Employee Feedback

Managers Guide to Giving Effective Feedback

Kathleen O'Donnell
January 23, 2024
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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. 

--> Also check out: Manager's Toolkit for Building High-Performing Teams

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. 

--> Also check out: Manager's Toolkit for Building High-Performing Teams

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. 

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