How to give feedback to employees

How to give feedback to employees

by Kandice Head


Published on 11.09.2019

What makes the difference between an ineffective work relationship and a great one? Sometimes it’s as simple as feedback. Feedback, and how it's shared, can catalyze big changes in work experience, team dynamics, and company culture. Is there a mutual trust between those involved? Is it provided proactively, or limited to annual performance reviews?

Feedback does not have to be an elephant in the room. When provided properly, it can motivate and engage employees, optimize the work process and create a culture of ownership and accountability. However, providing feedback can be challenging if there is not an established foundation for goals and expectations. Lack of clear communication and alignment on objectives is where many work relationships break down. This is where implementing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can help.

How can OKRs help the feedback process?

The Objectives and Key Results framework is a collaborative goal-setting approach that helps teams set aspirational goals (objectives) with specific and measurable action items called key results. Implementing OKRs lays the groundwork for a productive, goal-oriented environment that takes the stress out of providing feedback. By clarifying shared goals and expectations, the OKR framework creates a natural and fluid feedback process in a lightweight approach that builds mutual trust.

Once OKRs are chartered, feedback can be as simple as meeting with an employee one-on-one following a project or quarter, reviewing the objectives, assessing whether or not they were met, and evaluating why or why not—in a process called “Conversations, Feedback, and Recognition,” or CFRs.

CFRs create a space for more direct questions and feedback and keep the dialog focused on work and changing inputs and outputs. They naturally limit common misunderstandings caused by poorly phrased feedback. However, whether or not you formally implement OKRs, the basic elements of CFRs apply to every performance review or feedback conversation. So next time you sit down with an employee to discuss performance, keep the following elements in mind:

  1. Conversation. The conversation aspect frames the discussion and forthcoming feedback. It helps the manager and employee engage in a thoughtful debrief around objectives and expectations. Keep in mind the importance of a two-way exchange at this moment and make sure the other party has a chance to be heard. During the conversation, take the time to ask the employee what they feel they need to be successful in the role (i.e. additional resources, more time, more delegation, more direction). This is also a time for valuable dialogue about the objectives. Were they attainable? Why or why not? Should the objectives or job responsibilities be restructured?

  2. Feedback. First and foremost, effective feedback is specific and fair. Ambiguity can often lead to defensiveness. When an employee feels the need to defend themselves, they are less likely to be receptive to the information they need to improve. Therefore, it is important to build context and provide specific examples. Secondly, your feedback should be purposeful and well-intended. Distinguish clearly between a pattern of unproductive behavior and an isolated incident. Lastly, focus on what’s next. Share what decisions might have been made differently in a specific situation. Are your recommendations for improvement actionable? What are your ideas for a new approach? In the book “Measure What Matters”, John Doerr wrote, "Feedback is asking the right questions — emphasize discovery of a better way, less judgment of the person and more mutual uncovering of a better path forward based on what we know.”

  3. Recognition. Acknowledging effort, energy, progress, and small milestones accomplished along the way is imperative. Recognition communicates an employee’s value and contributes to their overall sense of belonging in an environment. Recognition should also be timely and specific. Provide examples of what employees are doing well in real-time in addition to feedback conversations. It is important to build and contribute to a company or organizational culture of gratitude and appreciation.

Once again, providing feedback to employees does not have to be an awkward or uncomfortable experience. If done well, it can boost morale and improve overall team performance. Allow the feedback process to work for you by being transparent and having an open dialogue about expectations and outcomes. Provide feedback proactively, fairly and purposefully. And never miss an opportunity to thank employees for their contributions.

Where can I get more information?

If you decide to use OKRs and or CFRs to help guide your feedback process, let us know how it goes by emailing us here. You can also learn more about OKRs by reading "Measure What Matters" or exploring more FAQs, Resources, and Stories, right here at WhatMatters.com.

Kandice Head (@KandyLanae) is a communications specialist and storyteller who writes for WhatMatters.com.


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Get exclusive guidance from John, Ryan, and the What Matters team by signing up for our weekly newsletter, Audacious. You’ll learn week-by-week how to sharpen your OKRs and stay on track to reach your goals.