Human Resources

Giving feedback

  • Be clear in your own mind. What feedback are you going to give?
  • What is the purpose of giving the feedback? What are you trying to achieve?
  • Speak directly, clearly and honestly.
  • Ask open questions and encourage dialogue; feedback should be a two-way conversation.
  • Only focus on behaviour that can be changed. For example, what use is feedback that says "Did you know your high-pitched voice grates on my nerves" because it's something that can't be altered.
  • Deliver feedback at an appropriate time. Ensure there is enough time to deliver the feedback in a relaxed way and in a confidential environment.
  • Has the receiver understood? Always check that the receiver has understood what you are saying, seek clarification.

Concentrate on the positives

Giving feedback on performance is an integral part of every reviewer's role. It should be about recognising and reinforcing positive achievement as well as how to improve performance or self awareness. It's easy to forget that feedback is about giving praise as well as criticism. We tend to note what goes wrong, while work done well is accepted as normal practise.

One of the main success indicators of an effective performance review is a motivated and inspired employee. Recognition is a basic human need and a powerful motivator. Praise can also get people to relax.

  • In any feedback session, always begin with the positives.
  • Make sure that it is judicious, sincere and deserved.
  • Where someone has done something special, or outside their usual responsibility, make sure you thank them personally.
  • Where outstanding performance is brought to your attention by others, make sure that you let the person responsible know that you are aware of this.
  • You can even create something positive out of employees who present you with problems. Try and think of the flipside of the situation, e.g. they are so slow with the paperwork; yes but they are accurate.

Giving praise

Ask the other person's opinion:

  • "What did you think...?"
  • "How do you think that went?"

Describe specific behaviour and illustrate:

  • "I thought that was extremely effective because..."
  • "I thought it was extremely well done because..."

Describe the effect:

  • "The result has been..."
  • "People have started to..."

Constructive criticism

Often feedback can be seen as a criticism therefore careful consideration needs to be given to how feedback is delivered, making it positive and helpful. Be prepared to deal with different reactions.

Focus feedback on observations

  • The temptation can sometimes be to feedback our interpretation or conclusion from what we observe, e.g. "your work is slow".
  • Instead, focus feedback on what you can see or hear in their behaviour. Keep it factual and objective, e.g. "In the last week you have produced around four reports a day. The average is around eight. Let's look at how this target can be raised in line with the average".
  • It can be valuable to share inferences or conclusions, but when doing so it is important to identify them appropriately, perhaps posing them as a question and making sure you give the appraisee the opportunity to put forward their view.

Describe the effect:

  • "What happened was that.."
  • "The effect of that was..."

Keep feedback non-judgemental

  • Word your feedback so that it is a description of what occurred, e.g. "the customer was left for 20 minutes before you dealt with their request".
  • Keep your feedback neutral and try not to be judgemental (i.e. don't make an evaluation in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, nice or not nice). For example, you should not say, "it is terrible that you left a customer unattended".
  • Leave out judgement-loaded words that imply blame, fault, mistake and incompetence, e.g. you should not say such things as; "you are the reason we lost that customer".
  • Avoid emotive or critical terminology that could be interpreted as a personal attack, e.g. avoid statements such as, "this just highlights your inability to deal with customer complaints".

Describe specific behaviour and illustrate:

  • "I noticed that..."
  • "When you...I found that..."

Make criticism constructive

  • Treat the criticism as an abstract problem, not as a character defect. For example, "the quality of service delivery seems to be declining", rather than "you are bad at service delivery".
  • Refer to what a person does rather than comment on what you imagine they do. You will then avoid jumping to conclusions such as, "well it must be you because...".
  • Describe actions or behaviours rather than qualities. So, you might say a person, "talked a lot in the meeting" rather than say they are "a chatterbox".
  • Ensure you allow individuals to put their point of view across and take note of explanations or mitigating circumstances.
  • Above all, concentrate on what the individual can do about the criticism and how they can improve.
  • Be constructive and focus on the future.

Ask the other person's opinion:

  • "How does this seem to you?"
  • "How do you think this could be improved?"
  • "What do you think we could do about it?"

Receiving feedback

Appraisals can also be an opportunity for reviewers to feedback to you.

  • Listen, don't interrupt – allow them to 'have their say'.
  • Be open and try to not be defensive.
  • Check your understanding; ask for specific examples of what you are doing wrong.
  • Sort out options; make some suggestions or ask for some constructive ideas from the other person.
  • Agree on a possible way forward and say thank you.