Whether you’re entirely new to management, or simply stepping into a role that involves managing new people, one of the fundamental skills you need to master is the art of giving great feedback.
Giving (and receiving) feedback is a core part of being a manager. Done right, it helps the people you manage to expand their skills, work more effectively, and stay motivated in their jobs. Research shows that managers who score the highest in giving feedback have direct reports who are three times more engaged than those managed by their leaders who score the lowest.
Unfortunately, not every manager makes giving feedback a priority. According to research by HR software company, OfficeVibe, over a quarter of employees don’t feel they get frequent enough feedback from their manager to be able to improve.
Fortunately, as a new manager, you are in an ideal place to start giving feedback. By making giving effective feedback a priority from day one, you’ll soon find it becomes second nature.
Giving feedback may feel awkward at first, especially when you need to suggest areas for improvement or help someone reflect on something that has gone wrong.
However, it is worth pushing through the discomfort – your employees will benefit in the long run, and your relationship with them will be better if they know they can trust you to be honest and fair.
In this blog post, we’ll explore different types of feedback and when they are useful. We’ll also discuss some of the strategies you can use to give great feedback to your direct reports.
Types of Feedback
Formal and Informal
Sometimes we think that giving feedback in the workplace is reserved for formal occasions like performance reviews or one-to-one meetings.
In fact, feedback can be either formal or informal, and the best managers make use of both. While formal opportunities for feedback should always be part of an employee’s development plan, informal opportunities crop up more frequently and can help you develop your relationship with the individual.
Informal feedback can be as simple as a quick “I loved how you handled that difficult situation” or “this piece of work isn’t up to your normal standard, what’s going on?”. It is an in-the-moment opportunity to pass on praise or raise an issue in a low-stakes way.
Formal feedback, on the other hand, offers more opportunities for reflection and intentional planning. It is usually part of a pre-arranged meeting.
Positive and Negative, Destructive and Constructive
Positive feedback is always the easiest to give. It is praise, thanks, and appreciation for a job well done. Used right, it leaves employees feeling valued and motivated.
However, positive feedback can be overused, especially if we aren’t specific enough about the praise. If we always say “good job” when someone carries out a normal, everyday task, they stop valuing the feedback. So, positive feedback should always be specific and genuine.
Negative feedback is when we need to tell an employee that something isn’t going well. No one likes hearing they aren’t doing a good job, so this type of feedback can feel awkward to deliver. But it is something necessary, and we do our direct reports no favors if we pretend things are going well when they aren’t.
The danger with negative feedback is that the person receiving it can easily become demotivated if all they receive is criticism. This is destructive feedback, and it focuses solely on what has gone wrong. Avoid this type of feedback!
Instead, when we need to give negative feedback, we want to focus on making it constructive. We acknowledge that something hasn’t gone well but focus on how the person can do better in the future, not what they did wrong in the past.
Another way to handle critical or negative feedback is to take a coaching approach. We’ll discuss this more below.
Just a quick note before we move on to tips and techniques for giving feedback. Often, you’ll see people recommending the “feedback sandwich” approach to giving negative feedback.
This is when you open with positive feedback, put the negative feedback in the middle, and then close with more positive feedback.
In theory, this sounds like a great approach. The problem is that most people know about it, and it can therefore end up feeling manipulative or inauthentic. It can also confuse the recipient of the feedback, muddling your message so that they aren’t sure what next steps to take to improve.
You might find yourself naturally using this approach from time to time, and we’re not saying you need to avoid it entirely. But try to find other, clearer ways to impart feedback whenever you can.
Feedback Techniques to Try
Now that we’re clear on what types of feedback there are, let’s look at some techniques and tips you can use to give great feedback as a new manager.
1. Kind, Clear, and Genuine
First of all, let’s talk about how you should approach delivering any kind of feedback. And that is to be kind, clear, and genuine.
Start by being clear with yourself about your aims in sharing the feedback. How will hearing this be helpful to your employee? Feedback should never be about telling someone off, manipulating them through inauthentic praise, or just ticking a “good manager” box. You should always know why you are delivering feedback and how it will help the other person improve.
Feedback should also be about work and not about personality. And it should come from a place of kindness and empathy – especially when you need to deliver negative feedback. If you genuinely care about your employee and want to help them do better, it will come through in your tone and delivery.
Finally, feedback should be as clear and direct as you can make it. This can feel uncomfortable! When we need to discuss areas for improvement, it is tempting to beat around the bush or soften our message to make it easier for our employees to hear.
But feedback is only useful if it is honest and understandable. We do our direct reports a disservice if we let our own comfort prevent us from letting them know where they could improve.
2. Specific and Actionable
Giving feedback also demands that we are as specific as possible. This goes for any time you give feedback, whether it is positive or negative.
In the case of praise, “hey, great job” sound significantly less genuine and motivating than “that was a great presentation – well structured, clear, and I loved the way you used graphics to illustrate your point.”
As for criticism, when we can point to specific examples, we make it clear what went wrong, how it affects our work, and open the door to discuss how the employee could approach it differently in the future. This keeps the focus on work instead of the individual and helps to illustrate the issue clearly.
When we are specific in our feedback, we also find it easier to make it actionable, which is another vital aspect of effective feedback.
In the example above, the employee will know to structure future presentations similarly. And when we’re offering negative feedback, we can use specific examples as the basis to explore alternative scenarios, showing how the person can approach the same issue differently next time around.
3. In the Moment
We saw at the start how many employees don’t feel their managers give them feedback frequently enough. One way to prevent this is to look for opportunities to offer quick feedback in the moment, instead of waiting for a more formal opportunity.
This is an informal type of feedback, and it helps you to develop a relationship with your direct reports where feedback is normal and expected. Then, when you come to more formal occasions like their annual appraisal, both of you are comfortable discussing feedback openly and directly.
Giving in-the-moment feedback doesn’t need to be time-consuming or onerous. Indeed, it often feels more authentic when it is done quickly and off the cuff. Just remember to be clear, specific, and kind.
4. In a Formal Setting
Of course, ever line-management relationship should also include more formal opportunities for feedback. As well as the annual appraisal process, which is usually the most established format for formal feedback, you can use your regular one-to-ones to give feedback and help your direct reports set performance goals.
More formal settings like these give you and your employee a chance to be more reflective and intentional about giving feedback and using it to shape their development plan. Both of you should take time to prepare in advance, and you may use a form or pre-agreed questions to guide your discussion.
Formal feedback should also be captured in writing and should include an agreed set of actions. Don’t forget to follow up on these at subsequent one-on-ones.
On occasion, you may need to hold a feedback meeting with your employee outside of your usual regular one-on-ones, especially if there’s something that needs immediate in-depth discussion.
If this is the case, schedule that meeting as soon as you can and be clear with the person beforehand about what you’ll be discussing and what the aims are. Make sure they understand the intention is to be helpful and support their development, not to shame them or punish them.
5. The Coaching Approach
An approach that can be especially useful with motivated employees is the coaching approach. Instead of giving feedback yourself, this invites the person to reflect on their own performance and consider what they did well and what they could improve.
Coaching can often be more time-consuming than simply offering feedback yourself, but it is worth the extra effort. It is an empowering method of managing someone that helps them take ownership of their own work and professional development.
To take this approach, ask the person to have a debrief meeting with you and start by asking “how do you feel that went?”. Listen actively to their answers and follow up with questions like, “is there anything you wish you’d done differently?” or “how would you approach this same situation in the future?”
This approach may not always work with staff members who are new to their roles, who lack confidence, or who struggle with self-awareness, so choose your moment.
It is also perfectly OK to start off with a coaching approach and then move into giving direct feedback if you sense the employee isn’t ready for this just yet or needs more guidance in this specific instance. Just make sure you have genuinely given coaching enough of a chance before you switch – it does take patience.
6. A Two-Way Street
Finally, giving feedback should never be a one-way process. Your direct reports should have plenty of opportunities to have their say, respond to your comments, and work with you to come up with suggestions and solutions.
You also need to be open to receiving feedback yourself. Sometimes it might be appropriate to ask your direct reports how they felt you handled the conversation. Other times, you’ll want to seek feedback from your own manager, who can help you refine your skills.
Giving effective feedback is one of the most important skills for any new manager to master. By focusing on being clear, kind, genuine, and specific, you can learn to give feedback in a way that motivates your employees and supports their professional development.