? Natalya Khalimanova, HR director in IT, explains.
What is feedback and why is it needed
— In the broadest sense of the word, feedback is a reaction to an action. In the work context, this reaction can be to a task, a process, a colleague’s behavior, or something else. Natalya Khalimanova, HR director in IT, explains below.
The main goals of feedback:
- help the recipient to meet expectations more quickly;
- promote growth and development; and
- encourage the changes necessary to achieve the established goals.
Ultimately, feedback is a tool used for the development of both the employee and the company.
— There are many different types and methods of providing feedback. Below, I break down the main types that are used most often in the workplace.
Formal feedback is most often used as part of a deliberately created process in companies. It may be given at the conclusion of a trial period or during a performance review, for example.
The frequency and methods used for such reviews may vary from company to company. The most common option is an annual or semi-annual performance review using 180- or 360-degree evaluation methods. Using these methods, the assessment of an employee comes both from the employee and from the team, including the lead. The number and roles of the participating evaluators are at the discretion of the company.
This type of feedback is pre-planned. The retrospective process it involves helps the employee and the employer discuss what is going well and what can be improved. Afterward, it is common to select and formulate an action plan and transform it into an individualized development plan for the employee (PDP — Personal Development Plan).
Informal feedback is a more common type of feedback that occurs spontaneously, right in the workplace. It can be a momentary, casual conversation with a person about their work. It can happen at any time, between two or more people in the workplace. This type of feedback can be effective and useful, or it can be unproductive and harmful. It is important to use it correctly.
A benefit of informal feedback is that it allows employees to instantly correct their mistakes. If a person does something wrong and does not realize it, and if their team or manager does not tell them immediately, they will not be able to respond in a timely manner. Informal feedback can help the recipient grow and develop their skills faster.
It is important, however, to be careful about how you provide informal feedback and what information you convey. Don't give negative feedback in the heat of the moment. Doing so can come off as inappropriately harsh and may not have the desired effect if it leaves the recipient distracted or demoralized. Moreover, there is a possibility of conflict. Also, as a general rule, you should not give negative feedback if you do not have sufficient facts, examples, and specific cases from work to support your feedback.
Remember that informal feedback can be used not only to share negative information, but also to recognize someone's merits or achievements. It is important for any person to feel that someone really sees and appreciates their work and efforts. Do not forget to recognize achievements and thank your employees and colleagues. When you do so, do it sincerely, and point out what was done well. Recognition has more impact and is more motivating when it is specific and offered without a time delay.
Once employees and managers get used to giving and receiving informal feedback between themselves, a corporate culture of open and honest communication is created.
Don't delay — say "thank you" today. Perhaps your thanks will make a person smile and make their day better, and maybe more productive.
— In addition to feedback, there is another way to provide constructive information. This method is called feedforward. The concept was developed by management expert Marshall Goldsmith. It consists of shifting attention from the past to the future.
When we give feedback, the focus is on the past. We focus on what already happened that was good or bad. In the case of negative feedback, an employee recipient may become obsessed because they cannot fix the past. A feedforward helps prevent mistakes in the future. The feedforward process is solution-oriented, giving clear directions and suggestions. For example, if an employee wants to complete more tasks each week and not lose sight of smaller tasks, their colleague or leader will make specific suggestions and offer ideas about how to achieve the goal. There should be no reference to the past while doing so; instead, the emphasis should be on making progress in the future.
Now that we have considered the different types of feedback, it is important to understand which to use and when to use it, to be as effective as possible.
Feedback tools: how it works in large companies
— On a company-wide scale, we actively use the following tools.
This can take a number of different forms, including a 360 Performance Review questionnaire, a loyalty and engagement questionnaire, questionnaires after internal meetups and other training events, etc.
With the help of questionnaires, we can get quick feedback, collect the information we need, evaluate employees' reactions to changes, determine the employees’ needs, assess team relationships, and much more. After analyzing the data received, we can further plan and make decisions to improve the operation of various processes. When launching questionnaires, we explain to our colleagues the purpose (why we need it), what information we are seeking, and the expected results — what plans and actions will follow.
The modern reality is that a business and its processes need to be fast, flexible, and ready for change. As we continually strive to improve, it's important to look back and ask ourselves and the team: is everything going well? Is the implemented process user-friendly? Does it make work easier? The retrospective approach helps with these questions.
In simple terms, a retrospective is a team meeting where a workflow is discussed. The purpose of the retrospective is to create a plan of action, changes, and improvements.
During such a meeting, it is important to discuss and address:
- Pros. What went well during the process?
- Cons. What went wrong? What problems did you face?
- Ideas. You can write/discuss all ideas and ways to solve problems.
- Action plan. After the discussion, an action plan is developed to improve the process/solve the identified problems. Actions are prioritized and estimated timeframes for implementation are set.
There are many useful resources that help organize, structure, and record everything that is discussed during a retro. They are both paid and free. My HR team and I use EasyRetro.
Recently, our HR team held a retrospective in which every employee could participate. This retrospective focused on the Performance Review process, which we thought was built and working well, but the retrospective helped us see the process from a broader perspective. We have developed an action plan for improvements and are already working on its implementation.
One on one meeting
I find 1-1 meetings to be a very useful and necessary feedback tool. 1-1 is a meeting for and about an employee. It is not a meeting to determine the status of the completion of current tasks (do not confuse 1-1 with a regular daily or weekly meeting on tasks). Within the framework of 1-1 meetings, areas of growth and development of the employee, their performance, and their motivation are discussed. Impediments to work are also analyzed, as are ways in which you, as a manager, can help your employee. Mood is measured.
There is a lot of useful information and guides available for holding 1-1 meetings. This article resonates with me, and I often recommend it to both managers and employees.
I hold 1-1 meetings with each team member once every two weeks. At these meetings, in addition to all of the above, I always ask if the employees have enough information from me, and whether they satisfied with the level of our communication. I also ask how they would change our communication and whether or not we should change the frequency of our meetings.
— Working with feedback (receiving or providing it) is a skill, and it can be developed. It is important to remember that the purpose of feedback is to increase efficiency in work, and feedback offers a chance to share experiences, learn from mistakes, and grow professionally. Don't miss the chance.
To delve deeper into the topic of feedback, you can read the following books:
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