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Feedback at work is often given to evaluate an employee’s contribution and plan on how they could improve their work to get even better results in the future. The importance of feedback at work should not be underestimated; however, there are ways in which feedback should, and should not, be delivered for it to be successful.
What is feedback?
Feedback is information that is relayed, that gives a reaction to or opinion of, a product, service, or a person’s performance.
Feedback might be verbal or written and it could be delivered in a formal or informal way.
Depending on the situation and purpose of the feedback, you might expect it to be delivered:
- Face to face (either in a meeting or more casually in a conversation).
- In a focus group.
- In an email.
- As annotations on a piece of work.
- Online (this is especially common for reviews of service-based businesses).
- On a written form (such as one for an annual review).
Feedback from a member of the management team that is given to an employee will often focus on:
- Behaviour – A certain behaviour or activity – This could be how a project was handled or a client was spoke to.
- Effect – The effect that this had – What results came from it and how this impacted the team, the business, and the customer.
- Learning – What steps can be taken in the future to improve/replicate it – Here, effective feedback would discuss maintaining positive outcomes and how to work to solve negative ones.
Sometimes feedback might be given organically, for example your boss passes your desk and sees a part of a project you are working on and stops to discuss it. This feedback would usually be very specific.
Other times, giving feedback might be a company requirement – this is especially true for feedback that has to be delivered periodically, such as during an annual performance review. This feedback would most likely be more general, but for it to be effective it is important to pick out specific examples and reiterate them with facts and data. Delivering a general overview to a colleague will not help them to improve their performance or give them an understanding of the importance of feedback at work.
Feedback should be genuine and the person providing it should be engaged, rather than it lapsing into a ‘tick box’ style exercise that has little purpose or substance.
What does feedback provide?
Feedback lets workers and businesses know what they are doing well and areas they could improve on, as well as what they should be focussing on and what they could be doing more (or less) of.
Sometimes when you are in the middle of a situation or activity it can be very difficult to step back and evaluate it successfully. Effective feedback is a great way to gain an objective opinion and evaluation.
Effective feedback, if delivered well, can:
- Increase staff morale – Workers who receive regular, constructive feedback have direction and feel appreciated.
- Help with the success of future projects – Feedback can identify what went well and what could be improved. It is important that feedback includes ideas on steps for the future and not just the here and now. It will help with cohesion and understanding.
- Improve relations between workers and their line managers/supervisors – Workers who are praised for their positive output and helped when they are struggling will feel valued. They will also see their manager as someone to respect and turn to for assistance rather than as an adversary or someone to avoid.
- Instigate improvements to the customer experience – Listening to customer feedback is vital for any business. End-users can provide insights that those within the company cannot. Effective feedback within the workforce can also serve to remind staff that the customer is at the centre of what they do and motivate them to get those positive mentions online for delivering great service.
- Cause employees to feel motivated and valued – When someone takes the time to evaluate and compliment or suggests helpful improvements, it shows that they are engaged. It makes colleagues feel seen and that their contribution is important and that they are valued by their manager.
Feedback that is not constructive or is poorly delivered or biased will have the opposite effects, including damaging the morale of the team, creating poor relations between workers and management, jeopardising future projects and ultimately impacting on the service the client or customer receives.
Feedback should be as constructive as possible. In a highly emotional situation, where an employee has made a significant error or a serious complaint has been received, it is best to keep initial feedback to a minimum. Comprehensive feedback should be delivered at a later date, in a calm and professional manner.
Who should deliver feedback?
Feedback would usually be given by a member of the management team to an employee. This could be as part of an appraisal, before, during or after a project, or in response to some third-party feedback (positive or negative). Although this is the traditional business model in which feedback is exchanged, there are other ways that employees may receive important feedback.
It is estimated that over 90% of customers check online reviews before making a purchase or visiting a business. With the rise in popularity of online reviews and websites dedicated exclusively to this, customers now have the power to evaluate a business and publish this publicly.
Customers can provide feedback about their experience and suggest how it could be improved or highlight any outstanding service they have received, even mentioning colleagues by name. Most businesses do pay attention to what is being said about them online and might use some of these customer reviews as a basis for their own evaluations of their workers.
As an employee, there may be times when you realise that you really need some feedback. This could be because you are working on a particularly challenging project, are feeling out of your depth or may just need an objective opinion on something. In this instance, you should not be afraid to ask for feedback, either from your manager or one of your colleagues. Being able to give and receive feedback within a team helps for a cohesive working environment.
During a project that is large scale or has a lot of moving parts, it is sometimes helpful for individuals to be able to get together and give feedback in a focus-group type setting, particularly in the planning stages. Being able to interact and evaluate as part of a group in this way provides vital research data and offers important insights.
Why is feedback important in the workplace?
Feedback in the workplace is important to individuals because it helps them to see areas where they need to improve and in areas which can help with their future performance at work. It is also important to remind staff when they are doing a great job, especially in fast faced and high pressured environments.
Feedback might be particularly useful to those who struggle with confidence issues, are new to a job or have recently taken on a new role within the workplace. In this instance, feedback can help them to feel valued and to stay on track.
The way an employee reacts to feedback also gives employers an insight into their maturity, dedication and suitability to the task in hand.
Workplace feedback is important in all industries and at all levels. From entry-level hospitality workers to business executives, the drive to grow and improve our efforts exists.
Being able to understand and act based on feedback received might also help to:
- Give workers a better chance at promotion.
- Improve the future job prospects of employees.
- Allow workers to receive a glowing reference if they decide to move on.
- Increase the standards of health and safety within the workplace.
Why is constructive feedback so important?
The way in which feedback is delivered, including the words and tone used and the meaning behind it, makes the difference between feedback being effective or not. This is also known as how constructive the feedback is.
- Is clear and concise.
- Comments made are attached to real-life examples and facts.
- Should be sincere, objective and professional.
- Might highlight the consequences of certain actions (both positive and negative) and suggest improvements.
- Has a point – To motivate, improve, help etc and focusses on the person being appraised rather than the emotions of the person giving the feedback.
- Can be vague and with little substance to it.
- Comments might portion blame or make complaints, with no facts to back them up.
- Might be subjective, overly personal and delivered in a rude or aggressive way.
- Gives little in the way of guidance for future output and makes no useful suggestions for future performance.
- Seems like it is given for the sake of it – the opinions of the person giving the feedback are the main motivation.
Examples of different ways to provide similar feedback:
“That speech you gave to the investors earlier was boring. Someone overheard some of your colleagues saying they almost fell asleep during it. This isn’t acceptable, you need to do better. I need these investors on board.”
This feedback is destructive. The details are vague and it relies on hearsay instead of facts; the tone is also unprofessional. There are no suggestions for how the employee could improve and it offers little in the way of direction, just ‘do better’. There is a hint of consequence at the end, but the phrasing ‘I need’ instead of ‘We need’ or ‘The company needs’ is alienating.
This kind of feedback would leave the colleague feeling dejected, demotivated and undervalued.
“You did well to get up in front of the investors earlier; I know it can be daunting. I remember when I first started giving speeches and I got some really great pointers on how to be a more effective and engaging public speaker. Let’s arrange a time to go through it together and make some improvements so we can show these investors what a fantastic company we are!”
This feedback is constructive. It opens with a positive and has a professional tone. It is also empathetic – the person giving the feedback brings it back to their own experiences. They suggest meeting to go through improvements and explain the purpose of the speeches. They also refer to the company as ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ which shows that they value their staff.
This kind of feedback should hopefully give the colleague an understanding of why they are doing what they are going and motivate them to improve their performance. It would also help them relate to their manager as they realise, they have been in this situation themselves already.
The consequences of providing constructive feedback in the workplace versus destructive feedback:
- Destructive feedback will leave people feeling confused and demotivated. It damages morale and will often lead to projects lacking cohesion, or even being unfinished. It gives workers and businesses no insight into how to improve their performance or an understanding of what they are already doing right. Ultimately, destructive feedback leaves people lacking direction and creates poor relations between workforce and management.
- Constructive feedback should leave people with a deeper understanding of their own performance. It might motivate them to improve or change course or help them if they are struggling with confidence issues. It might also show them what they are doing well and help them with staff relations and ultimately improve morale.
When delivering feedback, it is also vital to be intuitive. Generally, face-to-face feedback is recommended as it is more personal and can provide the opportunity for an open dialogue. However, this method may not always be the most appropriate for all employees.
Some workers may react better to written feedback, especially if there have been problems that need addressing. In some cases, it may be more useful to provide written feedback and offer the colleague the opportunity for a follow-up meeting to discuss any issues raised. This ensures that they have time to prepare and reduces the chances of an overly-emotional exchange whilst the feedback is discussed.
At its heart, feedback should be constructive and calm rather than critical and confrontational. The goal is always to evaluate past work whilst looking to the future, rather than to focus too much on previous failings and scrutinise them without the context of making improvements and moving forward.
Learning to give and receive feedback is a vital attribute to being a strong team player within the workforce. It is also necessary to acknowledge the importance of customer-based feedback, especially in service-related businesses, in order to improve the user experience, and identify colleagues who may need further training as well as those who are excelling in their roles.
Managers who are able to give effective, constructive feedback will develop better relations with their team as well as help to create a cohesive working environment. By normalising appraisals and feedback, rather than seeing them as something to be worried about, companies can foster a culture of continual learning and improvement.