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We’ve all heard the old saying that feedback is a gift too many times to count, but what we don’t talk about enough is how managers present that gift to their teams. Is it coming all wrapped up beautifully and thoughtfully in a way that makes the gift inside shine? Or is it just dropped into a wrinkled old paper bag, or wrapped up so tightly that it’s a struggle to find what’s inside?

While we can’t give you a tutorial on actual gift-wrapping, it’s a helpful way to think of how you deliver feedback to your team. What’s inside is the most important, but how you package up those insides matters too. This is even more true when the feedback you’re delivering is constructive—managers must learn to deliver feedback both effectively and kindly, which can be a challenging line to walk. 

Whether you’re a brand-new manager or an experienced one, everyone can use some tips on how to give feedback to an employee. These tips and strategies will help any manager deliver feedback that employees will truly listen to and act on. 

manager unsure about gift

3 tips for managers: giving feedback like a pro

1. Find the ideal frequency of feedback 

First, consider how often you’re currently providing your direct reports with feedback. If you’re only delivering feedback during an annual performance review, you’re not alone: half of workers only receive feedback annually or semi-annually. 

But that very infrequent feedback isn’t enough to deliver better employee performance, and it’s definitely not enough to increase engagement. You’ve got to boost the frequency of feedback way, way up to reap the most benefits. Think: weekly instead of annually. 

While this might seem like a lot, the data backs it up: according to Gallup research, a stunning 80% of employees who have received meaningful feedback in the past week are fully engaged. This doesn’t mean you need to go in for an hour of feedback delivered every single week—some weeks it can be a quick 15-minute chat about how a recent meeting went, while others are a deeper, longer review of a big project. 

Giving employees feedback more frequently helps them have a fuller picture of their performance throughout the year so they can make any needed adjustments or develop new skills. 

But it also benefits you as a manager; by committing to giving feedback more often, you’ll get more practice at delivering it. And that practice will make you more comfortable and confident in giving both negative and positive feedback. 

1:1 at work

2. Prepare ahead of time

Even though feedback should be really frequent (and sometimes just a short chat), that doesn’t mean you can go in unprepared. Preparation is, of course, essential for any negative feedback conversations since those are more emotionally challenging for both sides. 

But preparing is important for positive conversations as well—those also need to be thoughtful and specific, especially when discussing a larger project or skills that are critical for the employee’s future career path. 

Preparing ahead of time means you can think carefully and clearly about what you want to say in the discussion. And that careful and clear feedback makes it more likely that your employee will be able to listen to and act on that information. 

… and use SBI (Situation, Behavior, Impact)

While preparing for a weekly feedback session might seem like a lot to put on your already full plate, with a simple but effective framework it’s an easier lift. The Situation-Behavior-Impact framework is a favorite here at Bonusly. Here’s how to use it to frame your performance conversations. 

  1. Describe the situation

First, describe the time and the place where the feedback-worthy incident happened. “I noticed that in our all-hands meeting last week…” lets the employee know exactly what you’re talking about—there’s nothing more frustrating than vague feedback. 

  1. Note the behavior 

Next, note the behavior you’re giving feedback on. “You talked over Tim a few times” or “your presentation was full of really great data points” points out precisely what behavior you’re looking to reign in or reinforce.   

  1. Detail the impact 

To drive home why you’re taking the time to talk about this situation, detail the impact that the behavior had on you, on the team, on a colleague, or the organization as a whole. 

“Talking over Tim meant the meeting flow was disrupted for everyone and we had trouble staying on task,” or “The data you presented gave everyone new insights into how our goals are progressing for the year and that was great for morale” are impact statements that help the employee see the bigger picture. 

Check out even more employee feedback examples!

Don’t fear the follow-up

If you’re delivering difficult feedback about a serious issue, and that kind of behavior is out of character for that employee, it can also be illuminating to follow up on the SBI conversation by exploring why it happened. This conversation might uncover some issue or difficulty you didn’t know about or offer a fuller explanation for the employee’s behavior that helps both of you understand what’s going on and develop a plan to fix it with compassion. 

creative vs analytical brain

3. Have conversations that connect to the person and the bigger picture

Feedback, even constructive feedback, doesn’t need to be something that pits you against your employees—it’s a valuable opportunity for building stronger connections. 

Your employees know that giving difficult feedback is, well, difficult, so when you overcome that fear and deliver the honest and authentic feedback they need to hear to grow, they feel more valued. People pretty strongly prefer receiving corrective feedback over positive feedback, when it’s delivered appropriately. 

When you regularly deliver the holistic feedback that employees need (and want) to hear with empathy and clarity, you’re helping them build the career of their dreams. And that makes them feel a stronger connection to you thanks to your career coaching. 

Plus, you can take the opportunity to connect their performance to the larger goals of the organization as well, which is great for employee engagement. Letting employees know how their hard work contributes to your organization’s success makes for a satisfying and motivating work environment. 

employee idea

The takeaway

Whenever you feel a bit reluctant to deliver feedback to your employees—positive, negative, or both—just think back to the most valuable feedback you’ve received in your career. It likely involved at least a little vulnerability on both sides (good feedback often does), and it might have stung at the moment if it was corrective, but it helped make you the manager, coach, and leader you are today. 

And now you have the opportunity to provide that for your team members—how exciting! These guidelines should help you deliver a gift of feedback that employees are eager to unwrap and use right away. 

Bonusly manager insights cta

“Hey, can I give you some quick feedback?” Nothing strikes fear into the heart quite like that phrase, no matter who it comes from—a trusted colleague or mentor, a direct report, or a senior leader. We’ve all heard the phrase about feedback being a gift too many times to count, but the truth is, sometimes that gift can feel like getting a pile of old worn-out socks all wrapped up. 

Almost all of us still have some very real hangups and anxieties about receiving feedback, even though we value and yearn for it (and want it more than once per year to keep us motivated, engaged, accountable). So while those fears are normal and natural, they also may be holding us back from becoming the best version of ourselves. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to simply sit back and hope that the people around you give you the regular, helpful, and thoughtful feedback you crave—you can develop better ways to receive and act on feedback. Here’s your complete guide to receiving feedback like a pro. 

Receiving feedback is hard 

First, let’s acknowledge just how hard it is to receive feedback, particularly constructive feedback, even when we know that we need it. It’s difficult to hear that you’re doing something wrong, or could use improvement, and that’s only heightened when our career and livelihood depend on us being good at it. 

It’s critical to push through that very natural discomfort because feedback is the best way to grow as an employee, manager, leader, and person. If you never truly know how you’re doing in your role because those around you don’t feel they can be honest with you, you’re creating blind spots that prevent you from reaching your career goals. 

This is true at any level, but it becomes especially essential to proactively receive and act on feedback as you climb the career ladder. People who wouldn’t hesitate to give constructive criticism to an individual contributor understandably get less eager to do that to a manager, and even less to a leader. 

To go back to the feedback as a gift metaphor, if you sulked, shouted, or got defensive every time someone gave you a present, you’d soon stop receiving them. But if you learn how to gather, accept, and act on feedback with acceptance and gratitude, you’ll also gain access to new levels of self-awareness and success. 

How to get better at receiving feedback 

Give yourself grace

The first step in learning how to receive feedback better is to give yourself some grace. This is a hard process, and almost everyone on the planet has struggled with receiving feedback gracefully at some point in their lives. 

Acknowledging your fears around feedback and potential triggers can help you deal with the natural emotions that arise when hearing something negative or critical, even when it’s done tactfully and helpfully. (And it’s especially hard when it’s delivered poorly, which can happen too even with the best intentions.) 

For example, if you’re very proud of your writing skills, having someone critique a document you worked hard on crafting can feel like a personal attack (hi, it’s me and every writer I know!). Accepting that emotions will arise as you start seeking out more feedback can help you understand them and process them so you can focus on what matters: making the improvements that will help you get to where you want to go, at work and in life. 

employee self hug

Enlist your work community

Feedback is not a passive process—it’s a two-way street and an ongoing conversation. That means you don’t need to rely only on yourself to get better at receiving it: you can ask your work community to help you. 

A good first step is talking to your manager about how they think you react to feedback now, since they’re likely the one to give it most frequently, and discuss together how you’d like to improve. You can also ask them to give you feedback more frequently if you’re currently only getting an annual performance review, and even ask them to give you feedback on how you accept feedback (very meta!). Plus, by opening this conversation you can also let them know how you like to receive feedback so your conversations are more productive. 

Once those conversations with your manager feel more comfortable, start asking trusted peers and team members to give you feedback too. You’ll get a more well-rounded perspective on what you’re doing well and what needs improvement and might uncover some areas you hadn’t considered before. 

It can be intimidating to be asked for feedback by a peer or manager, so people might default to generalities or vague answers (or just say, “Everything’s fine!”). To help get that juicy and specific feedback you can act on, you might need to ask for examples of the behaviors they’re talking about or ask about specific areas where you know you need to improve or want to excel. 

Try not to do too much prompting, as it can get in the way of discovering those unknowns you need to know about. Avoid interrupting the feedback-giver with your point of view—-this isn’t a time to argue or defend yourself. And thank everyone who gives you feedback genuinely, even if you don’t agree with the feedback. Gratitude ensures they’ll feel open to doing it again in the future.

manager direct report conversation

Make changes and keep evolving

The hardest part of feedback might be receiving it, but the most important part is next: acting on it to make real changes. This is true at an organizational level, and also at a personal one. All of those people in your work community took time out of their days to offer you feedback (which can be a tough task just like receiving it), and you need to honor that gift by taking action. 

Plus, by asking for and then promptly taking action on feedback from the people around you, you show them that you’re flexible, adaptable, and that you value their thoughts and opinions enough to make real changes. You’re a person who can look objectively at yourself and make changes without fear because you’re looking to be the best version of yourself; that’s a pretty inspiring person to be around, as an employee and as a leader. 

Once you’ve started this process of asking for and acting on feedback, keep it going! Continue to tell the people around you regularly that you’re open for feedback so they know it wasn’t a one-time offer. And now that you know how powerful receiving feedback can be, don’t forget to offer positive feedback to the people around you regularly (and offer constructive criticism when it’s warranted and they’re open to it). 

Receiving all of this feedback has likely made you better at delivering it: you know what kind of feedback is helpful and motivating, and what just makes you feel like a failure. Use this new feedback superpower for good, and you might do more than just change yourself—you could change your whole organization. 

employees looking at growth chart

Takeaways

Feedback is most definitely a gift, and it’s something we know we need and crave more of. But it doesn’t come all wrapped up nicely in pretty paper and a bow—it can bring some baggage, emotions, and fear along with it. With some time, practice, and self-compassion, however, you can get better at asking for and receiving feedback. 

The benefits this practice will bring you go beyond getting a promotion or a raise—they might just help you lead a better, more self-aware life too. That’s worth all of the effort, emotions, and struggles this process might bring up. 

A whole new year is here! You’ve probably already set some goals and resolutions for your personal life to make this year better than ever—going to new places, connecting with old friends and loved ones, and generally becoming your best self. 

Bonusly is here to help you do the same at work in the HR world: we talked to more than 300 HR admins in the U.S. to see what they think this year will bring (plus our suggestions for how to prepare). 

From more human-centered and truly diverse workplaces to the smart, safe use of AI at work and more, here’s what our interviewees and Bonusly teams alike believe will be the biggest HR trends this year, broken down into a brief blog form (check out the full report for more details!). 

workplace checklist

2024: What We See Happening in HR 

1. Human-centric cultures replace grind cultures

Beginning with the Great Resignation in 2020, employees across industries, roles, and tenure have shown their employers what they really value at work: being treated like a whole, real human instead of an anonymous widget. 

And in 2024, this trend will only gain strength. Unemployment rates are still very low, and employees know that they have choices about where to work; it's no surprise that they’re choosing workplaces with cultures that center their humanity over ones that glorify endlessly hustling and grinding. 

What do these human-centric workplaces look like? They all vary (as companies and humans are both unique), but what they do share is this: they prioritize the people inside of their organization, and their experiences as employees. 

Employees in 2024 aren’t going to be willing to settle for anything less, and if they’re unhappy, they’ll make their feelings known with their feet as they head out the door. If your company isn’t putting your people first, this is the year to start figuring out how to do it. 

--> Want more details about what these human-centered cultures will look like, and how to build your own organization this way? Download the full 2024 HR Trends Report! 

2. Performance enablement instead of management

How many times in your career have you left a performance management conversation, like your annual review, feeling a sense of excitement, clarity, and engagement? If you’re lucky, you can probably count those occasions on one hand. In fact, fewer than one in five employees feel inspired by their performance reviews. 

The traditional performance management system is disheartening (to put it mildly). Being “managed” doesn’t give employees a sense of autonomy or empowerment, and can often feel more like being called to the principal’s office as a schoolkid than growing as a professional adult. 

But there’s hope coming in 2024: the rise of performance enablement

Instead of managing employee performance from the top down, HR teams and companies will move to enable employees to perform at their peak and grow within your organization. Instead of only looking backwards at performance, companies will shift to forward-looking conversations to help employees build the careers they want. Instead of asking managers to serve as evaluators and task managers, they’ll be encouraged to act as coaches and career builders, which is a lot more engaging for them as well. 

--> Get the full details on what performance enablement will look like in the 2024 HR Trends Report

3. AI and automation advance (with caution)

In 2023, most of us spent a lot of time (maybe too much time) hearing about everything AI was going to transform—workplaces, interactions, and even our jobs. But as much as we learned about the pretty stunning capabilities of tools like ChatGPT4, we also learned a whole lot about their limitations like hallucinations, copyright issues, and data-sharing. 

Those advances and disadvantages mean 2024 will prove pretty interesting. How will we use AI to increase productivity in HR, drive employee performance, and make organizations more efficient?

But those aren’t the only questions AI will raise in 2024. There’s also a lot of anxiety among employees about how AI will not just transform their jobs, but potentially even replace them. Only 35% of individual contributors expect that AI will have a positive effect on their workplace, while 66% of executives agree (and that tension will be another interesting trend). 

HR teams will have their work cut out for them in 2024 as they work to balance the excitement of executives with employees’ needs and fears. Integrating AI into the employee experience might not be easy due to the legal and security issues at play, but getting it done can help employees focus more on the work they truly enjoy doing. 

--> Dig deeper into the data on AI and HR in the full 2024 HR Trends Report

4. The return to the office really happens 

Many employees left the office en masse in 2020, and employers are eager to get them back to their physical desks. Employees, on the other hand, got used to days free of putting on real pants, commuting, eating a sad desk lunch, and sitting in rush hour traffic or on a packed subway. 

As 2024 starts, employers are just as eager to get employees into the office more often. Nine out of ten companies say they’ll implement RTO policies by the end of this year, and almost 30% say they’ll fire employees who don’t comply. No wonder in-office work has reached a post-pandemic high. 

Many employees don’t mind spending a few days a week in the office—some even like it. But demanding that all employees come back five days per week, every week, to the office because of a vague justification like “company culture” is not going to be popular with employees. 

There are plenty of ways to improve company culture that don’t include spending all day every day in a beige cubicle just because leaders don’t know how to measure productivity accurately. Hopefully, in 2024 we’ll see HR teams get creative here to bridge these divides and find solutions that work for everyone, no matter where they work.

5. Reinventing and reimagining DEI 

In 2024, just focusing on the first third of DEI isn’t going to be enough anymore. While diversity is a great start, it’s clear now that it’s not enough on its own to create fairer and better workplaces. 

It’s also critical to create a workplace where employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work and feel accepted and valued for who they are. That sense of inclusion also means feeling like they have a voice and are able to use it. Equity is also more important than ever, especially with more and more states passing salary transparency laws so employees know what their peers (and managers) are making. 

Companies (and their HR teams) are going to need to focus on a more holistic approach to DEI in 2024, embedding all three pillars of DEI into the foundations of their organizations instead of relying on their old diversity programs. It’s an exciting part of the evolution of the world of work as we build a more inclusive and equitable experience for every employee. 

Takeaways 

While we can’t predict exactly what 2024 will bring in the wider world (like the Super Bowl winner), these HR predictions and trends are backed up by a whole lot of data, expert voices, and hours of internal discussions. We’re confident they’ll help you and your HR team navigate what's sure to be another year of big changes, plus chatter about ChatGPT and commuting. 

Dig deeper into these 2024 HR Predictions and Trends so you’re ready to tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities of this new year—download the full report! 

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