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How to give feedback

Giving feedback is an essential element of any position of authority. Whether you’re CEO, line manager of a shopfloor team or a sole operator with hired help, you need to know how to give constructive feedback that allows people to develop, rather than stifling their autonomy.

The main thing with feedback is it has to be balanced. People have an emotional bank account and the challenge as a manager is to keep it in credit. Feedback is only effective if, when you’re giving positive feedback, you’re being very specific about what they did well, what impact it had and how they carry on doing it.

“Well done” may sound encouraging, but it doesn’t help people to know what they did well. You need to give a clear picture of the person’s strengths so they can see what it is about what they did and how they did it that’s being valued, and then do more of the same.

When it comes to developmental feedback, you need to be very direct. There’s no point trying to fluff it up, it’s there to help people raise self-awareness. People want to do a good job, and often as leaders and managers we don’t help them enough because we’re not giving clear, honest feedback.

People also need feedback on the impact of their behaviour. You can have great leaders who are really good at getting results but don’t get positive feedback. This week I had to give feedback to someone about their behaviour because the organisation is very keen to stress that they don’t just value commercial results, they place just as much value on how people behave while they’re delivering them.

It’s also very important to comment – discreetly – on what people are doing in the moment. Feedback isn’t just a quarterly review – it should be constant. Whether you see someone performing well or doing something that could be improved, make sure you take the time to informally discuss what happened, what went well or what might have been done differently. It shouldn’t be a big issue, it should be an ongoing part of development.

Note how people react to feedback – people take it in different ways. Adapt as far as possible to ensure that it’s being received and acted on.

And finally, always end on a positive note. When you’re asking people to change their behaviour or improve performance, they need to know that you believe they can do it. They’ll be much more motivated to do well if they know that their manager has confidence in them and isn’t watching and waiting for them to go wrong.