How to Give Feedback to an Employee – A Model For Feedback

As a leader, it can be incredibly difficult to give feedback to an employee, especially if it is about poor performance.  However, on the flip side, if you don’t give the feedback, the employee has little chance of improving their performance.  I’ve had to give serious feedback to employees on multiple occasions, even so tough love just this week.  Here are a few thoughts on how to best give feedback to an employee.

 

Performance Feedback

Giving performance feedback to an employee is the toughest thing you can do as a leader, especially if it is negative (but for shy leaders, even positive feedback or recognition can be tough).  The most important things you can do when giving performance feedback are:

  • Be Direct
  • Be Honest
  • Cite Specific Examples

Being direct is key.  This is hard, but you need to just tell it like it is.  Stick to lines like “your performance isn’t meeting expectations” or “this work was unacceptable”.  While it sounds harsh, it is necessary.  Being vague can leave the employee feeling even more unsure.

You also need to be honest.  If their performance is going to lead to termination, say so.  If their performance has jeopardized potential advancement opportunities, call it what it is.  Honesty will make the employee at least feel like you’re being real with them.

Finally, cite specific examples.  “Performance” is such a general term.  If an employee generally wants to improve, they need something concrete to go after.  For example, look at the difference between saying “I’m really not happy with your reports” versus “I’m really not happy that you aren’t checking the math in your reports and are using inaccurate calculations”.  That way, the employee truly knows what isn’t working, and how they can improve it.

 

Conduct Feedback

Conduct feedback is a different than performance feedback because there is something much more specific that needs to be improved upon.  However, conduct feedback tends to be more awkward than performance feedback because the employee could feel like you’re attacking who they are as a person, not just their work.

The biggest types of conduct feedback that need to be given revolve around: professionalism (swearing, language, etc.), harassment (sexual or non-sexual), or even things like attendance.

Once again, the key is to be straight forward and honest, and let the person know what specific behaviors are inappropriate.  For example, don’t just say “you’ve been late to work”, instead, say “you’ve been late on the following days: 10/15/12 by 25 minutes…”  This shows the real impact of their actions, not just a generality.

 

Upward Feedback

Finally, upward feedback is by far the most difficult, but sometimes the most necessary if you want things to improve.  Use the same things that you would for performance, but you need to make sure that you’re also being proper.  Don’t get animated when giving upward feedback, but always cite real examples.  Also, realize that your feedback may be totally ignored – that is the prerogative (although a dumb one).

 

The Model

In all of these situations, here is a simple model that you can use when giving feedback –

Describe: Describe the problem honestly, citing specific examples.

Elaborate: Explain how this is a problem, and for whom (i.e. the individual, the organization, the customer).

Improvement Required: Tell them how they can improve.

Consequences: Let them know what will happen if they don’t.

Using some of the above examples, here is how the model could play out for performance:

Emily, your performance has not been satisfactory over the last few months.  You’ve been late turning in your TPS reports each week, and they have had factual errors.  For example, your report from last week used the wrong figure for revenue, making all your calculations incorrect.

Emily, this has a big impact of the company because not having proper accounting can really cause us to lose money and end up having to close.

Going forward, you need to make sure your reports are turned in on time, and they need to be accurate.  If you don’t fix this right now, we’re going to have to let you go.

You may think it is very harsh, but it is also very clear on what is wrong, what needs to be improved on, and the consequences of not improving.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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