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How to Give Feedback that Drives Results

iconProductivity icon3 min read
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On average, it takes about two months to form a new habit. But that doesn’t mean you can sit around for roughly 60 days for an employee to improve their work and performance habits. That’s when constructive criticism steps in. Constructive criticism is essential for employee growth, if they’re willing to listen to it. Let’s look at three rules for improving constructive criticism that may actually reach your employees and drive results.

Give timely, direct, and frequent feedback

Critical feedback is hard to give. While your intentions are good and geared toward driving performance, it often feels confrontational. But if you give feedback timely, often, and in a direct manner, you can sidestep the awkwardness of commenting on employee work habits.

For example, let's say an employee decides to skip a process step or recommended guideline. Because neither the employee’s attitude and personality aren't in the mix, it’s a great time to test timely and direct feedback. Ask the employee what happened and why they decided to skip the step. Unless they have a great reason for skipping the step, politely ask them to make the correction and explain why it’s in the process in the first place.

But be sure to mention: “If you do find a better process, talk to me first. I’m always open to hearing better ideas, we just have to make sure it doesn’t affect the company as a whole.”

Don’t forget to be emotionally intelligent when an employee makes a mistake

When an employee makes a mistake or commits a costly miss, managers often want to turn the mistake into a teachable moment. It’s easy to see why; your employee screwed up, and you need to hold them accountable. In certain cases, this is the right call. But if one of your top performers lets something slip, they feel bad enough about the mistake. Usually, they’re harder on themselves than you can be. 

Think back to one of your worst mistakes as an employee. If your supervisor gave you an ear beating over it, chances are you remember more about getting reprimanded than the mistake. People tend to focus a lot more on how they were treated than the original mistake.

Lessons we learn on our own are lessons we remember forever. Treat your employees with respect, even when they are at their worst. 

Use this sentence

Researchers at Stanford University were interested in finding the most effective form of feedback. So they gave a writing assignment to students and had their teachers provide different forms of feedback. They found one response far outweighed the others; both in improving performance and effort. This one sentence not only improved the students’ essays overall, but more students actually took the criticism than those who did not. 

Here’s the one sentence: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them.”

While it’s hard to imagine repeating this sentence word for word, it drives results for two main reasons. For one, it sets a high bar for employees to achieve. But it also recognizes that excellent work, day in and day out, is hard to achieve. Second, it tells the employee you are certain in their abilities to reach that excellence. 

Giving feedback is a necessary, if uncomfortable, part of building meaningful relationships with your employees. But as long as criticism is delivered timely, honestly, and with respect, you can slowly build a strong and successful company culture. 

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