Employees need feedback to thrive in their roles, but your leaders probably aren’t giving them enough of it. This common problem stems from two things: Feedback is difficult to give (and receive), and the solutions used by organizations — like annual performance reviews — are infrequent. Formal reviews are intended to evaluate employee performance, so developmental feedback is a feature of these reviews and not the main event. Another issue is that feedback targeting performance from months ago is likely outdated, and employees have confirmed that they want more frequent feedback.

The truth is, feedback plays a big part in the employee experience. It’s a tool for enriching employees’ engagement with their current roles, building their capacity for future roles, and if necessary, remedying performance gaps.  There’s a great deal of value unlocked when feedback becomes a normal part of how leaders interact with their team — and the best way to build it into existing relationships is to just start talking about it. This guide will prepare your leaders to begin these conversations with confidence.

How Does Feedback Work?

Feedback takes many forms at work: annual performance reviews, coaching, praise for a job well done, and so on. There’s also the most dreaded form of feedback to give or receive: disciplinary feedback, which is triggered by poor employee performance or conduct. Perhaps due to the stigma about feedback being corrective in nature, many managers feel they lack the necessary skills to deliver it, such as giving direct criticism, being vulnerable and communicating feedback face to face.

To alleviate this stigma, leaders should understand what feedback is. It’s never a one-and-done conversation. Instead, feedback is the beginning of an extended sequence of performance improvement, or “performance maintenance.”

A leader bringing something to an employee’s attention gives them the awareness and information they need to stay on track.  However, better habits take time to build. Mistakes might occur again before that happens, but this doesn’t mean the feedback wasn’t received or isn’t working.  The key to success, like with any learning paradigm, is giving employees time and room to grow, and supporting them on their journey as needed.

3 Tips To Follow

Here are some tips for leaders who want the best chance of success when giving feedback to their team members.

1. Acknowledge why feedback is difficult to give.

Many managers are wary of their employees reacting poorly to feedback, but where do these adverse reactions come from? Often, they come from recipients feeling like their integrity, or even their standing within the company, is threatened.  This is especially true if they believe the feedback was undeserved, which can undermine their motivation and trust in the company. While most employees want constructive feedback, they’ll respond best if that feedback is accurate.

Ensuring fairness in feedback isn’t always a straightforward solution. In a dynamic workplace, expectations sometimes change or become misaligned. Ensuring that feedback is rooted in purposeful goals can help employees see the process as fair. This ensures there’s a reason the feedback is being given, even if it’s uncomfortable to do so. When managers demonstrate that their feedback is purposeful and accurate, employees are much more likely to respect the process and develop a desire to improve their behaviors.

2. Be receptive to employees’ feedback styles.

Who on your team seeks feedback, and who shrinks away from it? Respecting employees’ preferences will go a long way in establishing a productive feedback culture. In contrast, if a leader starts giving feedback out of the blue, some employees might think their competence is being undermined.  Employees have different appetites for feedback, and some are more receptive to it than others.

To help employees adjust, leaders should think of giving feedback less like ripping off a bandage and more like a long-term conversation — similar to coaching. Like any good coach, leaders should take time to learn about each employee’s needs.  Those will run a wide gamut — some employees prefer a delicate approach, and others will crave feedback because it’ll help them grow their career. All preferences are valid, and that mindset will make the feedback process more rewarding for everyone involved — including the leader. Leaders also have their own style, preferences and experiences when it comes to feedback, and opening up about that while giving feedback might inspire some mutual empathy in the conversation.

3. Don’t just focus on fixing problems: Advise employees to grow.

Even if leaders have the best of intentions, reacting to employees’ mistakes with feedback might cause them to associate it with punishment. To set a better tone, help employees frame the feedback they receive.  Feedback can address an immediate problem, but it’s also an opportunity to get on the same page about expectations for success. Let employees know they’ll be given time and support to apply feedback, solidifying that the purpose of feedback isn’t to fixate on past mistakes.

Another part of growth is asking people to focus on their strengths. Compliments enrich the feedback experience by making employees feel valued and making stress easier to deal with — and for some employees, the feedback process itself might be stressful. Given that undervalued employees are likelier to leave their organization, simply prompting your leaders to balance negative feedback with authentic compliments can have exponential returns. The boon of positive feedback doesn’t stop there — giving compliments can naturally increase the frequency of feedback. It’s easier to put feedback on the agenda when employees are looking forward to the reward of positive feedback for all of their hard work.  Compliments shouldn’t be overdone — they need to be authentic, and they shouldn’t overshadow constructive feedback — but they’re still an invaluable tool.

When using these techniques, leaders need the right mindset: No feedback system offers immediate results. To see the benefits of feedback, leaders must demonstrate patience and offer encouragement.  Similarly, organizations must be patient while leaders learn to navigate these conversations. Over time, the barriers that existed for giving feedback will shrink, and a culture of continuous improvement at your organization will grow. Feedback doesn’t need to be perfect for it to have a lasting impact on the organization, so with these tips in mind, encourage your managers to get started.