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The Feedback Fix: How to deliver constructive criticism that gets results

Providing feedback to your team is an essential part of not only an individual’s professional development, but the performance and engagement of an organisation. 

An effective and regular feedback process can be crucial to ensuring that you are on the same page with your teams, to discuss growth opportunities for the future and of course, to recognise and reward great work. 

New data from leading employment marketplace, SEEK, has revealed that 60% of Australian workers who have had a difficult conversation with their manager / employer have said it was a negative experience. According to this research, some of the most common reasons for this feedback experience being negative came down to how it was delivered – with the feedback not being communicated well, or in the right environment, as well as feeling blindsided by the feedback, ranking highly among employee experiences. 

As we all know, there are always going to be trickier conversations that are harder to avoid, but there are ways to approach and deliver feedback to ensure the process is constructive and beneficial to both the employee and your organisation. 

Timeliness is key

It can be easy to be swept up in the busyness of day-to-day working life, which may result in delivering feedback being deprioritised until a quieter moment arises. However, we all know that those moments can sometimes be few and far between! 

According to SEEK research, almost 70% of respondents would prefer to have a difficult conversation in real time, rather than in a more structured performance review. When possible, try to nip difficult conversations in the bud and share feedback with individuals in a timely manner. This not only allows for a discussion on the matter at hand when it is still fresh in both of your minds, but it also allows for it to be addressed and hopefully resolved for future instances. 

Some practical ways to introduce more regular opportunities for sharing feedback with your time could include scheduling a monthly or fortnightly check-in. On some occasions, you may decide that you can go without these check-ins, however, this means that they are always in the diary and provide a milestone to ensure that you’re sharing feedback consistently. 

Alternatively, consider if there are relevant project milestones which could integrate a touchpoint for employee feedback. For instance, could a quarterly review with a client also serve as a reminder to discuss how a team member is working on a project and discuss how to work better together moving forward? 

With ‘feeling blindsided’ being one of the top three reasons for an Australian worker to say they’ve had a negative feedback experience, a regular feedback loop could help mitigate this

and increase receptiveness to feedback. These regular feedback sessions don’t need to be lengthy but brief 10-15 minute ‘check-in conversations’ can be far more productive and motivating to employees then bi-annual formal performance reviews that usually have negative connotations for both sides. 

Be problem-focused and specific

When sharing feedback, it’s important to also share the ‘why’ with your employee. Your employee might not have all the background or context on an issue so, if necessary, give them a sense of how the issue affects the workflow, the business or the project. Providing the big picture and the flow-on effects of how problems or mistakes may affect others will provide greater context and understanding. 

This can help explain the importance of the feedback being passed along, and why there may be an issue – particularly if an employee is not aware of the issue prior to the conversation. The more specific you can make your feedback, the more likely it will be well-received and actionable. 

Talk about the situation, not the individual 

Constructive feedback is focused on outcomes and impartial observations – not the employee’s personal attributes. Wherever possible, focus on behaviour or situations, not people and personalities. Feedback centred on the individual could be taken as an attack motivated by personal feelings, rather than objective facts. 

By discussing the situation itself, you’re showing you’re most concerned about fixing the problem at hand and not criticising the employee. You are also able to remove emotion from the discussion and purely talk about the situation or observation. 

Give them a chance to have their say

When giving feedback, make sure your employee has a chance to respond. It should always be a two-way conversation.. This shows you’re prepared to listen to their concerns and their interpretation of events. It’s also an opportunity for the employee to express their ideas to you and become part of the solution. This will help empower them and likely ensure they take on this feedback for the future. 

Give praise where it’s due

Giving employees positive feedback helps empower them. Acknowledging positives among negatives can be a good way to reassure them that you haven’t lost perspective. This tells the employee that you’re not criticising their overall performance; just that certain aspects of their job need attention. 

It’s always worth keeping in mind that we all thrive on positive reinforcement, so don’t assume employees will always know when they’re performing well – come out and tell them. One of the biggest gripes with employees is that they don’t feel appreciated for all the good work and effort that they put into their work and that feedback is only based on what they are not doing well. 

Check in with your employee after the conversation

Sometimes, no matter the strength of your delivery, feedback won’t always be received well. If you find a person has been distressed by the feedback, or reacted negatively, check in and ask them how they feel about the feedback and the process now that they’ve had some further time to digest. 

This could also be an opportunity to ensure that they are clear on how best to resolve the issue at hand and if they need anything further to help with this. This could look like offering additional training or mentoring to help steer them in the right direction. 

And finally, as obvious as it may sound, always consider how you’d like to receive the feedback that you’re providing. This can be a valuable sense-check on your approach and delivery, and, while every individual is different, it can be a useful touchstone. 

If you don’t feel confident delivering feedback, find a role model in your organisation who is particularly effective when delivering feedback or even seek out some external resources or training to build your confidence in this area. Many news managers find providing negative feedback challenging in the early days but over time this skill can most definitely be improved. 

While effectively delivering trickier feedback can take time and effort to master, the positive change it brings is well worth the effort. It is vital to promote personal and professional growth, enhance personal and organisational performance, strengthen relationships and foster a workplace culture of continuous improvement. Be it positive or negative, providing staff with ongoing feedback is one of the most important and powerful development tools at your disposal. 

For more advice on ways to provide feedback, and navigate tricky conversations, visit: https://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/

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Leah Lambart

Leah Lambart

Leah began her career as a Tax Consultant at KPMG, one of the Big 4 accounting firms. With over 17 years of experience in recruitment and human resources, she has a deep understanding of various industries and the intricacies of career transitions. Having logged more than 2000 coaching hours, Leah is well-versed in helping individuals navigate career changes. Additionally, her insights into hiring manager expectations during the recruitment process make her a valuable resource for job seekers.

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