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August 18, 2022

How to give feedback in a company

While it is always easy to praise an employee’s success, you also have to be able to convey critical feedback when necessary. Whether positive or constructive, it is essential to give regular and relevant feedback so that every member of staff and every team is able to orient themselves and progress.

The culture of feedback

Be it on an individual or on a collective basis, to recognise an accomplishment or to signal a need for improvement, feedback is not merely an added bonus for a company – it is one of the keystones of its success. It is therefore vitally important that you manage to establish a culture of regular, honest and trusting dialogue in order to make an ongoing evaluation and highlight the gap between targets and day-to-day reality. The longer the feedback is delayed, the wider this gap is likely to be. Waiting until the annual review before giving the first feedback in 12 months makes the exercise extremely tricky and, more often than not, counterproductive.

The culture of feedback does not just mean one-to-one discussions addressing personal issues, it is also – and perhaps most importantly – the ability to communicate to each other within a team, to talk to each other with sincerity, to pass on in your own words the decisions that have been handed down, and to take responsibility collectively and individually for complying with those decisions. Feedback constantly oils the wheels of human relations and enables progress both individually and collectively.

Positive feedback makes it possible to approve an accomplishment or to give recognition for performance in order to thank and motivate the person or people concerned. When given in a collective setting, positive feedback can encourage team members or other teams to follow their example and strive for similar results or performance. Constructive feedback, on the other hand, aims to raise awareness, to achieve a change of course or warn of the possible consequences of not changing. Whatever the circumstance, feedback is never free. Its goal is to contribute to an improved functioning of the organisation in general, of the team, or of a specific staff member in particular. A good culture of feedback not only increases staff motivation, but also their self-sufficiency and confidence. By going to the root of the problem, it is possible to prevent a situation from deteriorating, which increases the likelihood of achieving set targets.

A good culture of feedback not only increases staff motivation, but also their self-sufficiency and confidence.

In the absence of this feedback, employees are not always aware of the aspects they need to work on. And the longer the feedback is delayed, the more the situation is likely to deteriorate. Whatever your workload, early feedback is therefore crucial to maintain good team performance and ensure a healthy environment among colleagues. Employees, especially Generation Z,  are also likely to seek this feedback from you so they can achieve their maximum potential. Many leaders and managers are shy and are afraid of confrontation. When done properly, however, regular confrontation is the best way to avoid serious conflict. Don’t let bad behaviour set in, it might give others the wrong idea!

The right feedback

To succeed in getting your message across without unnecessary drama or tension, it is important to make your feedback fit the situation, and be natural. If you want to thank someone for an exceptional accomplishment, or noteworthy performance, congratulate them enthusiastically, recounting the specific details that justify your encouragement. Don’t limit yourself to just expressing your satisfaction, but clearly verbalise the reasons for it. If possible, give the person a tip or two to help them maintain the same momentum and take it even further. This is what is famously known as the “virtuous feedback loop” in HR speak.

The purpose of feedback is to help the other person to grow, not to put them down for good.

If you need to provide developmental or disciplinary feedback, you must be careful not to demotivate the staff member. The aim of feedback is to help them to grow, not to put them down for good. There are different techniques for this, such as the “feedback sandwich” (layering corrective criticism between two positive observations) and different methodologies to ensure that things are done properly (e.g. the FEEDA method, acronym for “Facts, Effect, Emotion, Demand, Action”). It isn’t our aim to review all the HR techniques available today. We would simply point out that any feedback, especially when its goal is to bring about a change, should in our opinion include the following elements:

    • state in a kind-hearted and factual way what has been observed and the perceived consequences (what happened);
    • listen in a benevolent and open-minded way to what the staff member has to say based on your statement of the situation (their version of the matter). Do not hesitate to ask questions and take notes if necessary, it shows that you value the other person’s perspective;
    • clearly express your personal assessment of the present situation and the future situation desired (possibly with clearly defined objectives in terms of quantity, quality and deadlines). Besides the desired future situation, also convey clearly the consequences if no note is taken of the feedback;
    • ask the staff member or team to rephrase in their own words what the feedback consists of and the direction given (to make sure everything has been understood).
    • ask the staff member or team to commit to taking note of the feedback and, if applicable, complying with its quantitative and qualitative aspects.
    • set a deadline for a new feedback session on the points raised.

Useful info: unlike negative criticism, which can leave a far longer impression, the effect of positive feedback is more fleeting. A regular “booster shot” will therefore always be appreciated. More generally, neuroscience shows that at least three positive feedbacks are required to balance one negative feedback, otherwise the experience is felt to be negative.

Remain constructive and kind

The best way to get your feedback assimilated, be it instructional or positive, is always to ensure that you present it in the form of constructive criticism. The goal of feedback is not primarily to point the finger at a problem, but to serve as the first step on the road to improvement. Approaching feedback with that mindset makes it easier for both you and the other person because the feedback is then about a situation, a performance and the resulting impact rather than the person’s intrinsic value. At the risk of repetition, giving constructive criticism is much more effective when you rely on:

    • a culture of regular feedback in a spirit of dialogue;
    • the actual or perceived description of the impact resulting from a situation or performance;
    • the good-hearted, explicit expression of a desired future situation;
    • the provision of solutions and means to help the staff member or team achieve the desired outcome. Here, if you really want to help your employee grow professionally, it would be even better to ask them to come back to you with a proposal for solutions and a request for the means to achieve the desired outcome. Your job is to set the course and approve their intended method for achieving it, not to think for them.

For it to take root, this culture cannot be confined exclusively to one-on-one exchanges between manager and staff member.

Help the whole team grow professionally

It takes courage and effort to instil a true culture of feedback within your company, but the payoffs are enormous. For it to take root, this culture cannot be confined exclusively to one-on-one exchanges between manager and staff member. It is a team culture in which regular discussion and good-natured confrontation form the foundations on which each team member’s progress can be built. A true culture of feedback is shared by an entire team, that is, all employees are able to talk to each other and make progress, even when there is no intervention from the manager. It also helps to increase individual and collective resilience, which is fundamental these days.

So to establish this type of culture, you will also have to ensure that a collective course is set and agree on the direction the feedback should take. You will also need to know how to create a good-natured environment where everyone feels there is sufficient trust to receive feedback, but also to give it. Once you have made the commitment, take stock of the tools available to you and adapt the proposed methodology to your situation.

Whatever its nature or its purpose, regular feedback allows all staff members to gain self-confidence and understand how their strengths and weaknesses are perceived by their manager and colleagues. Good feedback must be constructed and argued, empathetic without becoming emotional.