Providing feedback to others in the workplace

Recently while reading through research conducted by DDI in 2011, some interesting statistics attracted my attention. Of 1,279 employees surveyed from around the world, only 49% of employees believe that their managers give them feedback most of the time or always. Furthermore only 64% of employees believe that their manager handles work conversations efficiently most of the time (meaning that nearly a third of employees don’t feel that managers handle conversations well with them most of the time or at all). Unfortunately, after reflecting on these figures, I would have to say that these findings haven’t come as big surprise to me.

A regular part of my working week involves coaching clients to provide difficult feedback to others. This includes discussing with managers their strategies to deliver performance appraisals with their team, developing skills for individuals to give feedback to their managers and working with hiring managers to give feedback to unsuitable candidates. Even though the context of each of these situations is different there is a commonality in relation to providing feedback on the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly in relation to an individual’s performance. Another commonality which pops up in these situations is the fear of the unknown. This includes how the person is going to respond; will they get emotional, create an argument or just sit in silence?

From our experience with coaching clients in providing feedback, there are some general steps that can be employed to make sure that the feedback session is mutually beneficial and constructive for both parties.

  1. Prepare for the feedback session. Make sure that you identify the specific points that you want to address and have concrete data or examples to support them.
  2. Conduct feedback in an appropriate environment and schedule in enough time. Don’t provide feedback in a busy lunch room or when you know that you will be worrying about the feedback session spilling into your next appointment.
  3. When conducting the feedback follow a structure which can include the following:
    • Highlight the genuine positives of the person’s work and performance
    • Use questions with the individual to gain insight into their own perception on their performance. This process is often more effective than making statements alone and will help with seeing if you are both on the same page.
    •  Share the concrete data you have collected and the impact it has on the business. Avoid making it personal.
    • Explore the data with the other person and get their opinion on it. Remember you only have one side of the picture and your job is to also understand their side. For feedback to be effective, it needs to be a two way process.
    • Discuss a way forward or a course of action to improve performance and to resolve the issue.
    • Ask for feedback on how the other person found the conversation.

4.  Reflect on the feedback session afterward. Review the things that you think worked and didn’t work. Use this knowledge to improve next time.

Remember giving feedback can be one of the most valuable things we can do as manager or as a colleague. If done correctly the fear can be removed and the benefits of the process can really shine.


Useful readings:
Weaver, P & Mitchell, S. Lessons from Leaders from People Who Matter – How Employees Around the World View Their Leaders. (2011)


Anjali Nimbkar, Management Psychologist