What is constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback is a form of guidance that identifies areas for improvement and offers solutions or strategies to an employee. This form of feedback is supportive and thoughtful with the goal of helping the receiver, in your case your employee, improve their work performance.
Why is constructive feedback important?
Constructive feedback is a vital component of the manager-employee relationship. Often, employees, especially those new to the organization or new to the workforce in general, don’t know what they’re doing well and what could use improvement in their position. Constructive feedback does two important tasks:
- It identifies areas for improvement in the employee’s work performance.
- It provides suggestions and strategies for improving.
Constructive criticism is constructive because it seeks to help the employee improve, not just to point out flaws or areas of low performance. Without constructive criticism, some employees would have no idea that they need to improve and would continue to perform below their ability.
What’s the difference between constructive feedback, positive feedback and criticism?
Most people acknowledge three distinct types of feedback. Understanding the differences can help you more effectively provide feedback to your employees:
Constructive feedback, which is also occasionally called constructive criticism, is a type of feedback that focuses on areas for improvement and how to get better at a certain skill or task. While the initial identification of a weakness may cause your employee to feel embarrassed or upset, they should feel supported and able to improve their work with strategies and a plan.
Positive feedback is the identification of the employee’s strengths and accomplishments. Sharing positive feedback helps the employee know where they’re excelling and boost their morale. Often, when delivering general feedback, managers provide both positive and constructive feedback so the employee has a sense of how they’re performing holistically.
Criticism is when a manager points out an employee’s weaknesses without any suggestions for improvement or support for moving forward. Most employers rarely use criticism since it puts the person on the defensive, making them feel badly about their work and themselves. Whenever possible, it’s best to focus on how the employee can use their skills to improve their weaknesses rather than concentrating exclusively on the weaknesses themselves.
Situations where an employer might need to provide constructive feedback
While you can provide constructive feedback at any time, there are a few situations in which providing constructive feedback is vital:
- Performance reviews: Performance reviews, which are often annual, biannual or quarterly, are one of the best times to share general constructive criticism with your employees.
- Incidents: Following an incident, like a poor interaction with a customer, you should immediately counsel your employee and provide constructive feedback for how to react next time.
- Projects: After a project concludes, sharing both positive and constructive feedback is prudent, since the tasks and processes will be fresh on the minds of the team.
Tips for giving constructive feedback to employees
Use these ten tips to help you effectively and compassionately share constructive feedback with your employees:
1. Offer observations
Focus on observations rather than character judgments. For example, if the employee turned in a report late, make note of the behavior by saying, “I saw your report was late this week,” rather than, “You never manage your time well.” Using “I” statements and focusing on the employee’s actions will help them feel they can make a positive change.
2. Be direct
State the feedback clearly and directly. It can be tempting to try and make the feedback less harsh, but your employee should fully understand the extent of the issue, so they can work to make a positive change.
3. Display empathy
Show empathy to your employee. They may feel upset or ashamed when presented with an error or a poor performance record. Explain that you know they have the skills to improve their work and that you’re sharing the constructive feedback because you believe in their abilities.
4. Show sincerity
Be sincere in your feedback and advice. Receiving constructive feedback can make many employees feel very vulnerable. Knowing that you care about them and you’re sincere in your efforts to help them improve will motivate them to make the changes you suggest.
5. Converse in person
Whenever possible, hold these conversations in person and in private. If you or your employee works remotely, have a phone or video conversation rather than sharing constructive feedback over email or text chat. Discussing areas for improvement as a conversation will help the employee feel they’re a part of the process.
6. Provide guidance
Be sure to provide guidance to your employee after sharing the area for improvement. After stating the issue, incident or area of poor performance, immediately offer suggestions and strategies for how your employee can improve the situation.
7. Explain why
Provide an explanation for why you’re sharing constructive feedback. In most cases, it will be because you believe the employee has the ability to improve and you want to see them succeed at the company. Offering them an explanation will help them feel prepared to make changes.
8. Prepare your employee
At the start of the conversation, whether it’s a performance review, response to a specific incident or at the end of a project, let the employee know that you’ll be sharing some constructive feedback. Even if it’s only a few minutes’ notice, it will help the employee mentally prepare to receive the feedback.
9. Include positive feedback
Include positive feedback as a part of the whole feedback conversation. Showing the employee that you notice and appreciate the excellent and positive work that they do for the company will more than likely help them feel better about hearing the areas in which they can improve and implementing the strategies you suggest for improvement.
Give your employee space and time to share their feelings and ideas after giving constructive criticism. Depending on the specifics of the feedback, it may take them a few minutes to process the information and formulate a response or questions. Allow them to ask any follow-up questions and contribute to the solution.
Giving constructive feedback to your employees is an important and necessary job. Ensure you take steps to make the employee comfortable when offering ways to improve their work performance.