How to give constructive feedback

Workforce Management
JC Cornell

By JC Cornell
August 23, 2022

November 28, 2023

0 min read

For most people, an effective leader is someone that helps their employees become better at their role and facilitates career growth. One of the key ways this is done is through constructive feedback.

Though it may be the most challenging part of employee management, getting comfortable with delivering constructive criticism in a timely manner is essential for facilitating a healthy workplace and minimizing future issues.

1. Be timely

It is important to give constructive feedback immediately upon discovering any issue or problem. Your weekly 1-on-1’s with your team is perfect for raising it.

By talking about any problems in a timely manner, it will be fresh in both your minds. Do not wait until a quarterly or yearly review. By then, it is often too late to fix any problems, and you may be perceived as cowardly for avoiding the conversation.

If you aren’t doing 1-on-1’s, now is the time to start. They are a fantastic opportunity for open conversations that build relationships and trust. As scheduled conversations, they allow you to bring up any problems in a comfortable situation.

This is definitely better than telling an employee, “We need to chat”, and causing them to panic.

2. Be specific

If you are going to be providing constructive feedback, do your employee the courtesy of being specific. Have key data points available at your fingertips, so you are confident about the topic you are discussing.

This is your opportunity to correct their behaviour. Being vague will likely lead to even more confusion and potentially even bigger errors in the future. Focus specifically on the action, behaviour, or issue; do not make it a personal attack. The report was late – not the person was late.

Explain the effect the issue had. This way, your employees won’t feel like they are being attacked personally. Instead, they will feel like your focus is on understanding the situation, fixing it, and avoiding it happening again.

3. Keep it simple

No matter how you structure constructive feedback, too much will be overwhelming and decrease your chance of success.

Focus on two or three important points; any more than that will lead to confusion. It will also seem like you have been saving up all these negatives for one conversation instead of providing constructive feedback in a timely manner.

Your feedback should be welcomed as valuable advice, not a barrage of complaints.

4. Listen well

Remember that this is a conversation, not an accusation.

Listen for key information and ask good questions. You want to make sure you aren’t focusing on the wrong problem.

Generally, as a manager, you only see a part of your team’s work. Without knowing the whole situation, you cannot understand the real issue.

If someone has made the same error in their reporting several times, tell them precisely what the error is and what report it was in. Ask them if they are aware of the mistake, and listen to their response to why it is happening.

You may find out that they weren’t trained correctly, have 20 reports due on the same day, or are simply stretched too thin.

Listen, think, and then react.

5. Create an action plan

If you are going to provide constructive feedback, you need to provide actionable items for improvement. Don’t assume they have understood what is expected of them. Make sure they actually understand.

After this conversation, the employee should feel they have a clear direction to follow. Email them an outline of what you discussed and how they are to move forward. This way, everyone is on the same page.

Schedule follow-up meetings to discuss progress. During these follow-ups, focus on the actions being taken, not the initial situation. Give positive recognition.

6. Keep notes

Make notes on your initial discussion for their employee file. This provides a framework for conversations when quarterly reviews come along and allows you to discuss improvements they’ve made over the year.

You can then be able to give credit where it is due based on concrete facts. Also, you can provide these notes to HR if a situation worsens.

Other things to keep in mind

  • Take a moment to ensure that your unconscious bias towards this person does not cloud your judgment of the situation. Watch your body language
  • Be aware that the words you use are always subject to interpretation. Be sure the message you send is what is actually being received by the employee. Stay away from confusing and annoying office jargon.
  • Be sure you are not coming off as condescending or overly aggressive. Be supportive, not superior.
  • Completely avoid saying the following phrases: “If I were you…”; “You always…”; and Everyone has mentioned/noticed that…”

Giving great constructive feedback is up to you

You don't need to look far to find examples of leaders who give great constructive feedback. Look at the great leaders you have had in your career. Then, focus on what worked well with their approach.

Start there, and you will do well with any constructive feedback you need to provide in your leadership role.

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