Give employee feedback. Many busy leaders overlook this need. Yet when you give employee feedback you lead with intention. Effective leadership demands both intention and attention. You must have intention to achieve what you want to accomplish. You need to pay attention to (and give attention to) your employees to get better results.
Many of my leadership coaching clients learn that improved feedback leads to improved attitude and productivity. A common habit is to delay or save feedback until the next performance meeting. I rarely hear anyone say they do this intentionally. It’s a habit that often results because the leader had other urgent matters to attend. Sometimes it stems from the leader’s perception that it’s more effective to discuss the matter at the planned meeting. Still other leaders delay the conversation because they are uncomfortable giving feedback that may be negative.
Immediate Feedback Serves Your Goals Better
Delayed employee feedback leaves room for undesired outcomes: The employee continues the error. More errors build due to lack of correction. The leader or employee forgets important details. It doesn’t seem important because the leader didn’t address it timely. Because time has passed with no comment, the employee feels blindsided or attacked.
Employee feedback creates a stronger impact in the moment. Most people are aware of this principle. Consider your own experiences, for example. I’m sure you’ve had times when immediate instruction helped you complete a task. Maybe you even remember a time someone showed you an easier way to do something. It probably saved you time and prevented you from learning the difficult way as habit.
There are other reasons immediate employee feedback has greater impact: The receiver understands the feedback better. It also makes it clear that it’s important. Let’s focus first on better understanding. We have common experiences that explain this too. Consider intervening when a cat jumps on a surface where you don’t want it. You act quickly to interrupt the action and attempt training. You wouldn’t wait until the cat left the area to intervene and then expect it to understand which action you disliked. People can understand you later, but you or they may forget details that would give context and urgency.
Delayed Feedback Gives Negative Impressions
Delay can also reduce perceived importance. If you wait until later to discuss the matter, it may seem like a secondary issue. The employee might naturally reason that if it mattered to you, then you would address it when you saw it happen. A result may be that the employee mentally sets it aside as unimportant too. They may not sense urgency to make improvements. A worse result may be that because of the delay, the employee perceives it as unexpected and punitive. If an employee completed the task a while ago–or has done the same thing several times since then–they’ll wonder why their performance around that task is “just now” a concern.
There is another aspect of perceived importance too. Even worse than giving an impression an issue is not important is to give an impression the employee is unimportant. Suppose your feedback is meant to give instruction for improvement. It might be to request different behaviors. If you linger before speaking, you might create an impression that the other person’s performance and success are not that important to you. That would mean, to them, that they themselves are not important.
Praise Publicly and Criticize Privately
This principle is also key to demonstrating what is important. People need to be important to you. If they are not, reconsider your priorities. There is a respect that comes from showing appreciation and praising someone for work well done. Giving recognition makes the person aware that what they do is noticed. By extension, it means that they personally are noticed. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Some crave recognition more than others, but everyone values acknowledgement at least on some level. Praise doesn’t have to be public all the time. In fact, there will be many times when you give praise in one-to-one conversations.
Face-to-face and private interaction is always the way to go with criticism. This is a matter of respect. It’s also conducive to the other person’s ability to listen without distraction or resentment. Show humility and consideration: When you have criticism or feedback seeking improvement speak privately.
Elements of Effective Feedback
Action or behavior focused: Don’t be the boss that calls the employee names or attacks their personality. Give feedback that addresses the behavior you want to see changed or the action you want the employee to take.
Specific: State what you want with clarity and adequate detail. Tie what you want to a business-focused goal. Express to the employee what specifically is being asked of them and how that matches professional goals.
Timely: As discussed above, address the feedback issue as close to the corresponding events as possible. Don’t let things set, fester, or diminish in impact due to lack of action on your part.
Focused: Give direct feedback without confusing collateral information. This is not a time to make sandwiches. If you have constructive feedback or request for adjusted behavior, get directly to the point. Buffering your feedback with praise can be both unnecessary and confusing. The reverse is even more important: Give praise without a criticism wrapper.
Performance-based: When you want new actions or adjusted behavior, name what you want by when, and how it will be evaluated.
Recurring: Constructive feedback calls for follow-up. Be on the lookout for praise-worthy actions. Ongoing feedback builds rapport, fuels performance, and helps you grow as an effective communicator.