How to Give Effective Employee Feedback

UPDATED: April 24, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 24, 2024
Amy Somerville, sitting on stairs laughing

Each professional journey will look a little different, but today, we’ll discuss an integral part of any professional journey—giving and receiving employee and leader feedback. Feedback, when delivered correctly, can be one of the most powerful tools for growth. It helps us understand our strengths, highlights areas for improvement, and guides us toward our professional goals.

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to provide constructive, honest feedback. This isn’t about criticizing or placing blame; it’s about helping each other grow and improving the entire team’s performance. Effective employee feedback can strengthen trust, communication and team bonds. 

Why is giving employee feedback important?

When providing effective employee feedback, we can’t discuss the how without the why. Providing positive and constructive feedback to an employee reaps many benefits—and, perhaps most importantly, it reinforces that they are doing well individually, within their team and within the organization as a whole. If there are places they can improve, feedback is intended to be a tool to guide them.

The two major types of employee feedback I want to highlight are positive feedback and constructive feedback. While these two might be used interchangeably at times, they are actually quite distinct.

Positive feedback

Positive feedback focuses on reinforcing or approving of the positive actions, behaviors and work that someone is doing.

For example, say a team member has recently had a new task added to their workload, and they’ve been on top of learning to do it and incorporating it into their workflow. Positive feedback related to this action would motivate that employee to continue doing good work on said task.

Constructive feedback

Constructive feedback centers around discouraging less desirable actions and behaviors from employees in a supportive and encouraging manner. As leaders, when we give constructive feedback, we don’t want to brutally criticize our employees. Instead, think of it as offering tips or ideas to help switch up a work action or improve upon a task.

For example, if an employee is struggling to grasp a new technology or program that has been brought into the workplace, some constructive feedback would be to offer a training option or some tips you’ve found helpful to address the issues they’re having.

Positive feedback and constructive feedback are equally important. Together, they offer employees approval and encouragement regarding their work and actions while providing honest discussions on how they can continue to improve. This combination leads to effective, meaningful feedback, which Gallup has found to be important to employees—particularly when managers focus on collaboration, employee strengths and recognition of recent work. 

3 important things to keep in mind when giving employee feedback

As you prepare to give feedback to an employee, keep in mind that you always want it to be effective and meaningful. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind for effective feedback:

1. Be specific

Don’t speak too broadly or dance around the issues you’re bringing to an employee’s attention. The most effective feedback will very specifically refer to the behavior, action or issue you’re addressing. Avoiding broad or general statements helps to highlight exactly what you mean to say.

For example, avoid saying, “Your work recently has been really great.” Instead, highlight one or two specific things about that person’s work that have been great—like if they’ve taken the lead on a project or if their work has resulted in a noticeable difference in team cohesion or a project’s final results.

2. Be timely

Offer feedback when it matters. Feedback delivered months after the fact doesn’t help anyone, no matter how positive or constructive it might be. A delay means that your feedback will lose its overall impact and won’t be as relevant as it would have been shortly after the initial event or action.

Timely feedback is easier than ever to offer, though. While in-person feedback is often preferred, that might not always be an option. Instead, you can set up a video call if you want to communicate face-to-face. Or if your feedback is more minor, an email or instant message can also work.

3. Be Objective 

Feedback should not include heavy emotion. Instead, it should solely focus on actions and processes, not the person. Receiving feedback can already be an intimidating experience for employees, so cutting out unneeded emotion will go a long way to ensure that it’s candid and impactful.

For example, instead of saying that someone is “not meshing well with the team” or is “not fully dedicated to the work we do,” you can say something like, “I’ve noticed you and the team are a bit out of sync,” or “I have a few ideas on how we can refocus some of your efforts.” Focus on offering solutions instead of leaning into emotion.

Effective employee feedback is a conversation

Feedback sessions involve not only talking but also actively listening. They are a conversation, a dialogue, not a speech or a monologue.

For those of you receiving feedback, it’s natural to feel defensive or uncomfortable, even if the feedback is positive. Try to see it as an opportunity for growth. Take it in stride, reflect on it and determine how you can use it to improve.

The culture of feedback should be mutual, and the process for receiving it should be clearly laid out in your organization. Encourage employees to share their ideas, suggestions and critiques. This helps to foster an environment of openness, mutual respect and continuous improvement.

I want you to reflect on how you receive and give employee feedback. Are you open? Constructive? Are you empathetic in your feedback conversations? Are you open to receiving feedback and taking steps for improvement? Remember, feedback is a tool for growth and development. Use it to propel yourself and your team toward success.

Photo by ©Mike D’Avello

Amy Somerville, CEO of SUCCESS® Enterprises, is a mission-driven leader with demonstrated success in developing highly effective teams, delivering dynamic learning strategies, and building engaged communities. She is a passionate community-builder, gathering like-minded, successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople to share best practices for success. She lives her life intentionally and is driven daily by the acronym L.I.V.E.: LEAD, INSPIRE, VALUE, EMPATHIZE. Follow Amy on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.