Give Employee Feedback That Actually Makes a Difference

An employee mistake or bad habit can cost managers and business owners time and money. It’s a frustrating reality that leaves all but the best communicators stymied. But improving employee performance isn’t a matter of eliminating mistakes (impossible) or punishing harshly (ineffective). Providing feedback is a key part of any manger’s toolkit, and that means communicating effectively, setting expectations, and giving your wayward workers the resources needed to improve. In this post, we’re offering a handful of recommendations that will help you conduct proper employee evaluations and give employee feedback that actually makes a difference.

Be Direct

When you’re a part-time worker, several things are on your mind at all times. The tasks you must perform, favorability with management, and, most of all, job status. Part-time work affords the opportunity to make a menial living, but not without some inherent risk, and that risk is constantly on the minds of these employees whose status is in a constant state of flux depending on organizational need and hours of availability.

For this reason, any conversation, positive or negative, should be straight-forward and to the point. Padding a negative conversation with patronizing platitudes adds unnecessary consternation to an already challenging situation. Furthermore, if your conversation is of a positive nature, failing to make this apparent up front can lead to mixed messages. Know what your goal is before you begin the conversation, make your intent apparent, and communicate it concisely without waffling.

Avoid Vagueness

The most challenging aspect of communication lies in the disparity between your intent and your actual words. A conversation intended to change employee behavior may fall flat if you’re unclear about what needs to be changed. Furthermore, a congratulatory conversation can seem like a disciplinary meeting if your tone and words don’t reflect that fact.

With your topic and intention identified, your words should be as clear and concise as possible. Is an employee texting on the job? Tell them. Did someone do a great job during the lunch hour on Tuesday? Tell them. Identify specific instances and have the courage to clearly point out what was great about their performance, what you’d like repeated in the future, and what could be improved. Have no doubt that a message without the brevity needed to communicate effectively will fall flat, and harm your authority in the process.

Focus on Specific Issues

Good communication, even in difficult situations, is predicated on clarity and understanding between two parties. If you’re walking into a conversation with an employee without a clear list of topics, then things can go awry rather quickly.

Effective constructive feedback does not attempt to solve all of an employee’s faults at once. Doing so would be a futile task. Instead, it identifies one thing at a time and stays within the boundaries of that context. For example, if your staff has a tendency to socialize during busy hours, focus on that. Do not bring issues like efficiency, punctuality, or attention to detail into the conversation at this time, since doing so dilutes your primary point. Focus on this one issue, and both you and your employee will have a better idea what’s expected of them going forward.

Provide Observations, Not Interpretations

You obviously can’t look over your employees’ shoulders at all times. In assigning tasks, you’re placing trust in your employees to get the job done. Unfortunately, their success or failure at these tasks can reach your attention through less-than-reliable channels, including gossip, hearsay, and general interpretation of events.

When providing feedback, this “evidence” is just as valid as if it were presented in court. Speculation, interpretation, and the conversation of disgruntled employees can lead to a heavily skewed situation, turning a constructive meeting into a he-said-she-said debate. Instead of relying on this information, provide observations; “last Wednesday, I noticed that you arrived 15 minutes late” over “it seems like you’re always late.” Doing so puts the conversation on solid ground and gives your employee specific instances to work with.

Offer Actionable Takeaways

If you’ve been direct in your approach, concise in your message, specific in your focus, and objective in your evaluation, then you’re off to a fantastic start. However, feedback meetings aren’t about momentary change or practicing your communication skills.

The last step to providing constructive feedback is ending with actionable takeaways. In the case of our late employee, this may include “arriving 10 minutes early is important in making sure you’re ready to go.” A specific number is mentioned ensuring easy evaluation and tracking, the employee understands why they need to arrive early, and both of you have a clear picture of requisite expectations. Provide direction, accountability, and context, all with clarity and professionalism.

No workplace is without its issues. Success lies not in punishing mistakes, but in providing clear, understandable, and actionable feedback when the need arises. Be direct in your message and avoid unclear messages. Focus on specific issues and provide objective observations. Finally, offer takeaways that an employee can act on, and your working relationship, results, and customer satisfaction will see tangible results.

Give Employee Feedback That Actually Makes a Difference